Monday night, Josh Hamilton fell into an abyss only he can bring himself out of. He’s done it before. Twice – that we know of. His original downfall is the miraculous story we all know surrounding Hamilton’s background. However, he has now relapsed twice. In 2009, he did so in Arizona. Now, on Monday night, Hamilton found himself lost in his disease. It’s a sad story, one that, as I wrote for Call to the Pen, deserves a level of compassion and support that most fans and sports media outlets refuse to give, but it is not a new story. It is not the only story.
Sean Burroughs was a can’t miss prospect at third base for the Padres. The son of former MVP, Jeff Burroughs, he was going to be the Padres solution at third base, and he was going to help propel the team into a competitive state they would be able to maintain for years to come. He was drafted 9th overall in the 1998 amateur draft out of high school. He broke into the big leagues in 2002. He performed decently for the Padres over the course of the next four seasons, but never amounted to that star, power-hitting third baseman the Padres thought they had. It wasn’t until years later that the true reason would come to light. Sean Burroughs lost himself in drugs and alcohol.
Burroughs’ story mirrors Hamilton’s in a way, yet Burroughs didn’t lose himself while rehabbing an injury. Instead Burroughs lost himself during games, after games, and before games. In a 2011 Associated Press interview, Burroughs said he would be playing but couldn’t stop thinking about going out after the games. His over-indulgence led to a carelessness during games that contributed to him being sent down and eventually traded to Tampa Bay.
By 2007, Burroughs had quit baseball. He moved to Las Vegas to live off booze and drugs. He was eating out of trash cans and coming dangerously close to losing his freedom. That could have been the end of things for Burroughs. He could have been just another sad story of failed big league dreams. But the story didn’t end there.
The recovery started at home, with love and support. Burroughs moved back to Long Beach, he lived with his parents, and he lived by their rules. He began to remember the joy baseball brought him as a kid. He was able to talk baseball with his dad on a daily basis. His life was returning to a time before Baseball America projections and Major League call-ups. While Burroughs continues to deny that the pressure put on him to succeed contributed to his addiction, the simple life at home is what truly brought him back.
After spending four full years out of baseball, Burroughs and his agent convinced teams to give him another shot. He received a minor league contract from the Arizona Diamondbacks and parlayed that into a call-up in 2011. In 78 games with the big league club, Burroughs hit .273/.289/.336. He was added to the postseason roster and collected his first-ever postseason hit. He was, and is, back in baseball.
Where Burroughs’ story goes from here is still a tale yet to be written, but he is an example of triumph over adversity. And so is Josh Hamilton. The struggles of an alcoholic or a drug addict are foreign to most – and that’s a good thing. Yet, too often, the world passes judgment on those who stumble. With Josh Hamilton, and with Sean Burroughs, slips are bound to happen. What’s important is that there is someone there to always catch them before they fall.
As distant as it may be, Sean Burroughs is San Diego’s connection to the Josh Hamilton story. It should serve as a reminder that players are people who, like us, are far from perfect. We should all remember that before we talk about a man’s struggles and pass judgment.