Redemption now has to be found outside of baseball for Hamilton

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It’s Josh Hamilton’s turn to focus on his life, his wife and his four daughters instead of playing a boys’ game.

By Andrew Pridgen

Physical comedians John Belushi and Chris Farley were both found dead in hotel rooms at the age of 33. The cause of death, drugs—cocaine the culprit in the lead up and in the end.

Angels outfielder Josh Hamilton, who has battled cocaine and alcohol addiction since he was branded prep’s five-tool next-big-thing in 1999, was caught again using this week. Hamilton is a multiple offender: out of the game from 2004 to 2006 for drug use and subject to testing three times per week after reinstatement.

Major League Baseball, in deference to its attorneys and the players’ union, did not disclose the nature of Hamilton’s violation or the punishment to ensue. Hamilton met with MLB officials in New York on Wednesday to discuss the relapse and possibly jump ahead of a crisis moment.

This is commissioner Rob Manfred’s first defining moment. A lifetime ban for Hamilton may not be unwarranted and would send a message to the rest of the league and most notably, the fans, that substance abuse is now taken more seriously than with the prior administration.

That won’t happen. Hamilton is MLB’s and by way of extension, professional sports’ great reclamation story: From his halcyon days as a free-swinger who decided to tattoo his arms with Guy Fieri shirt flames, to a Jesus-loving floor-mopping, Disney flick second-act role model outsized and swaddled in Texas lore. In spite of a pair of alcohol-related slip ups with the Rangers, he swung a mighty and redemptive bat to get the Arlington Nine into back-to-back World Series earlier this decade.

A man in full with demons exorcised, Hamilton signed a five-year, $125 million contract with the Angels and his happy ending in the Happiest Place on Earth seemed assured.

It wasn’t.

The one-time AL most valuable player’s previous year’s stat line, 43 dingers and 128 batted in, seemed well worth the price of the Southwest flight to John Wayne at the end of 2012. Since then, Hamilton, in a pair of seasons as a Halo, has hit a modest 31 home runs, batted in 123 and missed 84 games with most of 2015 and beyond in the commissioner’s hands.

Art Moreno’s Angels have already found another in outfielder Matt Joyce. Joyce hit .254 with nine home runs for the Tampa Bay Rays last season—similar numbers to Hamilton’s injury shortened 2014, but less baggage coming through the carousel on road trips.

With no Hamilton nameplate to be found this spring in Tempe, the matter of a bunch of clearance jerseys swinging on the racks at Angel Stadium seems to be the only formality.

Hamilton is also owed $24 million this year. When suspended, MLB players—unlike the NFL or cops—go without pay. The Angels, who have $365 million committed to a pair of aging bats, will relish the chunk they save every day baseball keeps Hamilton away from the clubhouse. A hefty $90 million for the final years of his contract will eventually be moved out of Anaheim faster than a line-cutter at Space Mountain.

Perhaps a team in need of an offensive charge after the break will take Hamilton’s lithe bat and bloody nose back—but only if it’s wrapped in about 60 million Angel greenbacks.

At 33, Hamilton should recognize the fate of a chronic user and abuser who seeks approval of the masses doesn’t look too swell from the bleachers. He’d do well to learn from the final chapters of Belushi and Farley before he’s given the opportunity to ask them about it in person.

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