Matt Bush’s story is a story of seconds and inches. A couple of seconds, a couple of inches different and it would have been a very different story.
On June 7th, 2004, Bush was drafted first overall in the MLB Draft by the San Diego Padres. He signed a contract with a $3.15 million signing bonus, the second largest bonus ever given by the Padres. The world was seemingly at his fingertips, but there was trouble in paradise. Matt Bush is an alcoholic.
Before ever playing one game in the Padres minor league system, Bush was arrested on suspicion of assault and underage drinking after he attacked a bouncer who was removing him from a bar. This was the first incident of many for him. He would spend the next five years struggling with disciplinary issues and injuries before getting released by the Toronto Blue Jays in 2009.
In 2010, Bush signed with the Tampa Bay Rays. While the injury issues continued to plague him, he appeared to have turned a corner. By the start of the 2012 season, he was added the Rays 40-man roster and was on track to make a Major League debut at some point that season. However, on Thursday March 23rd of 2012, Bush borrowed a teammate’s vehicle and was involved in a felony hit and run accident that nearly killed a 72-year-old man. His blood alcohol content was .180, which is over twice the legal limit in the state of Florida. He would later be sentenced to 51 months in prison following a DUI plea deal.
Matt Bush is not alone. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 16.3 million people in the United States have an Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) and according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, about 64% of people attempting to get clean and sober do not make it to one year. Having worked personally and professionally with other alcoholics and drug addicts for the better part of the last decade, my experience would tell me that number is low and the true number is closer to 80-85% of people relapse before a year of sobriety.
Essentially, alcoholics drink because they like the effect produced by alcohol. That statement is a bit misleading though. Many people drink because they like the effect, but alcohol has a different impression on an alcoholic. It changes the way they feel. It makes them whole. I understand that plight because I have lived through it.
My story is a one of seconds and inches as well. A couple of seconds, a couple of inches different and it would have been a very different story.
I spent over ten years of my life addicted to alcohol. I drank because I liked the effect produced by it. Not necessarily because of the way it made me feel, but rather because I didn’t want to feel and alcohol made that possible. When the people in my life (family, friends, bosses, the US Army, and judges) tried to get me to stop or slow down, I resisted. I never understood the idea of having just one drink or drinking in moderation. If it feels this good with one, why wouldn’t it feel that much better with 20? Why wouldn’t you want to feel like this all the time? I am one of the lucky few though. Not just because I got sober and changed my life, but because in the process I didn’t destroy anyone else’s life. There is no clear rationale to why I was so “lucky” and Matt Bush wasn’t. It’s really just a matter of seconds and inches.
It is not a question of intelligence or maturity. Alcoholism is a disease and has been classified that way by the American Medical Association since 1956. It is a disease that comes with a stigma. While it isn’t a matter of willpower, recovery from addiction does take a certain amount of courage and strength and Matt Bush is showing it. He is also showing the maturity that many questioned throughout his off the field troubles. Written into his contract are a number of provisions to act as a deterrent to any drinking or slacking off from a rigorous recovery program.
There are memorable success stories. The most recent of which comes from his own team. Josh Hamilton spent years battling his own demons of addiction only to find redemption in the form of a MVP season, two AL Pennants, and a massive contract with the Los Angeles Angels. Even with the all the success he faltered. In spring of 2015, he admitted that he had relapsed, an admission that would lead to the Angels trading him back to Texas in order to rid themselves of any potential further problems. That is the thing about alcoholics and addicts. They don’t drink on a Tuesday because Monday was bad. They drink because it’s Tuesday. They drink because the obsession tells them to. They drink because they don’t know how to not.
Sometimes, relapses are part of recovery. Some may say that this is a cop out or a way to rationalize poor decisions. However, I know that in my own experience, it was a necessity. I needed to research my addiction more. I needed more pain. It may seem insane, but without those experiences, without that anguish, I would not be who I am today. I needed all those dominoes to fall in exactly that order to be standing where and how I am today. Sometimes when we hit our bottom, we decide to keep digging instead of climb out of the hole because the fear of change is greater than the fear of staying the same.
For the better part of a decade, Matt Bush has been a pretty easy punch line. Just look through his mentions on social media after the Jose Bautista–Rougned Odor incident from last weekend. Even now that he has seemingly turned a corner in his life, you see the jokes on social media. The sad truth is that it is much easier for many of us to make jokes or poke fun at those that struggle with afflictions that we don’t understand. Imagine how difficult it must be for someone to struggle not only with addiction, but to have to do it with millions of people watching. Most people can’t handle it with no one watching. The amount of humility and courage it must take to walk back on the field, in front of tens of thousands of fans in the stands and millions watching at home is unfathomable. Matt Bush has done it though.
Will this be the final chapter in Matt Bush’s redemption story? It is impossible to tell. That is the tricky part about addiction. Just because one stops drinking doesn’t mean the problems go away. Alcoholism is just a symptom of deeper issues, which is why it is considered a lifelong condition. That is why one can recover from it, but are never cured. There is no cure. What we do know is that he has talent. He had the talent to be the first overall pick back in 2004 and, in spite of the fact that he lost many of his prime athletic years to injury, addiction, and imprisonment, he has finally reached the Major Leagues at the age of 30. And he still had the talent to blow away the reigning MVP with a 97 mph fastball in his Major League debut last week.
I have often talked about how the players we choose for our fantasy teams and root for on our favorite teams are real people. That their lives are not just statistics and numbers, that they too have things on the outside that affect them. I don’t know if this is the final chapter in the Matt Bush story or another rise before the fall. What I do know is that his story can be an inspiration to the millions that struggle with addiction and if telling it can help one person, it is worth telling.
Justin is the co-host on The Sleeper and The Bust Podcast and writes for Rotographs covering the Roto Riteup as well as random topics that float into his juvenile brain. In addition to his work at Rotographs, Justin is the lead fantasy writer/analyst and co-owner for FriendswithFantasyBenefits.com, owner of The Great Fantasy Baseball Invitational, and a fantasy football and baseball writer for Fantasy Alarm. He is also a certified addiction treatment counselor. Follow Justin on Twitter @JustinMasonFWFB.