Our own Dave Cameron wrote up the Jon Singleton signing and promotion on Monday. In the article, Cameron referenced Singleton’s battle with drug addiction. Singleton told The Associated Press (via ESPN.com) back in March, “At this point, it’s pretty evident to me that I’m a drug addict.”
So that’s pretty interesting, but plenty of people successfully combat addictions. The Astros aren’t necessarily wrong to give a long-term deal to an admitted drug addict, particularly when the deal has the potential to be extremely team-friendly if Singleton performs up to his reputation as a top prospect. You aren’t wrong for owning Singleton in fantasy or picking him up on the waiver wire now that he’s in the big leagues. If you are an Astros fan, you have reasons for optimism now with Singleton and George Springer joining Jose Altuve, Jason Castro, Dexter Fowler, and Matt Dominguez to form what is starting to look like a competent team after several long years in the abyss.
Where I became startled in reading about Singleton was when the ESPN.com article said:
He isn’t receiving treatment for his addiction, isn’t in a program and doesn’t have someone traveling with him to keep him on track.
Singleton is confident he can avoid further relapses by focusing on his opportunity, keeping better company and avoiding bad situations. He calls his life a work in progress and is focused on not being so hard on himself this season.
I don’t know what the statistics are on relapse avoidance for people in programs as opposed to out, but I can’t imagine the odds are in Singleton’s favor right now. I don’t know how many people reading this have addictions of their own or at least know someone who, like Singleton, is a self-admitted addict of some kind. I do know that human habits are extremely difficult to change, particularly a habit as serious as substance abuse.
I know this because last Sunday I thought to myself, “You know what? You’ve gotten pretty out of shape here. You should stop drinking once again and start exercising. Also, like Singleton, you shouldn’t be hard on yourself anymore!” Good thoughts, no? Then, on Tuesday night, one of my bosses offered to pick up our bar tab at a local watering hole and I thought to myself, “What kind of idiot turns down free drinks?” Sunday’s resolution to hope for change had failed miserably, as Tuesday night ended with a phone call to my attorney to get her to file a lawsuit against the fast food establishment which had me sick in my view of things.
Actually, since the readers here probably aren’t aspiring to be Gonzo journalists with a substance abuse solution to reality like the great Hunter “Pence” Thompson and this aspiring writer, let’s use a different example. Also on Sunday, I thought, “You should eat healthier, too.” And then Monday morning someone upset me at work and next think you know there’s a Chinese restaurant down the street and I’m there for some deep-fried sugary products of some kind that sure taste great but aren’t exactly “good” for you. The point here is that reality is always out there, cold and indifferent, ready to strike down our best intentions and return us to our worst habits.
Singleton might have better will power than I do, and let’s certainly hope so. We’d all hate for his story to end with him out of the game and feeling ill at a fast food restaurant. But perhaps willpower can only get you so far, and as habitual creatures, we need to be re-programmed to change those habits which need changing if we’re to have long-term success.
I seem to bring up Infinite Jest in each of these columns and that’s because I read all of the like 1,110 pages in that book and didn’t even get a trophy or an IQ bump, so I have to keep mentioning the fact that I read the book to feel better about myself and how I spend my time. Also, does any novel capture modern American society better than Infinite Jest? I can’t think of any. The themes of over-consumption, waste, addiction, compulsion, obsession, loneliness, and depression combine to paint a rather eery depiction of our arguably hollow society. On addiction, Wallace writes:
That most Substance-addicted people are also addicted to thinking, meaning they have a compulsive and unhealthy relationship with their own thinking…That 99% of compulsive thinkers’ thinking is about themselves; that 99% of this self-directed thinking consists of imagining and then getting ready for things that are going to happen to them; and then, weirdly, that if they stop to think about it, that 100% of the things they spend 99% of their time and energy imagining and trying to prepare for all the contingencies and consequences of are never good…In short that 99% of the head’s thinking activity consists of trying to scare the everliving [beep] out of itself.
In baseball, “Ninety percent of the game is half-mental.” In life, 100 percent of the game is half-mental or 100-percent mental.
Singleton has clearly been blessed with the physical tools to succeed as a ballplayer. He’s listed at 6’2″ and 255 pounds. He hit .279/.388/.466 during his minor league career after being selected in the 8th round of the 2009 draft. He’s been ranked as a top-100 prospect for four straight seasons, getting to as high as No. 25 on Baseball Prospectus’ list last year. He was a key piece in the trade that brought Hunter Pence over to the Phillies. He blasted a home run in his first game with Houston.
Yet those attributes and accomplishments aren’t all that unique at this level. What stands out about Singleton in comparison to other top prospects who’ve graduated to the show is his admission of drug addiction. Can he control his demons and reach the height of his ceiling, or will his mental activity drag him back down and limit what has the chance to be a great career?
The Astros have already made a bet on Singleton staying clean, and they should know more about him than anyone. Yet when it comes to the human psyche, there’s so much we don’t know, or perhaps it’s just that there’s so much we aren’t willing to admit.
Singleton is still a decent bet for fantasy owners and the executives in Houston. It’s just that in his case, he’s admitted his demons in a public manner, and since the information we have makes it sound as though he’s white-knuckling it, there is more risk associated with him than the typical prospect.
Mark Reynolds graduated from Dominican University of California in 2008 with a degree in Political Science. Since graduating, he's been "blogging" about baseball and other topics.