Most know it as one of America’s favorite pastimes— baseball. The summer sport that calls up memories of hot dogs, sports bars and ice cold Budweiser. Being a Boston native, baseball is just part of my childhood culture. I never really cared about or knew how to follow the game but I liked going with my family and getting to enjoy a chocolate-covered Neapolitan bar under the warm sun in Fenway Park. Later on, my friends and I would sneak in during a day game for some watered down beers. For this Bostonian, baseball never seemed like a competitive sport, more of a tradition.
But regardless of how relaxing baseball might seem to me, for the MLB super fans and the players, baseball is a high pressure, multi-billion dollar industry whose level of competition extends way past what happens on the field. For something that is supposed to be fun—like playing a game—professional sports are as fast moving and cutthroat as the stock market and we are seeing a lot of evidence that the pressure might be a little too much.
Astros or Rehab?
Yesterday, the New York Yankee’s pitcher, CC Sabathia, announced that he is checking himself into rehab for alcohol abuse and won’t be available to play for the team during the play offs. With the Yankees scheduled to play the Houston Astros tonight, this last-minute news is a really big deal. Not just because Sabathia’s over-indulgence might put MLB’s sponsor, Anheuser-Busch, in a precarious position but it means that whatever happened was catastrophic enough for Sabathia to abandon his team at the most crucial part of their season. This kind of thing goes against everything organized sports stands for. It’s not like he’s taking a medical leave the week his company is moving offices, it is akin to being a firefighter and calling in sick on September 12, 2001.
His Best Move All Season
While some might see this as shitty— or at the very least, inconvenient timing— the flip side is that Sabathia is taking control of a problem he has clearly recognized is out of hand. I am sure this wasn’t an easy decision for him, but weighing the detrimental affects his drinking could have on his team and his health if not addressed now probably allowed him to come to the decision and feel good about it.
One of the hardest things for some people to comprehend when attempting to quit drinking or drugging is that you have to do whatever it takes to stay sober. This task must be the number one priority and, if necessary, has to take precedence over your marriage, your family and your job—even if your job title is pitcher for a major league baseball team. Alcoholism and addiction are life threatening and can’t, nor shouldn’t, wait to be addressed until the time is more convenient. I think Sabathia is setting a great example with his act of courage and self-care.
Another Man Down
But the once-star pitcher of the Yankees isn’t the only MLB player to face addiction issues this year. Josh Hamilton, now of the Texas Rangers, whose alcohol and drug issues are well documented but have been somewhat under control since 2005, admitted to relapsing on cocaine and alcohol earlier this year. Because he came forward about the incident and alerted the MLB before they caught him with a dirty urine test, Hamilton faced almost no consequences for his mistake. He was signed with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim at the time and scheduled to undergo shoulder surgery and rejoin the team after spring training. Instead, he chose to convalesce closer to his family in Houston and ended up getting traded back to the Rangers. That’s all well and good, but it does beg the question, is there some connection between playing professional sports and addiction?
Kind of a Happy Ending
Some felt that Hamilton should have been suspended as his relapse was technically a violation of the leagues drug policy. However, the MLB’s decision to allow him to continue playing is in line with what medical professionals know about the most effective ways to handle addiction. Hamilton is a valued player and ultimatums and punishment won’t work when it comes to his disease. The MLB chose to show leniency with Hamilton when he came to them on his own volition before the season began and I am sure that had a lot to do with it.
Much can be learned from both Sabathia and Hamilton’s stories: that honesty with yourself and others is a crucial first step to recovery. It can even be the deciding factor when it comes to facing consequences. And whatever we do in our lives has to be secondary to our health and our sobriety. The disease must be respected and treated, even if it means losing a little face in the process. As we say in recovery, you can’t save your face and your ass at the same time.