Greinke/Hamilton: Proceed with Caution

A word of advice for certain baseball general managers:


When dealing with Zack Greinke and Josh Hamilton: caveat emptor – let the buyer beware.


I’m speaking to you, Ned Colletti, Jon Daniels, Jerry Dipoto, Jack Zduriencik.


Daniels, the Rangers GM, knows of which I speak.  Hamilton has been his headache for the last five seasons.


This may be the first time since the advent of free agency that the two biggest names come with this much emotional baggage. With the 2009 Cy Young Award winning pitcher and 2010 Most Valuable Player, it’s not steroids or any other performance enhancing drugs that are of concern (at least not yet). Rather, it’s the state of their minds.


Greinke – social anxiety disorder and depression


Greinke suffers from a more traditional form of emotional distress. Since childhood, the 29-year old has suffered from social anxiety disorder and depression.


(Social anxiety disorder is defined as a persistent and irrational fear of situations that may involve scrutiny or judgment by others, such as parties and other social events.).


And while he’s on medication for the depression, none of us are every really cured, are we? I don’t suffer from depression or social anxiety disorder, but the most innocuous and seemingly irrelevant incident can trigger feelings of what was once paralyzing shame in me. Thanks to years of therapy, I can now bring myself out of it pretty quickly, but there was a time where I would fall in deep for days, weeks even, and I would never fully re-emerge.


A little history: Greinke was a first-round draft pick of the Royals in 2002, but by 2005 was so close to quitting baseball forever that he was quoted as saying that he was surprised he even came back to the game.


The following spring, while in the middle of a pitching drill, he had a complete breakdown and left the team for “personal reasons.” He stayed away for the majority of the year while trying to deal with the depression, and eventually ended up seeing a sports psychologist and beginning a regimen of anti-depressants. Greinke returned to the Royals in 2007 and fortunately, hasn’t looked back since.


Finding stability


To his credit, the native of Orlando, Fla. has stayed on his meds and has missed only a few starts because of injury. In fact, he has been nothing short of spectacular: Greinke didn’t allow a run until he had pitched his 25th inning of 2009 (piggybacking on the 14 straight scoreless innings at the end of 2008) and won the Cy Young Award after posting a 16-8 record with a league-leading 2.16 ERA on a Royals team that went 65-97. 


Greinke suffered a setback in 2010, going 10-14 with an ERA of 4.17, but despite that, has posted a 57-33 record while averaging 8.5 strikeouts per nine innings since his Cy Young award season.


And he’s perhaps the most cerebral pitcher since future hall-of-famer Greg Maddux. Greinke is a self-admitted sabremetrician; he pays particularly close attention to Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP), a complex formula that measures a pitcher’s performance on plays that he can control in the sense that fielders are not involved.  After winning the Cy Young Award, he told the New York Times, “That’s pretty much how I pitch, I try to keep my FIP as low as possible.”


Hamilton – drugs and alcohol


Hamilton is more of a slippery slope. He has a dubious history with drug and alcohol abuse that seems to be more societal-influenced than anything else. And while Greinke has managed to control his illness, Hamilton has repeatedly slipped back into his old ways.


The Devil Rays made him the no. 1 overall pick in 1999, and he tore up the minor leagues for the next two seasons.


However, a 2001 automobile accident involving himself and his parents was a turning point for the worse.


Their pickup truck was slammed into by a dump truck that had run a red light. His parents, who had quit their jobs to travel around with him, required constant medical attention and so returned to their home in Raleigh, N.C. Hamilton suddenly was alone in Bradenton, Fla., but because he was unable to play as a result of his injuries, he got bored and started floating around the town.


Trouble found him in no time.


He frequented strip joints and tattoo parlors and before long was more involved with drugs and alcohol than trying to get back into baseball.


By 2002, he was at the Betty Ford Center in Rancho Mirage, Calif. trying to kick the habit. The following year, he failed a drug test during spring training, and left the team on numerous occasions. He ended up taking the year off for “personal reasons” (see a pattern here?) and in 2004 was suspended several times for repeated violations.


By 2005, he was out of baseball.


The Cubs drafted him off the Devil Rays’ roster at the end of 2006, but he never played a game at Wrigley Field as they quickly turned around and traded him to the Reds.


A second chance


Suddenly, in 2007, with a new lease on life in Cincinnati, he started to turn things around. Hamilton wasn’t completely clean, but still finished second to Ryan Braun in Rookie of the Year voting. After the season, the Reds traded him to the Rangers.


Hamilton’s numbers have exploded in his five seasons at Rangers Ballpark at Arlington. He won the AL MVP Award in 2010 after leading the league with a .359 average, slugging 32 home runs and driving in 100. With the Rangers, he’s averaged close to 30 homers and over 100 RBI per season.


Still, there are the demons. Hamilton submits to urine testing at least three times a week, and admitted as recently as last February that he had been drinking again. He says that he’s been sober since that incident, but none of us are ever really cured, are we?


Greinke and Hamilton: big fish. Big, big fish. Two players who will make a significant difference wherever they end up.  But at what cost?

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