By Ross Newhan
I have no first-hand or family connection to addiction, and for that I am grateful, although I am undoubtedly being cavalier about that "first-hand" bit.
During all the years (decades), covering the Angels or Dodgers on the road, covering All-Star games and World Series, covering labor negotiations and owners meetings, the nightly habit was to have a drink or two when the writing was done.
And too often a drink or two led to three or four.
Even when covering a game at Dodger Stadium or in Anaheim, well, for many years there were post-game drinks served in the hospitality rooms behind the press box or there were stops on the way home.
I was lucky to have survived, lucky to have not produced an accident involving others.
My drink of choice at the time was VO and water. There was one night, covering the 1980 baseball winter meetings in San Diego, when I had no recollection the next morning of having driven from the Town and Country Hotel, where the meetings were held, to my hotel across the freeway.
I have not had a VO and water since, which is not to say I don't occasionally have a glass of wine or an occasional beer (with the driving left to my wife).
I am quite sure, during those many years of heavy drinking, I could have been, would have been, classified as alcoholic. An alcoholic functioning at high level (based on the reaction to and rewards for my writing), but alcoholic nevertheless.
Confession may be good for the soul but I am not looking for cleansing because there is an aspect of those years, an aspect of addiction, I do not understand and maybe can not.
Maybe? Probably? Undoubtedly I was (am) fooling myself, but I never felt that I HAD to have a drink. It was habit, social time with colleagues and competitors, unwinding after having produced 800 or so words in 20 or so minutes, another deadline down.
Even now, thinking about all that drinking, all those impaired miles behind the wheel, trying to grasp a truthful reason for it, it is impossible for me to understand the unrelenting addiction that has pulled at Josh Hamilton since his teenage years--the day by day, night by night, turmoil (terror?) behind locked doors and windows, accountability partner or not, loving family or not.
His story has been chronicled, and it is enough to repeat that he has been one of the great hitters of the last dozen years, an MVP winner and contender who has earned the admiration of teammates while handling high velocity fastballs amid a far more challenging obstacle of which he has talked openly. Now, he has clearly acknowledged a cocaine and alcohol relapse in meeting with MLB officials. He faces suspension as a repeat offender of the category called drugs of abuse, and I would not be so glib, as some have, to say it is time for Hamilton to walk away from the game and deal totally with an addiction that will always be there in some measure. Nor will I pile on the Angels--more than I already have--in regard to that five year, $125 million contract that has three years and $83 million left and carried a high risk from the time it was signed.
Whether Hamilton will ever return the high reward that hopefully accompanied the risk remains uncertain and is probably not the current issue.
The issue is one of life, not livlihood, and while I have covered other players who had to cope with an addiction of one type or another, Hamilton has brought home new insight into the tenacious grasp of addiction at its fiercest.
I hope he can play again. I hope he can find a way to ease the stranglehold because there is more at stake than a uniform.
And, from a perspective I have not given comparable thought to before, it is probably best if I think in terms of "judge not...."