Walking Away

“Baseball is like a poker game. Nobody wants to quit when he's losing;

nobody wants you to quit when you're ahead.”

Jackie Robinson


Addiction is one of those things in life that no one can fully understand.  Some people experience it, others feel true empathy for those who are stuck deep in its grasp, and yet others have no time or patience to consider the addictions of others.  Yet, in some manner, addiction affects every one of us throughout the course of our lives.

For an addict, everyday life comes with so many more challenges than most of us can even begin to imagine.  Being a productive human, keeping steady employment, or even getting out of bed can rapidly become an impossible burden; physical pain and mental anguish combine to overpower even the smallest of tasks.  

Addiction is the oddest of all faults in that it is not limited to any one specific thing.  Everyone is susceptible to the disease which knows no limits, whether the constant lurking monster comes in the form of drugs, alcohol, sex, gambling, adrenaline, or a myriad of other things, the weakness of the human life form can be tested by how one comes out on the other side of addiction.

Josh Hamilton’s addiction is one of the most publicized in the history of sports.  Baseball fans know his story in depth, from his first time using after being injured as a prospect in the Tampa farm system, to his most recent relapse that led to his public shaming and release from the Angels franchise.  We all know of his struggles.  We all know that the addiction monster reared his ugly head on a number of occasions, and, unfortunately, we also fear that it may appear once again.

In the minds of those who have never personally experienced addiction, the solution just seems so simple; walk away.  Be intentional, and just walk away.

Walk away from the temptation, walk away from the drugs and alcohol, walk away from those characters who provide the vice. Embrace the money, push out the addiction. Enjoy the blessed life of an athlete, avoid the life of a junkie. Surround yourself with family and loved ones, ignore those who present temptation.  

If only it were that easy.  

The odd thing about addicts is that the addiction never goes away. The war is never over, and while the battle may not even be daily, it is often still lurking somewhere in the depths.  People can fight off these personal demons, function on a daily basis, present themselves in the workplace, as parents, as spouses, as all of the things that are expected of them, yet the struggle is never fully gone.

Addicts often find another vice to replace their addiction, opting for the lesser of two evils to help in their recovery process.  Drug addicts reduce themselves to smokers, alcoholics require copious amounts of caffeine, gamblers find some form of competition. While so many people work to defeat their personal addiction, the addictive personality never changes.  

This is something that happened directly in front of our eyes and we never stopped to realize it.  

As Josh Hamilton worked so hard to defeat his years of drug abuse and his dependency on alcohol, his addictions changed, and his addictive personality became attached to a number of new vices.  

As Josh no longer depended on cocaine, he became attached to the adrenaline rush provided by the roar of the crowd.  

As Josh no longer actively sought after his next drink of alcohol, he thrived on the crack of the bat, the feeling of the cool grass under his cleats, and the next big moment that could lead to his next drink of celebration ginger ale.

As Josh no longer confided in dealers and tattoo artists, he leaned heavily on his teammates, coaches, and the advice of his then wife, Katie.

As this happened, we witnessed not the defeat of an addiction, but the evolution of one.  In working diligently to move past a life of drugs and alcohol, Josh Hamilton found himself in the grips of an addiction to the baseball lifestyle.  He thrived off of the crowd.  He desired the love of fans more than anything else in the world.  He saw his new found fame as his means of survival, and we all bought in, fueling his fire.  

And it was a beautiful thing.  

I have spent so much of my life on a baseball field.  My spare time and hobbies rely on a baseball field.  My career path has once again found me on a baseball field for countless hours every single week.  Yet, when I look back at my fondest memories provided by this game, so many of them are directly related to the performances of Josh Hamilton.  His four homer game in Baltimore, his performance in the home run derby, his constant flow of strange stories and heroic moments, his clutch moment in the World Series; all of which are impossible to remember without revisiting that euphoric feeling that only this game can provide.

We became just as much addicted to Josh Hamilton as he had ever been addicted to anything in his life.  

And, doing the worst thing an addict can try to do, we ran into there severe complications of trying to give him up cold turkey.  Like most addicts, we looked for anything other than ourselves to blame.  We blamed the drug itself (Hamilton).  We blamed our dealer (Wash). We blamed the cartel (Katie). We blamed the failed war on drugs (the MLB).  We felt hurt and looked for excuses, without ever taking a moment to reflect on ourselves.

Now that we have had time to recover, it has become glaringly obvious that the actions that led to Hamilton departing Texas for an LAA uniform were exactly what all of us needed.  As fans, we needed to come back to earth and be real, remembering that these players are human beings.  As for Josh Hamilton, he needed to test himself as a human, and find out just how much he had truly grown.  

In the end, we all ended up disappointing ourselves.  

There is no rational way to hold a grudge against Josh Hamilton for leaving town. Were his press conference quotes a bit idiotic?  Yes, without a doubt. However, no rational person can fault another human being for taking the security that $125 million will provide for themselves, their children, and for countless future generations.  Likewise, no rational Rangers fan can say that they wish Texas had been on the hook for the contract that the Angels offered to Hamilton.

Yet, rational thought has been at a premium when discussing Josh and the emotions we have all felt since his departure.  

We were all addicts.

When the club announced this offseason that Texas was inking Hamilton to a minor league deal in an attempt to convert him to a first baseman and give him another shot at writing the perfect ending to the greatest story of redemption, so many of us got that itch again.  We wanted to feel that joy that only Joshua Holt Hamilton can provide on the field.  

We wanted to hear that thunderous crack of the bat that only he could provide.  We wanted to see that childish grin.  We wanted to hear the score from “The Natural” playing as he loped around the bases, cherishing the clamor of the crowd on a hot Texas night while fireworks rained down behind him.  

We had a relapse.  

In reality, there is nothing that Josh Hamilton can offer a Major League team at this point.  We all knew it.  Deep down, Josh Hamilton knows it.  His body has taken on too much mileage, taking beatings on and off of the baseball field. But we are addicts, and as is always the case, addicts do not think sensibly.

As it comes time for Josh Hamilton to officially step away from the game of baseball, we must all come clean of our addictions; Hamilton of playing the game at a high level, and us of Josh Hamilton.

This is when things get tricky.

Addicts often find another vice to replace their addiction.

Fortunately, for Rangers fans, that next addiction is readily available in the form of the sound a ball makes coming off of Joey Gallo’s bat, the intensity Rougned Odor puts into every play, and the sweet swing of Nomar Mazara.  If you combine the best points of all three, we can find the parts that made Josh Hamilton.

For Hamilton, however, things may be more challenging.

Addiction never goes away.

As much as I wanted Josh to return to baseball, as much as I wanted to see him walk away on top of the game, as much as I hoped that his legacy would conclude with a World Series ring, none of those things amount to the sincere hope that he remains clean.  

As Josh moves on with his life, as he functions in circles that are outside of a clubhouse or physical rehab facility, as he finds friends that are not teammates, as he continues the struggle that is being a divorced parent, I hope that life continues to lead him down a path of sobriety.  

As fans, we owe him our support.  For years, Josh Hamilton gave us everything he had. The reactions of so many Texas Rangers fans upon the announcement that Hamilton had been released from his minor league contract was beyond repulsive.  So many people wished him ill, referred to his drug use, his divorce, and any other negative they could think of, as if Hamilton had hurt them personally.  I simply cannot understand this.  The man gave the Rangers the greatest moments in franchise history; relish in them.

I find it strangely relieving that Josh Hamilton’s career is coming to an end due to the failings of his body rather than a relapse.

Thank you for creating the greatest baseball moments I have ever experienced, Josh.  Now stay clean and live that good life, find peace, stay sober, and discover a new addiction that only brings joy for the future.  

Sometimes the greatest stories come when the happy ending is not the one we all expected.

The Rangers Are 9-10

Don't look now, but the Rangers are back within striking distance of .500, and have moved within four games of first place in the AL West, and currently sit in third after spending some time at the bottom.

  • I hope everyone truly appreciates just how good Yu Darvish is. After being prematurely pulled from Tuesday night's game in Oakland, Darvish came out and tossed eight innings of 2-run baseball. He did it on eight strikeouts and only one walks, and really only ever looked to be in serious trouble in the third inning.
  • In that third inning, he gave up back-to-back home solo home runs, and after having been pulled so soon on Tuesday, I wondered if we might see the bullpen earlier in this game than we would have liked.
  • However, Yu settled in, tossed five more innings, and got the run support he needed to earn the win.
  • The offense was able to hold up their end today as well. Notably, Joey Gallo hit his team-leading sixth home run. At this point, it would seem that Joey has earned a shot at playing every day even after Adrian Beltre returns. Likely, he'll roam out in left field, perhaps taking some time at first base and filling in for Beltre from time to time.
  • Gallo now sports a wRC+ of 153, and an OPS of .914. In addition, he's been pretty damn good in the field. Many fans will see the low average and the high strikeout rate, and those things can be irritating to see when you're watching game-to-game. However, you look up and realize that when he's getting hits, they're doing significant damage, and that's really what counts.
  • Robinson Chirinos has also been having a nice season in his backup catcher role. He hit a home run today that gave him four on the season in only six starts behind the plate. Raise your hand if you thought he would be one of the team leaders in homers at this point of the season.
  • On the flipside, Rougned Odor just hasn't gotten things going. His BABIP is .193, which probably means he'll start having some balls fall for hits at some point, but his discipline is mostly in line with what we've come to expect. The walk rate is at 3.8%, OBP is .228, and his O-Swing% (swing percentage on balls outside of the strike zone) is above 40%, which is mostly in line with where he's been in his career. I'm sure the Rangers are -- and have been -- working with him on it, but the problem you run into is that a player like Rougie derives his passion from making things happen. I'd venture to guess that making hard contact is something that makes Rougie feel good about his game, and perhaps taking a lot of pitches -- while certainly beneficial long-term in regards to on-base percentage -- makes him feel like he needs to do "more" to contribute. It's a major factor in why plate discipline is very difficult to teach at the Major League level. He'll run into some big hits eventually, but right now, it looks pretty rough.
  • One more note on the offense: Texas currently leads the AL West in runs scored, and actually has a +8 run differential. When you consider the early-season bullpen woes, combined with the fact that several key members of the team haven't really started clicking at the plate, there's every reason to be optimistic going forward. A good series against the Twins and then the Angels, then Texas heads to Houston for a series against the Astros. There's a good reason to believe the Rangers could be within striking distance of first place in the division by that point. So that's neat.
  • Martin Perez will face the Minnesota Twins tomorrow evening at 7:05. Hopefully he can continue the trend of fantastic starting pitching that we've been seeing in recent games.

When Do You Blame The Coach?

A week ago, the Texas Rangers bullpen had been performing in a very iffy manner, and Sam Dyson was atrocious in the "closer" role.

No one mentioned Brad Holman as the problem.

The Rangers offense has been consistently inconsistent; running up the score in one game, looking completely ineffective in the next.

There has been no outrage over Anthony Iapoce, the Hitting Coach.  Except for a couple of guys who have been grumbling about him since he was hired.

Bullpen management has been a mess, and there have been some concerns about Left Field and First Base playing time.

Manager Jeff Banister has been criticized fairly heavily, but to be somewhat fair he's not doing anything differently than in previous years.

Beyond the usual suspects, there hasn't been too much muttering about Pitching Coach Doug Brocail.  Until he was asked for some comments about the surprising and unexpected pull of Yu Darvish in a game against Oakland.

"The 1st 5 innings he got away w/ a lot of stuff. He didn’t pitch in at all. I was ready for him to come out."

Darvish was pulled by Banister without any mound visits, without any signalling, and without any significant communication between Catcher Jonathan Lucroy and Pitcher Darvish.  After an 8 pitch walk to Yonder Alonso, which went to a full count and featured three foul offs by Alonso, Brocail informed Banister "(he) had seen enough."  There was never an attempt to communicate, according to Brocail, because Darvish hadn't adhered to the "game plan" of pitching inside.  Banister, for his part, said Darvish was pulled without warning because "He was brilliant, then got behind hitters. As good as he looked through five, the sixth just got extremely challenging on him."  This is a hard quote to take from Banister, who has repeatedly preached a philosophy of letting (other) pitchers get themselves out of jams, including the inability to find the strike zone.  Which, I will note, Darvish was still doing...just not as well.

These comments caused a minor storm of controversy after the game, most of which was anchored to Brocail's comments.  Doug Brocail came across as nit-picking Darvish's performance publicly, a huge no-no for coaches at the MLB level.  He seemed like a petulant teacher unhappy that a student had solved a problem using an alternative process, and furthermore punished the student for doing so.  Banister's comments indicated a Manager not actually in control of his team, seeking to blame his actions on his coach and the player.

Some have called for Brocail to be fired.  The inevitable response is that coaches don't actually do all that much, so firing Brocail wouldn't actually accomplish anything.  This defense is predicated on the idea that the Pitching Coach isn't actually on the mound making pitches, and further doesn't have the power to make a pitcher throw the pitch the coach wants at any given time.  Or indeed any time.  This is true, of course.  Although, as we clearly see from the Darvish game, the Pitching Coach apparently has the ability to bypass normal routines and get the best starting pitcher on the staff pulled prematurely from a game.

As frustrated as many Rangers fans are, you're never going to get anywhere arguing with the beat writers, the team's news editors or PR people, the managers and coaches, or the front office.  Evan Grant, to pull a name at random, is never going to agree with you that Doug Brocail should be fired, unless Brocail does something so public, embarrassing, and possibly borderline illegal that Grant loses more credibility and readership by ignoring it.

Doug Brocail may not be back next year...I can't make a predictive statement on that yet.  The current Rangers management doesn't seem to like firing people mid-season, though.  In fact, I suspect Banister would be the first to go if any of the on-field staff get canned.  Banister's management choices have a much more obvious and direct impact on the games than Brocail's and Iapoce's.  You could even argue that the Rangers would be .500 or better except for choices made in-game by Jeff Banister.  You can't PROVE that, of course...but there is plenty of evidence to support the argument.

At the same time, Brocail and Iapoce can both make pretty good arguments that they, at least, are doing their job.  When the Rangers' bats work, they work gangbusters.  Rougned Odor still isn't on top of his game, but he HAS been more patient this year.  And just as with the Pitching Coach, Iapoce can't actually get on the field and tell Odor how to make every single swing, or tell him mid-at-bat to NOT swing at this pitch as it's coming toward him.  It's just not possible outside of video games.  And to be honest, if Darvish would have been pitching inside to Oakland hitters, maybe he would have had better results.  Personally I doubt it; Darvish has never had any luck challenging Oakland hitters.  It was pretty amazing to see him getting the outside edge calls that were requiring Oakland to swing at pitches they couldn't do much with.

But even saying all that, Brocail should still be in the hot seat.  I have no problem with his pitching philosophy, or his gruff attitude.  His comments and treatment of one of his players was out-of-line, though.  It was made worse by comparison with how other members of the pitching staff have been treated in similar situations.  You don't get accusations of insubordination against Cole Hamels, or Sam Dyson.  Or even Martin Perez.  Darvish, however, gets the typical rookie treatment of a short leash and needling comments.  You can bet that Brocail and Banister are just as frustrated when any of those pitchers have trouble, yet they neither get the same fast hook, nor the same comments.  This is inexplicable to me.

It has been stated repeatedly that this was a baffling move by Banister and Brocail.  A big part of that is because Brocail has been perceived as MORE open and communicative than Mike Maddux was.  Brocail can't make Darvish's pitches for him, but his job is to implement organizational philosophy and do his best to put each pitcher in a position to succeed in every game.  The comments Brocail made, and his part in pulling Darvish unexpectedly, do not further those goals, they work against them.

This is where Doug Brocail did screw up, and deserves some blame.  From my perspective anyway, either Darvish felt he could completely ignore Brocail, or Brocail did not communicate the "game plan" properly to Darvish.  When Darvish got results with a different strategy, Brocail seemingly failed to either work with a plan that was effective, or failed to adapt a new plan that would transition Darvish to a strategy Brocail felt would work even better.  And finally, when Darvish did have trouble, there didn't appear to be any effort made to correct the situation, just a quick yank without any communication.  That's poor management anywhere other than life-threatening situations.

I'm willing for the moment to give Brocail some benefit of the doubt.  His chosen actions and subsequent comments were likely due mostly to frustration, for understandable reasons.  Unless this becomes a habit with Brocail, my consternation is still firmly fixed on Banister.  He is Brocail's superior on the baseball field, and as a self-professed and lauded players manager who values proper leadership, as well as understanding the emotions and motivations behind player's actions, he should have been in between Brocail's hasty judgement and a poor game management move.  Normally my criticism of Banister is limited to his extremely poor choices of words during interviews, and his, in my opinion usually deplorable, bullpen management.  It really seems unusual to me that Banister engaged in pulling Darvish at that time.

BUT...I'll also readily admit that I don't know what all Banister considers when he makes any of these decisions.  He can run a bullpen opposite of how either "The Book", conventional wisdom, or modern analysis says to run a bullpen one night, and the next make almost perfect changes at almost perfect times.

Then again, as TMAC pointed out to me yesterday on Twitter, the Manager always looks better when the players execute.  Which is true.  It was pointed out frequently in 2015 that Shawn Tolleson wasn't the best option at "closer", but as long as it worked out no-one wanted to complain TOO loudly.  Blaming the coach is all about judging what you can see without all of the contextual information, and trying to understand what you can't see.  And that's an article for another time.

The Rangers Are 5-9

Well, this one was fun... If you're the kind of person that enjoys holding your hand over a hot flame.

  • Yu Darvish got the start today, and for five innings, things looked great. Yu got through all five frames with no Oakland A's crossing the plate. To that point, he only allowed a single, which was quickly erased with an inning-ending double play in the third inning.
  • Then, in the sixth inning, things got weird. In the top half of the inning, Jurickson Profar reached on an error, stole second, and was then driven in by Elvis Andrus. Elvis promptly stole second, then third, and on a Nomar Mazara grounder, broke for home and slide into the plate before the tag. Just like that, it was 2-0, although the offense to that point hadn't exactly looked potent.
  • In the bottom half, Darvish started off with a walk to Trevor Plouffe. After Bruce Maxwell lined out to left field, Adam Rosales hit a game-tying home run to left field. It was only the beginning of a sequence that further saw Darvish give up a double and a walk. At that point, Jeff Banister had seen enough and lifted his ace from the game at only 82 pitches.
  • I'd probably have liked to have seen Darvish have the opportunity to work out of his own jam, especially given the options Banister limited himself to at that point in the game. If command issues were the reason for lifting the team's best pitcher in the sixth inning at only 82 pitches -- and there's every reason to believe that's the case -- then it was questionable, at best, to have Tony Barnette and Dario Alvarez as the first two guys out of the bullpen.
  • Coming into the night, Barnette had pitched 5.1 innings, and he wasn't exactly inducing soft contact (5.3% versus 17.5% in 2016). Insert your normal qualifier about small samples and all of that, but given how things have transpired thus far, and with Alvarez clearly being a lefty specialist at this point, I figure that in a tie game with men on, you'd like to use one of your better pitchers to hold the score as is.
  • It wasn't to be, as Barnette and Alvarez each gave up a run, but since both were inherited runners, they were charged to Darvish's ledger on the night, making it a 4-2 Oakland advantage.
  • One more point on Darvish. Evan Grant indicated on Twitter that the coaching staff -- in this case manager Jeff Banister and pitching coach Doug Brocail -- may have been attempting to send a message to Darvish in yanking him about attacking hitters. If that's truly the case, it's disturbing to me. As I've mentioned before, the "rah rah" antics and the fiery passion are great, but I'm not sure what good they do if they risk alienating the team's best pitcher in April. Maybe there's more to this, but if that's all it is, I can't say I understand it.
  • As it stands, the Rangers scored no more than the two runs, and if you're looking for somewhere to place the blame, there's plenty to go around. The offense wasn't good tonight, with the offense only mustering three hits on the night.
  • It's worth noting that Jonathan Lucroy hasn't been very good at the plate so far in 2017. Yes, his BABIP is low at .189, but his wRC+ also sits at 31. That's 69 percent below league average, offensively, and the Rangers simply need him to be better going forward. No, Mike Napoli hasn't been good, and Carlos Gomez has shown only minor flashes of brilliance, but Lucroy is a guy that only recently had been talked about as someone the Rangers should perhaps extend long-term. I expect that he'll turn it around at some point, but it's worth keeping an eye on.
  • At this point, it's still pretty early in the season, but it's becoming clear that unless Yu Darvish and Cole Hamels are virtually perfect -- or someone like A.J. Griffin occasionally steps up like last night -- the bullpen is going to make things a little dicey if the lead is five runs or less. Perhaps things can be shored up, but for now, that's the way things will go. We're probably in store for a bumpy ride in the late innings of a lot of close -- and some not so close -- games.
  • Quick turnaround for a day game tomorrow at 2:35, so I expect we'll see Robinson Chirinos behind the plate. Martin Perez will take the mound for Texas.