As the Angels prepared to open their Arizona training facility to Josh Hamilton, Manager Mike Scioscia tried Tuesday to explain that his bosses had criticized baseball's drug policy, and not the troubled outfielder himself, when they expressed outrage at an arbitrator's ruling that Hamilton could not be suspended after a substance-abuse relapse.
As The Times first reported Monday, the Angels plan to send Hamilton to Arizona "sooner rather than later" to get himself into baseball shape. Scioscia said Tuesday that Hamilton would report to Arizona "this week," after which General Manager Jerry Dipoto said that timetable was "not accurate" and that the team had "not yet determined specific dates."
Hamilton, who had shoulder surgery in February, is expected to work out in Arizona for two to three weeks. He would then begin a minor league rehabilitation assignment and could rejoin the Angels in early June.
"There is a lot of evaluating that needs to take place, both on and off the field, with Josh," Scioscia said before the Angels defeated the Oakland Athletics, 14-1.
The manager said the Angels would provide Hamilton with "the support and help he needs … as a person."
Said Scioscia: "That's the first step to getting him prepared to come and play for us. I don't know what form that help is going to take, but it's certainly help that Josh is going to need before he's out there playing on a baseball field."
Scioscia did not elaborate, and Dipoto declined to say whether the Angels might ask Hamilton to join a drug rehabilitation program. Such a request could trigger a battle with the players' union, since the arbitrator that had the authority to rule whether Hamilton could be suspended also had the authority to send him into such a program.
After the arbitrator determined Hamilton's self-reported relapse did not violate his treatment protocol, Angels President John Carpino said the decision "defies logic" and owner Arte Moreno pointedly declined to say Hamilton would play for the team again.
Scioscia said those comments reflected "frustration" that the drug policy did not mandate Hamilton seek help rather than disappointment that he was not suspended. Scioscia said management did not intend to signal that Hamilton would not be welcome to return.
"I think our organization has always had a player's best interests at heart," Scioscia said. "I don't think whether there was a suspension involved was the issue. The issue was addressing the needs of a player, and to some extent the burden is on us to get that done."
Hamilton, whose relapse reportedly involved cocaine and alcohol, met with Scioscia last week. The manager would not say whether he was aware of Hamilton receiving any help now, saying his conversation with the outfielder was private.
"This disease is just hideous," Scioscia said. "It's tough to deal with. There's a lot of people that deal with it every day. We have to make sure Josh has the tools and the support he needs to be able to deal with it and get back to doing what he wants to do, which is to play baseball."
That the Angels have invited Hamilton to resume workouts at their facilities does not guarantee he will play for the team again. Moreno could try to enforce contract language he says would enable him to walk away from Hamilton's deal, although the union says Moreno has no such recourse and almost certainly would challenge any such effort.
Moreno could release Hamilton and pay the $83 million remaining on his contract, or the Angels could try to trade him if another club would pick up even a small portion of the contract.
However, if the voices in the Angels clubhouse Monday and Tuesday are any indication, the players are ready to welcome Hamilton back as one of their own.
"Everybody in here is going to give him support at every possible level," closer Huston Street said.
"He wants to play some baseball," said third baseman David Freese. "Obviously, there are a lot of important things he needs to deal with, but I think he can do that as well as play baseball. If we're progressing in the direction that gets him back on the field, that's great.
"The guys in here, we're always thinking about him. I think everybody in here wants him to get on that field and get things going."
The Angels are 6-8, but they are two games out of first place in the American League West.
"We are a baseball team. We want to win," Street said. "A healthy Josh Hamilton can help you win."
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