Over the past month or so, a few former baseball stars have been in the headlines, largely due to their struggles away from the baseball field.
Everything started with the ESPN portrayal of the story of Pete Rose, concerning his gambling addiction that affected so many people, and that eventually resulted in his banning from baseball.
While the portrayed events in the made-for-TV-movie took place many years ago, it nonetheless returned the story to the mainstream national media, reviving the debate of whether or not Rose should be allowed to be on the ballot for the Hall of Fame. And regardless of whether or not Rose will eventually be allowed in, the sad development is the pain that it caused to so many that were involved in the situation, and that got between Pete and his gambling.
And as has been recently discovered, Rose is not the only one to see his life ruined by gambling. Cecil Fielder was one of the great power hitters of the late 1980’s through the 1990’s. Fielder made plenty of money, signing one of the richest contracts of his era (and while the 5 year, $36 million contract seems miniscule now, it was groundbreaking at the time). Fielder’s son is a rising star as one of the top prospects in all of baseball with the Milwaukee Brewers’ farm system.
And where is Fielder now? He’s unreachable, estranged from his wife and kids, having gambled away his fortune. The family lost their beautiful mansion due to the financial strain, and now they are enthralled in a messy divorce between Cecil and his wife. It’s just another example of many lives being ruined by a terrible addiction.
It’s obvious that gambling has affected many, but it hasn’t been the only issue. Ken Caminiti did everything at full speed. He played hard, on and off the field. Whether it was steroids or cocaine, Caminiti never really entertained the idea of moderation. The result unfortunately was a massive heart attack that resulted in the tragic passing of the 41-year old. Preliminary results indicate that the heart attack was the result of a cocaine overdose. Caminiti left behind 3 young daughters, 3 kids that will never get the chance to know their father as the baseball star that he once was, but rather as the man that couldn’t stay away from drugs in his post-baseball life that eventually resulted in his death.
So, are the recent tragedies just a rough patch, or are they a sign of the things to come for baseball players? Unfortunately, there will probably be many more tragic stories, similar to the ones that have surfaced over the past few weeks.
The issue isn’t the men that have struggled, but rather the lifestyle that baseball players are bred into. Since the beginning of the emergence of our national pastime shortly after the turn of the 19th century, baseball players have always lived a different life than the majority of the population.
Babe Ruth was the most famous baseball player of the first half of 20th century, arguably of all time. And while Ruth was amazing on the field, he was also famous for his off the field drinking. The drinking caught up with Ruth, as he was diagnosed with throat cancer and died shortly thereafter, at the young age of 53.
But Ruth wasn’t the only one. Many baseball players were notorious for their antics away from the field. Like Ruth, Mickey Mantle partied and drank far too much when he wasn’t playing baseball, destroying his body and very possibly eliminating any chance he had at chasing Ruth.
The truth is, that this lifestyle has been led by many, many players for many, many years. The true tragedy is, that as long as these players have money and have the freedom to do what they wish when they’re on the road, these tragic stories will keep emerging.
It’s time for Major League Baseball to step up and address this issue. In recent years, the NFL has instituted an off-the-field training camp so-to-speak, where every drafted player is required to go on a retreat for a few days, where they’re instructed on everything that they may encounter as a football player, while they’re on the road, and everything else imaginable.
Major League Baseball needs to adapt a similar policy. Obviously, there are far more players in each baseball draft than the NFL draft, so maybe it’s a seminar instituted by baseball, but run by each individual team. In any case, it’s a step that needs to be taken, for the sake of the lives and the families of current and future baseball players.
And it needs to happen soon, because there’s no telling how many more players will fall the way of Caminiti or Fielder – and such a result just cannot continue to happen.
Paul Wezner is the Senior Editor of TigsTown.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.