Column

Angels' treatment of relapsed Josh Hamilton after ruling does more harm

Angels' response to arbitrator's decision to not discipline Josh Hamilton sets wrong tone of intolerance

In the middle of his prolonged fight with drugs and alcohol, Josh Hamilton has been plagued by a different sort of nemesis.

His new demons are Angels.

An arbitrator ruled Thursday that Hamilton's recent self-reported relapse did not warrant discipline for a violation of baseball's drug treatment program. At which point, his own team screamed he should be suspended.

"It defies logic that Josh's reported behavior is not a violation of his drug program," Angels President John Carpino said.

The path is now clear for Hamilton to rejoin the Angels upon completion of his rehabilitation from shoulder surgery, possibly as soon as next month. Except, his own team essentially announced they don't want him back.

"The Angels have serious concerns about Josh's conduct, health and behavior," Angels General Manager Jerry Dipoto said in a statement. "We are disappointed that he has broken an important commitment, which he made to himself, his family, his teammates, and our fans."

The team that has already given away Hamilton's locker is now publicly kicking him to the curb. The organization known for a cuddly primate has bared its teeth and revealed its vindictiveness. This is not only about wanting to make sure Hamilton is off drugs, this is about wanting him off their payroll and out of their lives.

The Angels want Hamilton suspended so they can save the remaining $83 million on his contract, save awkwardness when he returns to a clubhouse, and basically just save themselves the hassle. They don't care that Hamilton or his teammates are listening, they don't care that a Southern California fan base that often winces at such intolerance is listening. They just want him gone.

This column is not a defense of the arbitrator's ruling. The Angels are right that it was wrong. While the ruling technically adheres to baseball drug law, it goes against the spirit of the discipline required to make that law effective. Reportedly one of the factors in allowing Hamilton to avoid discipline is he reported his relapse instead of failing a drug test. That sets a dangerous precedent. So if a player thinks he just tested positive, he can get off the hook by immediately throwing himself on the mercy of the commissioner before the test results become public? That's a gaping loophole that needs to be closed.

But the Angels should have kept their mouths closed. Why further humiliate a sick player by warning him he's no longer welcome? Why not let him finish his rehabilitation while finding some inner peace, then leave open the possibility he could play for you again?

Hamilton suffered a relapse in 2009 while playing for the Texas Rangers. The following year, he won the American League MVP award while leading them to the World Series. Why didn't the Angels think about that? How could they not realize their words will make it difficult for Hamilton to ever feel comfortable in their clubhouse again?

Carpino later softened his initial statement, saying, "We've really got to get Josh the help he needs, that's where the focus is. We're dealing with a person here. And a family."

Dipoto also explained his frustration when asked at an afternoon news conference whether his initial comment made the Angels look bad, saying, "For us to express some type of human emotion shouldn't be counted as anything more than just that."

Later, in the Angels clubhouse, the players were universal in their support of a teammate, and the day ended with the organization appearing a bit more understanding.

But the damage by the front office already had been done, their true feelings emerging from the legendary anger of owner Arte Moreno, whose fingerprints are all over this mess.

Moreno is understandably mad Hamilton hasn't lived up to his five-year, $125-million contract, mad the arbitrator didn't give him some relief, mad he is powerless over his own employee. But Moreno needs to remember the inherent risk in giving a giant deal to a recovering drug addict. The owner took the big swing, now he must pay the price for the whiff.

Moreno also needs to remember his fans. How are they going to hear his organization's remarks? How are they going to accept an attitude so vastly different from the perception of his organization?

The Angels have always sold themselves as Southern California's family team. They have been the team with the solid players, the clean concourses, the friendliest concessionaires. Their manager, Mike Scioscia, plays the role of tough but kindly father. Their best player, Mike Trout, is everyone's little brother.

The Angels sell family. By wanting to dump Josh Hamilton as he struggles with a lingering illness, that sales pitch rings hollow.

"Every marriage is 50-50, I don't know another way to do it," Dipoto said. "If you would like us to absorb 90-10 of the blame, I think you're wrong."

He brought up marriage so, well, marriage vows don't read, "in health and health." It's not always 50-50. Sometimes one party has to absorb 90% while the other party takes 10%, with both parties understanding that one day the equation will flip.

If Josh Hamilton had been coming off an All-Star season, or had not gone 0 for 13 in the playoffs, would the Angels be so anxious to have him serve that suspension?

"We have a responsibility to a group of guys down there who are committed to winning," Dipoto said.

The operative word there is "committed." The Angels made a commitment to Josh Hamilton, and even though his illness has prevented him from living up to his part of the bargain, they need to uphold theirs.

bill.plaschke@latimes.com

Twitter: @billplaschke

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