I've gotten tired of hearing about the "hero" Texas Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton is. Yeah I'm happy for him that he overcame drug addiction, became a 2008 All-Star and MVP candidate, and put on a show in the 2008 Home Run Derby, but come on now.
You can be a crack addict, but if you stop doing it and become somebody worthwhile, you're a hero! But then the guy that stays out of trouble, just goes about his job, wins an MVP, well he's just a great baseball player, but far from a "hero". At least that's how the media portrays it. Who has been glorified by the media more in the last year, Josh Hamilton or Dustin Pedroia?
Josh Hamilton got an "ESPN Homecoming" interview with Rick Reilly, honoring Hamilton at his former high school for what he has gone through and now accomplished. There's a program running on MLB Network all the time now, called "Josh Hamilton: Resurrecting the Dream".
It's an effort to make all of the people that screwed up badly feel like they can still become something, and they can of course, but they shouldn't be praised for it if they do. They put themselves in those positions. It's sending the wrong message.
To me there's a much more admirable story that we haven't heard nearly as much about. Kansas City Royals pitcher Zack Greinke is 3-0, has a complete game shutout, 26 strikeouts, and has not allowed a single run in 20 innings pitched thus far in 2009. He's been simply dominating and was just named AL Player of the Week(sharing the award with Texas Rangers second baseman Ian Kinsler).
If you're understandably saying, "Well it's just been three games", he was great in 2008 as well. He went 13-10(on a 75-win Royals team) with a 3.47 ERA, 183 strikeouts, and just 56 walks in 202.1 innings pitched. That's pretty darn good for a guy that was just 24 years old last season.
It's even more impressive when you consider where he was just a few years ago. Greinke was the first round selection(sixth overall) of the Royals in 2002 after being awarded the Gatorade National Player of the Year award for his high school dominance. He followed that up with a 15-4 record and a 1.93 ERA in his first season of minor league baseball, and was named The Sporting News Minor League Player of the Year.
In 2004 at the age of 20, he made his major league debut and ended up starting 24 games with the Royals, putting up a 3.97 ERA. He was living up to the incredible hype after being a first round draft pick and the top prospect in the Royals organization. He was a phenom and it didn't appear that it would be a question of if he could be a top of the rotation starter, but when.
However, in 2005 he struggled mightily. He won just 5 games, led the American League in losses with 17, and had an ERA of 5.80. He gave up a whopping 233 hits in 183 innings, and struck out just 114.
Something clearly wasn't right. He was too talented to be getting hit this hard and it certainly hadn't been a problem in his first season in the majors. The Royals couldn't figure out what exactly was going on. There had to be more to this that wasn't just showing up on the radar gun readings or in his mechanics.
It turned out Greinke had been battling depression and dealing with social anxiety disorder. Sports Illustrated's John Donovan described what exactly Greinke was going through in a 2007 article:
But behind all the promise, Greinke was being crushed by a nearly debilitating case of depression and constant bouts of social anxiety, illnesses that had plagued him for much of his life. Even during his short stint in the minors, he struggled with his depression, entertaining thoughts of quitting a game he had grown to despise. He pitched on, though, and in 2005 he lost 17 games, deepening his depression and hatred of the game.
Last February, during a wild throwing session with catcher John Buck at the team's spring training complex here on the outskirts of Phoenix, he broke down completely. Afterward, he unburdened himself to Bell and the team's general manager at the time, Allard Baird, then missed almost the entire season as he sought psychological help.
Greinke pitched only six innings in 2006, and was placed on the 60-day disabled list to deal with his psychological struggles. As Donovan alluded to, Greinke had reached a point where he wasn't enjoying the game anymore, and that really became the case when he struggled in 2005. I played baseball from the age of four throughout high school and I know what that's all about.
After playing the game for so long there comes a point where you're just not having as much fun anymore. You've been doing it your whole life and when you're at a highly competitive level, it can feel like something you're almost being forced to do, rather than that fun game you loved to death in little league. You start to worry and it becomes a thinking game, instead of just going out and having fun. I realized I needed to get back to that, and I did. My performance went up as a result.
In 2007 after constantly getting help and working hard to overcome social anxiety disorder and depression, Greinke got back on the baseball field and had fun again. He went 7-7 with a 3.69 ERA, working mainly out of the bullpen but did make 14 starts. He was blowing hitters away with his high 90s fastball and buckling their knees with his filthy curveball again, pitching with a swagger he had lost for a couple years. Since the results have just gotten better and better, and most importantly, Greinke's feeling better and better.
The difference between the situations of Greinke and Hamilton is that Greinke didn't choose for this to happen. If you haven't dealt with a lot of depression or anxiety in your life, you're a special and lucky person I guess. And how do a lot of people choose to deal with depression and anxiety? Plenty of alcohol consumption and/or drug use. It's likely this was how Hamilton chose to handle such situations in the past, and heck, I've certainly been known to drink away my sorrows on occasion.
However, I'm not going to expect you to praise me if I become a complete alcoholic(don't worry, not going to happen) and then do something significant. I would be putting myself in that mess.
Zack Greinke didn't, and when he's pitching in this year's Midsummer Classic and quite possibly winning a Cy Young award in the near future, he better be getting every bit as much as love as Josh Hamilton has. He deserves a lot more.