Saturday, April 11, 2015

The Josh Hamilton Issue Isn't About Money; It's About Choices

Despite all their rage...
I haven't really said anything to date about the Josh Hamilton situation, because, well, I try not to say things that are obvious on their face... but if there's a bigger black eye for a franchise, I can't recall it. And the fact that most people aren't going to see it this way says something profound about the nature of addiction, and how our national attitude towards the War on Drugs has been such an unmitigated failure.

First off, the disclosures. I'm an A's fan with no love lost for Hamilton; he's just a guy who timed his contract year perfectly, and is a guy who might have been DFA'd if not for his contract, just on the realm of league average performance. The fact that he plays for one of my team's biggest rivals is a nice thing, in that he hurts their competitive situation, but honestly, the A's are much more likely to beat themselves, rather than by someone else.


So Hamilton ended last year badly, and hasn't been a good contract for the Angels. He's 34, with three more years and $83 million left on his deal. He's also had a history of substance abuse issues, and had a relapse while in an injury rehab -- an issue he reported, which should have remained confidential, and has not, because the Angles are ready to do just about anything to get well and truly clear of Hamilton and his contract. MLB hasn't suspended Hamilton, because that's not how this works.

And well, it's also not how contracts work.

The plain and simple fact is that the Angels can release Hamilton if they so choose... but they still have to pay him. Which isn't what Angels' owner Arte Moreno says, of course. "It's not about money. Nothing about money."

So, Arte, what is it, then? Blaming the victim in a relapse case, and the only reason you care enough to do that is because of your own bad judgment of ignoring the risks involved in signing him in the first place. Which is, to say, showing the world that addicts are just people you can blame for their problems, and break your word to, because They Are Bad People. You played a game, you lost, so the game is not fair and you're not going to accept losing. Very mature.

I have no idea if Hamilton is a Bad Person. That's pretty much left to Hamilton and his circle. But I do know that people who break contracts while claiming the high ground are flat out toejam. They deserve karmic retribution and free agent avoidance and understated umpire censure and all-too-eager DL visits by their own personnel, and all of the other maladies that teams that are toejam should suffer.

A final word about addiction. The way in which we understand such things is fundamentally flawed. We tend to think in two directions about drug addiction. The first is that humanity is powerless in the face of spectacularly powerful chemicals, and that addicts are basically helpless or blameless in the face of such power. This is inherently flawed by the simple fact that medicinal grade drugs are much more powerful than what addicts receive on the street, and yet recovering patients do not generally become addicts. The second is that addicts are flawed people who prefer misery over success, and whose poor choices and lack of personal responsibility deserve judgment, censure and incarceration. Which also doesn't work, since we've done that for as long as anyone can remember, and the only thing it's done is create a remarkably large and repeating prison population.

This all follows from animal experiments with addictive narcotics, where a caged animal drinks drug-laced water over clean until death... but the bigger point is that animals do *not* drink the drug water if the cage in which they reside is highly interactive and, in short, a good cage. In short, better cages make for better choices. Which is why those patients don't all become junkies. They leave the hospital and go back to their lives, and their lives are not miserable enough to make addiction any kind of choice.

I get that it's politically and socially impossible to have empathy for Hamilton, who will make, in one year, a great deal more than almost everyone on the planet will make in a lifetime.

But it's still the right thing to do.

Addicts are addicts; making the cage worse destroys them and lessens us.

And signing an addict, then refusing to show them basic human compassion and empathy because they haven't pleased you before that relapse, let alone trying to shirk your legal responsibilities to them?

Makes you worse -- much worse -- than the addict.

Since you, at least, are presumed to be in your right mind when you are making terrible choices...

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