Josh Hamilton, Recovery Ranger


As his career as a player winds down, what’s the next chapter for Hamilton?

Despite his lucrative contract, it seems that Josh Hamilton is ending the chapter of his story as a player. While he has made no official announcement, he has been released by his team and Hamilton is learning what anyone who plays the game learns sooner or later, it reaches an end. Most of us reach the end much sooner than Hamilton but sooner or later, it happens. So, what’s next?

Josh Hamilton is a critical figure in not only baseball but in recovery and mental health. If he knows it or not, he is the quiet hero to many who need examples of redemption and honesty. More importantly than his classic story arc in recovery, is his example of lack of perfection and keeping at it. Hamilton was a strapping lad with once in a decade talent. He grew up in wholesome America rife with potential for a hall of fame career. A devout Christian, marketers at Chevy and other pieces of Americana salivated at the potential. The whole thing took a nose dive with a very public battle with drugs and not just a too much beer kind of issue, the kind of issue Americans hate: crack, strippers, debauchery. It seemed that Hamilton was to be thrown on the ash heap of other cautionary tales with themes of unrealized potential and speculation about the greatest that never was. 

Americans are unforgiving when it comes to mental health and addiction. Typically, athletes with drug use issues are framed as “brats”. Listen to any sports radio when the issue arises and it’s the familiar refrain of “what do they have to complain about?”. Caller after caller indicates a deep belief that drug use is solely behavioral. That wasn’t the case with Hamilton. There seemed to be genuine empathy and concern for him. What was the difference?

Part of the difference with Hamilton is that he found his recovery with a deep faith. Many people do. Certainly, AA has religious overtones as do other recovery programs like the widening scope of Celebrate recovery. Hamilton’s story became like a biblical parable, the prodigal son of the MLB. Americans, especially red state Americans love that story. Christ slayed the demon and thus, we had our baseball hero. For a time, Hamilton demonstrated his deep talent. He drew crowds, won the All-Star game home run derby and gave us what we always knew he had when he removed his addictive behaviors, best of all, Josh Hamilton was honest. He had a clear voice about the support he needed and the people upon which he relied. Maybe even better than that, The Texas Rangers gave him the support he needed. When the team won the pennant, general manager Nolan Ryan mandated they team forgo the traditional champagne for ginger ale in support of Hamilton. 

As with most in recovery, Hamilton had a setback. When its someone in the public eye, the set back is more complex. Most of us can have our foibles without media scrutiny. Hamilton demonstrated recovery principals. He owned his behavior, he made no excuses, he didn’t attempt to minimize the situation. Josh Hamilton showed us that recovery isn’t perfect. Addiction is a relapsing, remitting malady. We never seem to understand that this is something that happens and Hamilton handled it well.

Sport is an important American system. Few things can shift the culture the way sports can. While its overkill to claim Jackie Robinson started the civil rights movement, integration of baseball certainly shifted the thinking of many Americans. The same can be said about Hamilton and his honest approach to recovery. He has led by example and with that, he could expand on that. Were I the commissioner of baseball I would have Hamilton be an ambassador to craft the message of baseball about mental health and addiction. They are poised to speak to millions of fans, all with some stake in the issue. Baseball could do for mental health what sports has done from breast cancer and autism. It’s time we find our Jackie Robinson and in my view, he is Josh Hamilton.


Author: Joe Schrank