Tuesday night in one of the coolest moments of team unity ever, the Texas Rangers celebrated their five-game, ALDS playoff victory, the first in franchise history, with ginger ale instead of champagne.
The reason? Josh Hamilton's continuing recovery from substance abuse would have otherwise prevented him from participating. It was a unique and instructive continuation of Hamilton's redemption narrative and yet another sign that the Texas Rangers, perhaps more than any other professional sports franchise, have mastered the art of public relations in the Internet era.
How so? A year ago last August their best player, Hamilton, and this March their manager, Ron Washington, became sporting pariahs. Washington tested positive for cocaine and Hamilton, arguably the most famous substance abuse recoveree in America, went into a bar and eventually pictures of his relapse were plastered on Deadspin.com.
The Rangers had a decision to make: how do we respond? Does Josh Hamilton ignore the Internet reports and continue on as if nothing has happened, as if there's been no relapse? Do we fire Ron Washington to appease? The Rangers made their decisions, confront the stories head on, have both player and manager acknowledge their failings, apologize and move forward. Don't allow personal failings to eternally define two of the most famous faces of your franchise.
Hamilton went first. "I'm embarrassed about it. For the Rangers, I'm embarrassed about it. For my wife, my kids," Hamilton said then. "It's one of those things that just reinforces about alcohol. Unfortunately, it happened. It just reinforces to me that if I'm out there getting ready for a season and taking my focus off the most important thing in my recovery, which is my relationship with Christ, it's amazing how those things creep back in."
This season, Hamilton hit .359 with 32 home runs, 100 RBIs and placed himself squarely in the American League race for Most Valuable Player. In fact, he should win the award. Stories about Hamilton's ongoing battle with addiction continue to be written, but the relapse is old news, a moment's break in an otherwise inspiring story of redemption.
Could Josh Hamilton succumb to the temptations of drugs and alcohol again? Certainly. But does his relapse define him as a ballplayer or person? Not at all. Because Hamilton and the Rangers confronted the story squarely, answered the questions, and moved past it. What else could be written? The story was complete.
After Hamilton's admission, the Rangers had a public relations template for Ron Washington when the team's manager failed a drug test, testing positive for cocaine. Upon deciding that they wanted to stick behind him as manager of the ball club, the team released the news this spring. The game plan was simple: admit your mistake fully, discuss the particulars, and give the story an ending. In his fourth season with the club, the Rangers made the playoffs for the first time under Washington's direction.
Tuesday night, the team won the first playoff series in club history.
The Rangers' response in the case of Hamilton and Washington should be instructive to other clubs who fret about how to manage the media, their fans, and public relations in the event bad news explodes on the scene. Some things have changed in our modern-day Internet era, but many have not. While much of an athlete's private life may have vanished, and stories move quicker than ever, the narrative arc of our stories has not changed. We still demand a beginning, a middle and an end.
Too many athletes and their advisers forget this and remain perpetually stuck in the uncertain middle ground of a story. That's when the drum beat of public opposition becomes strident, when the lack of resolution dooms a career. Indeed, look at recent scandals involving Tiger Woods, Brett Favre, Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens as examples.
It's not what these men did, it's how long it took them to publicly acknowledge what they did. If Clemens were to admit to using performance enhancing drugs -- assuming that he did -- his story would be complete. He wouldn't be on trial. Instead, there has been no end to his story. He's trapped in a quagmire, lost in a story with no end. A story that may, before all is said and done, end in prison.
If Tiger Woods hadn't tried to keep quiet and ride out the media storm surrounding his infidelities, that story would have been over much sooner. And if Brett Favre would simply address the rumors about his conduct surrounding Jenn Sterger, that story would die as well.
Once there's a resolution to a story what more can be written? It's not admitting you were wrong that brings down athletes today, it's refusing to admit your mistakes and keeping yourself in the perpetual news cycle.
It's become a cliche that everyone who does something wrong in Hollywood enters rehab. What never gets discussed is why every celebrity makes this decision, it's to try and end the story cycle, provide an end that gives birth to a new beginning. That's because in Hollywood they understand the power of narrative conclusion. In Hollywood, "they went to rehab" is the new "they lived happily ever after."
To the team's credit, the Texas Rangers, a club far from the bright lights of Hollywood, gets this as well. As a result, Hamilton and Washington's ascension to the big stage of the American League Championship Series is a continuing story of redemption, of second chances granted and won. Ultimately, we're a country of forgivers. That forgiveness has to be sought and the story of a fall from grace has to be completed before a story of triumph can be written. Face the questions directly, answer them, and come Friday take the field to host the New York Yankees with a trip to the World Series on the line.
By the time time the first pitch is thrown, raise a glass to the Rangers, masters of our narrative domain. But when you tip back the beverage take it easy, an ice cold ginger ale goes down softest of all.
Follow Clay Travis on Twitter here. With All That and a Bag of Mail returning for the football season, you can e-mail him questions at Clay.Travis@gmail.com
Steve Phillips assesses the Rangers' chances against the Yankees in the Playoff Pulse: