Hamilton’s slip could cost him millions

“I feel like I’ve got a handle on it. But every time I feel like I’ve beaten it, I take control back of the situation, and I end up falling on my face again.”

— Josh Hamilton, interview in Arizona, February 2011

Texas Rangers star Josh Hamilton drank alcohol in a bar Monday night. This would not be news for a Major League Baseball player, except Hamilton is the most well-known recovering drug and alcohol addict in the sport today.

Hamilton acknowledged in a televised statement Friday that he and a teammate — two-time All-Star second baseman Ian Kinsler — went out to dinner that night. Hamilton admitted to consuming several drinks before Kinsler arrived — without Kinsler knowing. At one point, Hamilton told Kinsler he was going to go home. Kinsler left. Then Hamilton went back to the bar and continued drinking.

Hamilton spoke before the media for around 10 minutes, displaying the candor that has typified his handling of past questions about his drug and alcohol abuse. He said an unspecified family issue precipitated Monday’s drinking. He vowed to become stronger as a man and husband.

Hamilton said he didn’t use drugs during Monday’s relapse — apparently eliminating one significant concern. He must pass three drug tests each week as a condition of his reinstatement by Major League Baseball. He plans to meet with doctors for MLB and the players’ union in New York during the coming days.

In short, Hamilton said all the right things on Friday. It was no surprise that he did. He has practice at being imperfect.

This is sad for baseball, for the Rangers, and for Hamilton’s many fans. Mostly, though, this is sad for Hamilton and his family. The episode surely will impact negotiations about a long-term contract between the Rangers and Hamilton’s agent, Michael Moye. Even more so than the money, the future of Hamilton’s relationship with a caring organization is at stake. It’s believed the sides talked as recently as this week. Hamilton, though, said those negotiations are now on the “back burner.” The timing of this could cost him millions.

With ongoing contract talks, the mere act of walking into a bar was incredibly self-destructive.

So brutal is the vise of addiction that perhaps Hamilton couldn’t stop himself from doing it. The only explanation for his behavior is both simple and complex: He’s an alcoholic.

Now his home run in Game 6 of the World Series — the one that should have clinched the title — is a distant memory. The familiar and uncomfortable questions are back. Is he reliable? Will he remain healthy? Can he stay sober?

Hamilton apparently let down his guard in his struggle against vice. In addition to the family issue he mentioned, he’s facing two circumstances for the first time in his big-league career: He’s about to begin his first season without the in-person guidance of Johnny Narron, his longtime confidante; and he’s entering his first contract year.

Narron, who had been Hamilton’s sober companion with the Rangers, left the organization after last season to become the Milwaukee hitting coach. Michael Dean Chadwick, Hamilton’s father-in-law, was set to replace Narron but changed his mind last month. After that, Hamilton told FOXSportsSouthwest.com, “When Johnny left, I didn’t feel like I needed anybody.”

Apparently he does — this year, more than ever.

Contract negotiations, particularly those involving tens of millions of dollars, can torment any player’s mind. It takes remarkable resolve to turn down guaranteed money and count on the 162-game dice roll. If Hamilton says no to the Rangers’ ultimate offer, he may place added pressure on himself — increasing the risk for the sort of relapse he had this week.

Objectively speaking, Hamilton should remain with the Rangers. He’s found an organization that supports and accepts him, with an open-minded front office and welcoming clubhouse. But for two well-publicized relapses — in early 2009 and again this week — Hamilton has been able to manage his addictions, even if it’s impossible to defeat them entirely.

“I’ve (been) fortunate with my teammates,” Hamilton said in an interview last year. “Nobody in here has ever tried to force anything on me. They’ve always respected where I’ve been, the struggles I’ve had.”

But it’s easy to see why Hamilton would feel jilted. The Rangers just committed more than $100 million (in posting fee and salary) to Japanese right-hander Yu Darvish, who has yet to throw a pitch in the major leagues. They were willing to give free agent Prince Fielder about that much, too, before he signed with the Detroit Tigers. Adrian Beltre signed for $80 million last year.

At this time last year, Hamilton was the reigning American League MVP. Now, the absence of a “lifetime contract” could give rise to feelings of insecurity — even if he’s earning a handsome salary of $13.75 million this year.

There’s a chance that the upcoming season, even with its stresses, will be therapeutic for Hamilton. It’s when he doesn’t have ballgames to occupy his time that he’s encountered trouble with substance abuse. His initial temptation with hard drugs came while he was rehabilitating an injury as a minor leaguer with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. The 2009 relapse came while he was training in Arizona during the offseason.

“That broke me, more than anything,” Hamilton said of the ’09 incident, during an interview last February. “I took control back and fell again. I was in tears, a broken man. I felt like I could have one drink. It ended up being however many it was. I don’t remember half of what I did.

“When I got back to my apartment, God cleared my head and opened my heart and made me realize how I got to that position again. So that’s when I lost it. I called my wife, the Rangers, Major League Baseball — everybody I needed to call.

“Alcohol is alcohol. Alcohol doesn’t work well for me. It’s not illegal. I just knew where it could have led. That’s why it was so emotional for me. It was literally a sobering experience.”

Three years later, the parallels are chilling. And for Hamilton and the Rangers, a team desperate to get the last strike that eluded them in St. Louis, the stakes could hardly be higher.