Sunday Notes: Valentine on Hamilton, Acta & Keri on the Expos, Leathersich, more

Ellis Valentine knows what Josh Hamilton is going through. Valentine battled substance abuse during his playing days, in the 1970s and 1980s, and now works as a certified drug counselor. Hamilton – assuming the reports are true – recently suffered a relapse in his own struggles with addiction.

Valentine has been clean for nearly three decades, and he’s been helping others fight their demons for nearly as long. He’s offered to help the troubled Angels’ slugger, but Hamilton’s handlers have kept him at arm’s length.

“People come to me all the time and ask, ‘Why don’t you work with Josh Hamilton?’ Valentine told me. “I say, ‘I’d love to try — I have tried — but I can’t get close to him.’ I have a lot of compassion for Josh, but the people surrounding him don’t want me around.”

Valentine works out of Dallas and tried reaching out to Hamilton multiple times when the outfielder played for the Texas Rangers. Repeatedly rebuffed, Valentine actually wrote a letter to himself, in 2010, chronicling his failed attempts to lend assistance.

If Hamilton were to allow Valentine the opportunity, he’d receive some tough love. The erstwhile Expo – he represented Montreal in the 1977 All-Star game — was passionate when offering an opinion on what Hamilton has to do. The advice was shaped by personal experience as well as clinical training.

“Somewhere along the line, Josh Hamilton has to grow up,” said Valentine. “I was 31 years old before I filled out my first tax form. I was making hundreds of thousands of dollars, but I had attorneys, my agent – I had all these people to do things for me, so I was allowed to just go out and get high and be in la-la land.

“Josh isn’t running his life; his addictive nature is running his life, The bottom line is, he needs a treatment program that includes letting go of some of the people in his social circle. You can’t be 30-something-years-old and having people enabling you when you’re an irresponsible, addicted individual. It just doesn’t work.

“Josh uses drugs to deal with the problem, which is him. In other words, we’re treating the wrong thing. We’re treating the drug addiction, whereas the problem is Josh’s obsession to avoid responsibility. Cocaine is alive and well here in Dallas, but I don’t use it. It doesn’t become a problem until you go out there and seek it.”

Hamilton has found plenty of success between the white lines. A five-time All-Star with an MVP award on his resume, he’s a great player when fully healthy. In Valentine’s opinion, the accolades have perversely affected him off the field.

“He doesn’t do well when he does well,” said Valentine. “When you look back over his career, he has a tremendous problem with success. That syndrome has to be treated.”

Turning his voice in Hamilton’s direction, Valentine continued:

“Why do you sabotage everything good that happens in your life? Yes, I hear you talking this Christian stuff 24-7 — I hear you quoting the Bible – but do you know what? None of that works when you go out and do stupid stuff.”

——

In 2003 and 2004, the Montreal Expos played a portion of their home games in San Juan, Puerto Rico. By then, the once-proud franchise was owned by MLB and very much in limbo. Hosting contests 1,912 miles away from their Quebec footprint was yet another step toward oblivion (and, in 2005, Washington D.C.).

Manny Acta was the Expo’s third base coach at the time. Earlier this week, I asked him about the Puerto Rico experience.

“We pretty much knew the team was done in Montreal,” said Acta. “Fans weren’t showing up at the ballpark, so the Puerto Rico idea was very refreshing. We had a lot of Spanish-speaking players, including Puerto Rican stars like Jose Vidro and Javier Vazquez. The crowds were very good at the beginning.”

Atmospherically, the crowds were the polar opposite of Montreal’s Stade Olympique, which had become a mausoleum. San Juan’s Estadio Hiram Bithorn was boisterous.

“They used thunder sticks,” said Acta. “Radio Shack sponsored them, and the fans would yell and scream the whole game: ‘Radio Shack! Radio Shack!’ while hitting those thunder sticks. You’d leave town, and for a week that’s all you heard in your head.”

They had a lot to get loud about. The Latin-infused “home team” was winning games in a ballpark built for offense. MLB had also hand-picked the Expos’ opposition with marketing in mind.

“They brought in teams with Latin players who had a big following on the island,” explained Acta. “For instance, the Mets had Robbie Alomar. The Texas Rangers had Ivan Rodriguez, Rafael Palmeiro and Alex Rodriguez. The scheduling was done very well.”

Not everything was perfect. Summers are rainy in Puerto Rico, and playing 22 home games games on the road meant increased hotel time and travel. On one trip, the team flew from San Juan to Seattle, stopping in Atlanta to refuel. By the end of the season, they were out of gas. Neck-and-neck for a wild-card berth deep into August, the Expos folded down the stretch.

Year Two wasn’t anything to write home about. Attendance in San Juan dropped from an average of just over 14,000, in 2003, to just over 10,000 in 2004. A free-fall in the standings didn’t help, nor did having less-attractive teams on the schedule. Losing Vladimir Guerrero, the Expos’ marquee Latin attraction, to free-agency was another blow. Senoritas dig the long ball, and run-production had gone south.

“That first year, the ballpark played very small,” explained Acta. “The next year, they moved the fences back and changed the turf, which made it really tough to hit. Along with that, the novelty kind of wore off.”

In reality, it was never going to work long-term. There was a smattering of talk about moving the Expos to San Juan, but it simply wasn’t feasible. As Acta put it, “It’s tough to maintain enough interest on a small island, and we were only playing 22 games. Imagine if it was 81?”

Will Montreal get another MLB franchise? A group of vocal supporters are championing the cause, and successful exhibitions last spring spurred an even louder drumbeat. With sustainability in mind, would a return be feasible?

“With a new stadium, it could work,” opined Acta. “In the past, fans in Montreal proved they could really stand behind a baseball team. I didn’t have that experience, but I do love the city – it’s one of my favorite cities in the world – and the people there are passionate about sports. The facility simply wasn’t good. Along with getting a stadium, I think they would also need to be in the American League East, so they’d have the Montreal-Toronto rivalry, and Boston and New York within driving distance.”

——

Jonah Keri is among those behind the wheel of the bring-baseball-back-to-Montreal bandwagon. The erudite author’s Expos-history compendium, “Up, Up and Away,” comes out in paperback this week. It includes a new afterward, which Keri is generously allowing me to excerpt here (truncated for space considerations):

“From the instant you walk off the Metro at Pie-IX Station in Montreal, it takes a minute or two to make it through the turnstiles and through the mouth of the tunnel leading to Olympic Stadium. Once there, the walkway narrows considerably, forming a bottleneck that restricts the flow of foot traffic, assuming a lot of people are trying to walk through there all at once. In the history of the Montreal Expos, there were only a few periods when that bottleneck truly mattered…. During the glory years of the late ’70s and early ’80s… and in 1994, the year the Expos fielded the best team in franchise history, you faced a long, slow shuffle up a steep ramp to get into the actual ballpark.

“Exiting the Metro on March 28, 2014, was like entering an Expos time warp. Thousands of bodies jammed together like sardines, inching toward the tunnel, up the ramp, past the ticket windows and the old merchandise boutique, all at glacial speed… Major League Baseball had returned to Olympic Stadium for the first time in 10 years, with more than 46,000 in attendance to see it.

“The home team was “officially” the Toronto Blue Jays, hosting a two-game exhibition series against the New York Mets in Montreal… but the chant booming through the stadium — in the seats, through the concourses, and all the way up that tunnel — was unmistakably familiar: “LET’S GO EXPOS!” The next afternoon brought an even bigger crowd, as more than 50,000 crazies — most of them wearing Expos jerseys — packed the house.
“The weekend opened the floodgates for a rush of pro-Expos sentiment. Indeed, if there was ever a year over the past decade that made you start to believe again, even a little, it was 2014.”

I asked Keri why he’s a believer.

“Baseball can certainly work in Montreal,” responded Keri. “We’re talking about the 13th-largest metro market in North America. Corporate money has flowed into the city over the past decade. And we’ve seen what can happen in the right circumstances, such as in the early 80s when the contending Expos actually outdrew the Yankees.
“Two things need to happen to make it work. Obviously, a new ballpark would need to be built, given that Olympic Stadium was terribly suited for baseball from the moment it opened for business nearly 40 years ago. But even more importantly, a new team will need an ownership group that’s both well-heeled and committed enough to spend money and run the team thoughtfully and aggressively.

“Bell, the telecommunications and media giant, has expressed interest behind the scenes in bringing baseball back to Montreal, a logical move given how much the media landscape has changed and how profitable sports on TV have become (Bell’s chief rival, Rogers, owns the Blue Jays). If Bell, or a similarly well-positioned owner, is truly willing to commit fully to the project, that would go a long way toward convincing the Commissioner’s office to give baseball another shot in Montreal – and for it to succeed this time around.”

——

Piggybacking on the book theme, I’ve had the pleasure of reading an advance copy of “Throw Like a Woman,” by Susan Petrone.

The lead character in Petrone’s new novel is a 40-year-old divorcee who discovers she can throw a baseball over 90 mph when she thinks of her ex-husband. Before long, she signs with the Cleveland Indians and enters the testosterone-drenched atmosphere of the minors.

The book is entertaining, but more importantly, it’s well-informed and well-written. Petrone co-authors ESPN SweetSpot’s Indians blog “It’s Pronounced Lajaway” and is the former publicity director at SABR. “Throw Like a Woman” comes out later this month.

——

Jack Leathersich misses a lot of bats. Much to the southpaw’s chagrin, he also misses the strike zone. The 24-year-old Mets prospect has a 15.2 K/9, but also a 4.9 BB/9 over 147 professional relief outings. His Triple-A numbers are even more striking. In 39 games over parts of two seasons, he’s walked an ugly 8.7 per nine.

Leathersich is deceptive and has a nasty slider to go with an above-average fastball, so the potential is there to become a bullpen cog at Citi Field. Why he’s been unable to master his command remains the million-dollar question, and the answer extends beyond the physical.

Earlier this week, I asked Leathersich if there’s a mental component to his strike zone struggles.

“Some of it is mental,” admitted Leathersich. “It’s not so much me being wild as it is not being able to make adjustments during an outing. I need to get over that hump. But I’m not 40 years old – I’m still young – and this could be the year I finally put it all together.”

Pitchers with command issues are sometimes told to stop thinking and just throw the ball. I asked the University of Massachusetts-Lowell product for his opinion on that advice.

“People say that, but at the same time, it’s impossible,” responded Leathersich. “You can’t get on the mound and just stop thinking. It doesn’t work like that. It’s all about controlling what you can control, figuring out the little tweaks, and learning to slow the game back down if it starts to speed up.”

The majority of the lefty’s appearances last year were walk-free, but he was susceptible to the snowball-effect. When he was out of sync, he all too often stayed out of sync.

“I would have great outings where all I threw was strikes, and I’d have terrible outings where I couldn’t find the strike zone,” said Leathersich. “And baseball isn’t like football or hockey where you can go out and just hustle harder. I need to find that happy medium with making adjustments.”

Early in our conversation, Leathersich used the “W” word. I asked if it’s an apt description of what he’s been.

“I don’t believe I’m wild,” answered Leathersich. “Some people might think I’m wild, because of the walks, but I’m not going to stop pitching how I pitch. You have to keep what’s yours. I can’t try to be something I’m not and nip corners, or slow down my velocity and lay it in there. I’ve never pitched like that and I never will. But I do need to do a better job of attacking the zone. I need to figure it out, but I also need to keep my swagger.”

LINKS YOU’LL LIKE

Fantastic anecdote here from ESPN Boston’s Gordon Edes. Legendary scout Gary Hughes was recently booed in church.

Baseball America recently offered an informative look at the history of their prospect lists. Twenty-five years after their first Top 100, it’s hard to disagree with Mike Berardino’s quote: “Allan Simpson was a visionary.”

RANDOM FACTS AND STATS

One of my favorite Tweets this week came from Joel Luckhaupt. I’ll rephrase it, to make it clearer than 140 characters allows: Paul Derringer, Robin Roberts and Jered Weaver are the only pitchers to throw at least 100 innings in their first season, and increase their innings in each of the next five. Mike Leake will join them if he reaches 214.2 this year.

Danny Santana’s .824 OPS was the highest among MLB shortstops in 2014 (minimum 400 plate appearances). Zack Cozart’s .568 was the lowest.

Statistically, a batter was most likely to get hit by a pitch from 1897-1899. He was least likely to get hit by a pitch from 1937-1947.

Steve Carlton struck out 15 or more batters five times. His record in those K-fests was 1-3, and the no-decision came in a game his team lost.

We hoped you liked reading Sunday Notes: Valentine on Hamilton, Acta & Keri on the Expos, Leathersich, more by David Laurila!

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David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from February 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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Free_AEC
Guest

Josh Hamilton is schizophrenic.

Does he see a psychiatrist?

Has he ever?

Ben
Guest
Ben

Your ignorant comments are really starting to detract from the FanGraphs experience. Could you possibly find another forum for your nonsense?

Free_AEC
Guest

And you are?

Shut up
Guest
Shut up

…Correct

Free_AEC
Guest

http://psychcentral.com/disorders/schizophrenia-symptoms/all/1/

Hamilton ticks the boxes including the age of his breakdown.

I’ve seen him quoted in the past couple of years talking about his conversations with god.

Churches are full of untreated schizophrenics. Favorite place of American society to shove such people.

Real mental health care cost a lot of money. You would think though that
someone like Hamilton would be getting first rate care, but I’ve never seen any mention of it.

Ellis Valentine is supposed to be some kind of licensed “counselor”? And his psychology degree was earned from what University?

The USA and its inhabitants are a bunch of fascist animals.

Lol @ Free_AEC
Guest
Lol @ Free_AEC

Your usage of those listed schizophrenia symptoms to make a diagnosis is both inappropriate, laughably stupid, and shows you don’t actually have any medical expertise.

Flea_AEC
Guest
Flea_AEC

Which country do you inhabit, Comrade Free_AEC?

Dr. Jon L.
Guest
Dr. Jon L.

Symptoms of schizophrenia include disordered speech including frequent incoherence… Americans are fascist animals!

PoundTown
Guest
PoundTown

While his comments are clearly moronic, if you’re letting the comment section detract from your experience…