Josh Hamilton suffers another very public relapse

Josh Hamilton, 30, was banned from baseball in '03 for drug and alcohol use

The worst part about Josh Hamilton's relapse is that he didn't care. The most famous addict in sports does not go to a bar in the town where he is best known without full knowledge that his exploits will become public in a matter of hours. That it took three full days for Hamilton's latest relapse to go viral – and that incriminating pictures have yet to surface – is something of a miracle.

What we know at the moment, from the Dallas Morning News report and confirmation by the Texas Rangers, is that Hamilton drank Monday. The particulars – was he drunk, why did he drink and was he really letting women at the bar grab his butt? – don't matter as much as the act. With addicts they never do. Sobriety is black and white. Black won Monday.

That it prevailed in such open fashion is what should scare Hamilton's family as well as the Rangers. Only Hamilton understands why he would choose such a setting to drink, whether it was the empowerment of doing what he wants, where he wants, when he wants, or if it was his way of asking for help as he floats about without an accountability partner. After his spectacular fall off the wagon in January 2009 that included pictures of him licking whipped cream off a woman's fake breasts, Hamilton knew the second alcohol touched his lips he was vulnerable not only to its seductive ways but to the gossipy culture that is making secrets an anachronism.

Hamilton does care, of course, even if for the tiniest sliver of time it eluded him. He has said so to me and to his friends and to millions of people who see him for what addicts can achieve, and there's no reason not to believe him. A temporary slip in that does not represent weakness. It is a symptom of addiction's vagaries. And those moments are the toughest for every addict to confront. Some reach that nadir and stop. Others fight and claw and battle and cave. Hamilton has seen some lows. Falling asleep in a ditch whacked out on crack. Being immortalized in a Deadspin photo montage. The devil in him is strong.

And because he can't beat it – because even though he's got the greatest job in the world and a newborn daughter and so very much, it's just not that easy – the severity of the consequences are hastening.

That long-term contract Hamilton wanted from the Rangers? Gone. It has to be. Already the Rangers had shown little inclination to lock up long-term a player who two years ago won the American League MVP award despite missing the final month. Texas, like most other clubs, fears Hamilton's body, brittle from his years of drug abuse, won't hold up. Whatever leverage Hamilton held is kaput, and only the madness of free agency will land him a payday.

[August 8, 2009: Josh Hamilton's relapse gives us pause]

All it takes is one screw-up, one moment different than the millions of good ones, and an addict self-inflicts another scar. Like Hamilton said when acknowledging his wild night out three years ago, "Some people it just don't mix with, and I'm one of those people."

Hamilton's forthrightness about his struggles – his honesty about the night three years ago, about the depths of his addiction – means he almost certainly will talk publicly about this. And as he is so good at doing, Hamilton will placate the sadness that permeates his fan base today through words of encouragement and strength and hosannas to how through God's help and his family's love he'll persevere and win this lifelong battle.

That's all addicts can offer. There will be those who call them hypocritical or weak-minded or full of excuses. Such ignorance never ceases. Sobriety for those who struggle the most is merely a moment between relapses – hopefully a moment longer than the last, one that eventually lasts forever.

Hamilton has lasted three years, and once again in the middle of an offseason he failed. Like last time, too, it was in full view for everyone to witness. Only now the stakes are higher, the money bigger, the team better – and the sober clock back at zero.

Whether Hamilton needs rehab or someone to babysit him or nothing at all is up to him, though that decision comes with consequences. For addicts, every decision does because every decision ultimately leads back to the most vital thing in their life: sobriety. It is their sine qua non. A sober Josh Hamilton is a role model, a paragon of perseverance, a pillar for addicts trapped in dark tunnels.

Sober, he is great.

On Monday, when he wasn't, he was just another guy who didn't care.

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