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Breaking: Josh Hamilton to receive no discipline in the wake of his relapse

josh hamilton angels getty

Major League Baseball just announced that Angels outfielder Josh Hamilton will not receive discipline for the recent drug relapse. That after an arbitrator ruled earlier this week that Hamilton did not fail to comply with this substance abuse treatment program. He will not be suspended and is free to rejoin the Angels immediately.

Major League Baseball has released a statement regarding the arbitrator’s ruling. Hamilton was represented in the matter by attorney Jay Reisinger and Tina Miller of Farrell & Reisinger in Pittsburgh. A call was placed to Reisinger and Miller for this story but they were unavailable for comment.

The ruling was based on the arbitrator’s interpretation of Section 4(C) of the Joint Drug Agreement, which handles violations of a players’ treatment program. Under that section, a player is said to have committed a violation if the player (a) refuses to submit to evaluations and followup tests; (b) “consistently fails to participate in mandatory sessions with his assigned health care professional"; (c) his health care professional tells Major League Baseball that the player is not cooperating; or (d) the player tests positive for a drug of abuse.

None of these applied to Hamilton. Rather, Hamilton self-reported his use of cocaine to Major League Baseball. Said use was characterized to NBC by a person familiar with the proceedings as a “slip” as opposed to a “relapse.” Hamilton had, in the past, been involved in isolated incidents involving alcohol, which likewise did not result in any discipline.

Following Hamilton’s late February admission to league officials, a four-person “treatment board” consisting of two members appointed by the commissioner’s office and two by the players’ union was convened to consider Hamilton’s case. That board deadlocked, with the two owner representatives deciding that Hamilton committed a violation and the player representatives concluding that he did not. That, per the terms of the Joint Drug Agreement necessitated the appointment of the arbitrator to break the tie, leading to the decision announced today.

This ends more than a month of controversy surrounding Hamilton’s case. Despite the fact that baseball’s drug policies mandate strict confidentiality, early in the process there were multiple leaks, apparently from Major League Baseball’s side, about the details of Hamilton’s case. This led to a sharp response from the union condemning the leaks and claiming that those doing the leaking “want to see Josh Hamilton hurt personally and professionally.” This latter reference could be to the fact that a Hamilton suspension would provide some relief to the Angels, who still owe Hamilton $83 million over the next three years on his five-year, $125-million contract. A player who is suspended is not paid.

Meanwhile, the case has led to a larger argument as to whether or not the league should be approaching it as a disciplinary matter at all in light of Hamilton’s clear status as a drug addict and the increasing awareness of the fact among substance abuse professionals and others that drug addiction is a disease and that diseases should be treated, not punished. That issue was not addressed in today’s ruling, though Major League Baseball’s statement did make reference to a desire to change the manner in which such cases are handled in the future, possibly by changes to the Joint Drug Agreement and the Collective Bargaining Agreement. Whether those changes would be aimed at making discipline more or less severe is unclear.

For now, however, one thing is clear: Josh Hamilton is free to play baseball for the Angels once he is healthy.