Josh Hamilton will not be suspended …
Josh Hamilton will not be suspended or otherwise disciplined after an arbitrator ruled that the Angels outfielder did not violate the terms of his drug treatment program, Major League Baseball said Friday.
Hamilton self-reported a drug-related relapse that occurred late in the offseason, then met with MLB officials in New York on Feb. 25 and remained in Houston thereafter, rehabbing from surgery on his right shoulder and awaiting what was considered a likely suspension.
The decision not to levy any punishment – a product of Hamilton admitting to the relapse before a failed drug test – came as a surprise the Angels noticeably disagreed with.
In a statement issued by the club, general manager Jerry Dipoto said the Angels “have serious concerns about Josh’s conduct, health and behavior, and we are disappointed that he has broken an important commitment which he made to himself, his family, his teammates and our fans. We are going to do everything possible to assure he receives proper help for himself and for the well-being of his family.”
In a separate statement, Angels president John Carpino said: “It defies logic that Josh’s reported behavior is not a violation of his current program.”
In a phone conversation a couple hours after the statement, Carpino said: “Our focus now, based on the arbitrator’s ruling, is to get Josh the help he needs, for himself and for his family.”
A four-panel treatment board – consisting of two representatives each from MLB and the MLB Players Association – deadlocked on whether Hamilton violated the terms of his treatment program, requiring the need for an outside arbitrator that ultimately ruled in Hamilton’s favor.
MLB took the position that Hamilton violated his treatment program and would be subject to discipline by Commissioner Rob Manfred, but the arbitrator ruled that “Hamilton’s conduct did not violate his treatment program,” according to MLB, leaving Manfred without the right to impose any penalties.
“The Office of the Commissioner disagrees with the decision,” MLB said in its statement, “and will seek to address deficiencies in the manner in which drugs of abuse are addressed under the program in the collective bargaining process.”
The arbitrator considered Hamilton’s latest transgression a “slip” and not a violation, according to the Los Angeles Times, leaving the Angels without any additional salary relief in 2015. Hamilton’s agent, Michael Moye, could not be reached for comment and the MLBPA has no plans to issue a statement.
Asked for an update on Hamilton’s injury rehab, Dipoto said in a text message that there is “nothing new to add.”
Hamilton had alcohol-related relapses leading up to the 2009 and ’12 seasons, but those weren’t punishable by MLB. His most recent relapse, reportedly involving cocaine and alcohol, was his first known drug use since October 2005.
Hamilton went from a can’t-miss, blue-chip prospect to a drug addict who was out of baseball for four years to a perennial All-Star, an inspiring story that captivated the nation and brought hope to addicts everywhere. But the demons of addiction remained a daily struggle for Hamilton, who had an accountability partner with him at all times during the season until he downsized the role in 2014.
“I’m a drug addict,” Hamilton told USA Today in an interview shortly after being reinstated in June 2006. “It’s not terminal, but there is no cure. It’s hell on earth. It’s a constant struggle. And it’s going to be like that for the rest of my life.”
Two years after being drafted first overall by the Rays out of a Raleigh, N.C., high school in 1999, Hamilton began to experiment with drugs and alcohol while rehabbing injuries from a traffic accident. That led to taking the 2003 season off, then being suspended from 2004-06 for multiple failed drug tests.
Eight months sober, Hamilton was reinstated in June 2006, then went unprotected in the Rule 5 Draft and ended up with the Reds, with whom he played his rookie season in 2007. He was dealt to the Rangers the following December, kicking off a five-year run during which he started in five straight All-Star Games, played in back-to-back World Series, hit a record 28 homers in the opening round of the 2008 Home Run Derby at Yankee Stadium and won the 2010 American League Most Valuable Player Award.
The Angels signed Hamilton to a five-year, $125 million contract in December 2011, but didn’t get much in the first two years.
Hamilton batted .250 with 21 homers and 79 RBIs in 2013 and finished an injury-plagued 2014 season with a .263 batting average and 10 home runs in 89 games. Hamilton missed 10 weeks recovering from thumb surgery early in 2014, then spent almost all of September rehabbing injuries along his right side — shoulder, traps, chest, ribcage — and went 0-for-13 in an AL Division Series sweep to the Royals.
Doctors were hopeful that extra offseason rest would counteract the need for invasive procedures, but Hamilton’s arthritic right shoulder bothered him again once he started swinging full force, prompting surgery to repair his right AC joint on Feb. 4.
The recovery timeline was initially six to eight weeks, with Hamilton not expected back until May. Anticipating a likely suspension, the Angels didn’t issue Hamilton a locker at their Spring Training complex and didn’t have one designated for him at Angel Stadium on Thursday night, either.
Longtime teammate C.J. Wilson has been in touch with Hamilton and said, “I feel like he’s doing everything he can to get ready to play baseball again.”
The left-handed-hitting Matt Joyce is now slated to be the everyday left fielder and the right-handed-hitting C.J. Cron will get the majority of at-bats at designated hitter, with right-handed-hitting outfielder Collin Cowgill occasionally spelling Joyce against tough lefties.
“I think we’re deep enough on the offensive side that we should be OK,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said Thursday. “But you can’t plan on using what you don’t have. We’re going to take this one step at a time with Josh.”
The next step will be the toughest – the Angels must figure out how to fold Hamilton back in.