The four-person panel tasked with deciding the discipline for Angels outfielder Josh Hamilton, who admitted to a relapse and violation of MLB's drug policy, is hopelessly deadlocked, according to a report from the Los Angeles Times. At issue: whether Hamilton's suspension should include entering a substance abuse program.
The answer, is of course Hamilton should be in treatment. The last thing he or any addict needs is weeks or months or longer away from any structure whatsoever, be it baseball or inpatient rehab.
But the panel of two attorneys and two physicians, one of each appointed by the players' union and by MLB, are split down the middle, and it will be up to an independent arbitrator to decide Hamilton's fate. (I don't want to presume how the MLBPA- and MLB- affiliated panel members voted, but this is worth noting: Hamilton keeps a significant portion of his salary if he goes to rehab, but loses it all if he doesn't. And it's hard to picture union appointees supporting the latter option.)
It could get even worse. There's been confusion as to where this cocaine-and-alcohol violation should fit into the joint drug agreement's schedule of penalties, because Hamilton has failed multiple drug tests in his pro career but not served separate suspensions for each, and not all of those failed tests were covered under the JDA. According to this L.A. Times report, there's at least some chance that MLB could classify Hamilton at the harshest level of repeat offenders:
Hamilton is known to have failed at least six drug tests as a Tampa Bay Rays minor leaguer, and he was suspended from baseball from 2004 to 2006. It is unclear how many of his minor league offenses came when he was listed on the Rays' 40-man roster. MLB officials are considering whether to classify him as a fourth-time offender of its drug policy, the person with knowledge of the discussions said.
Violators face a range of penalties, starting at 15 to 25 games for a first offense, 25 to 50 games for a second offense, 50 to 75 games for a third offense and at least one full season for a fourth offense. Commissioner Rob Manfred would have the final say on the length of a suspension.
I can't believe that MLB will give Hamilton a full-season suspension, and not just because it'd be a power-move reading of the JDA that would unnecessarily antagonize the union. More than that, it's basic decency: if you want Josh Hamilton to ever be well and return to baseball, you don't send him off on his own for a year.