Jeff Pearlman

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Josh Hamilton and the vanishing 20 pounds

During last year’s baseball season, I had a long talk with a Major League scout for a piece I was working on. We chatted about this and that, that and this. Toward the end he said, “You’re gonna see a lot of changes in 2013.”

I asked what he meant by that. The Astros switching leagues? The Mets losing even more games? The Angels relocating the press box into a bathroom?

No.

He told me that, in his opinion, as many ballplayers were using forms of PED now as they had been in the late 1990s and early 2000s. “However,” he said, “everyone knows there’s probably going to be improved testing next year. So a lot of guys are going for that last big contract. Then, once they sign … they’ll change.”

Change?

“You’ll see.”

A couple of hours ago, while watching the MLB Network, I learned that Josh Hamilton, the Angels’ new slugger, reported to camp weighing 20-to-30 pounds less than normal. Let me repeat that: Twenty to thirty pounds. Upon using the ol’ Google, I found this piece from Jeff Fletcher of the Orange County Register. It talks about Hamilton giving up bread, discovering juice and fruits and vegetables. “I figure I can come in at a weight I feel good at maintain that all year,” Hamilton said. “Last year and the years before you lose so much weight and you get tired. You battle it all year. Hopefully now I don’t have to battle it. I want to get my weight settled and stay there.”

First, to be clear: I don’t know if Josh Hamilton used PEDs. I’d long assumed he hadn’t, because the idea of an ex-drug addict taking, well, drugs didn’t make much sense to me. The fight to remain clean is a brutal one, and I know Hamilton confronts it with great seriousness. He is one of the nicest guys I’ve ever dealt with. I’ve never doubted his sincerity or his decency.

And yet … in the modern era of baseball, with all we know and all we’ve seen and all the recent news concerning Alex Rodriguez and Gio Gonzalez and Ryan Braun and numerous others, well … I’m just not so sure we can continue to take reports like this at face value. I remember, back in the day, covering spring training and watching with silent confusion as Seattle second baseman Bret Boone arrived at camp packing 30 pounds of extra muscle; as Detroit catcher Pudge Rodriguez arrived minus 20. They always gave these “interesting” explanations—I spent so much time in the weight room; a needed more flexibility. One of my great regrets is never openly questioning it; never saying, “Wait a second. You were tiny, now you have no neck. That doesn’t seem possible, sir.”

Again, I don’t know if Hamilton’s using. I really don’t. But one must be skeptical.

Here’s what I do know: Asking the hard questions can be difficult and awkward and cumbersome. The men and women assigned to cover the Angels have 162-plus games to spend with Hamilton and Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson and the rest of the gang. You need stars to talk to you; need access; need help. Beginning a relationship with, “Thirty pounds … really?” isn’t a winner.

But it is fair.

  • Keith Ryan Cartwright

    Last October I gave up caffeine, fast foot and started eating a lot better. I’d say I eat 80 to 85 percent clean. I started working out twice a week with a trainer and putting in another four (sometimes five) sessions of cardio on a treadmill. The trainer sessions are only 50 minutes each and I spend 45 minutes on the treadmill. I’m 43 years old and in that time period I lost 20 pounds. I’m not a professional athlete, I’m not training like one, but by giving 45 minutes a day to getting in shape I was able to shed the same amount of weight as Hamilton in the same amount of time and the fact that he’s younger than me, he should have had an easier time than I did, so I’m not as alarmed. There are a lot of issues with Hamilton and, perhaps, he shouldn’t get the benefit of the doubt, but I’m not quite ready to point a finger at him… at least not just yet. But he’s definitely on shakey ground. However, if you recall he did seem to be drinking a LOT of caffeine last summer when “(his) eyes do like this” and missed a bunch of games. If he stopped drinking so many energy drinks and eating candy bars then maybe, just maybe, he would have shed a lot weight from that.

    • Mike Wortham

      Keith – you are to be congratulated on your weight loss, but I don’t think you can compare your situation to Hamilton’s. I can only assume you are not a professional athlete. 20 to 30 pounds does not mean the same thing to you as it does to him. Hamilton was already a fairly lean and muscular baseball player. I live in DFW and have followed the Rangers closely for the duration of Hamilton’s career here. The man didn’t have 20 to 30 pounds of fat to lose, so it had to come from somewhere.

  • Kirk

    I’m not an apologist for Hamilton by any means, but it seems overblown to suggest that he’s gone off something to get to this point. Are you suggesting the same thing about John Lackey, who is a fraction of the size he once was based on the early pix from Ft Myers? While 20 lbs may seem like a lot of weight, by changing a person’s diet and focusing more on healthy foods and reducing caloric intake (or at least changing how he gets those calories) but, as an athlete, maintaining his workouts, it seems very possible to me. I’ve known many very healthy, active people that changed their diet (especially removing bread/gluten from their diets), and found similar results that weren’t using beforehand.

    I’ve wanted to share this when you post Bonds ‘after’ pix- I had a co-worker that was a professional athlete- he’d played nose tackle through college and was in Bears camp and the last player cut before the season after he graduated from college. He was a small for his position 6 foot maybe 1 inch, probably close to 300 lbs at his biggest. He talked of the massive meals that he ate, especially in camp, that he had to eat just to maintain his playing weight so he could compete against the larger centers that he faced. When he was cut due to his concussion history, he ‘retired’ and stopped eating his ‘maintenance’ meals, stopped eating the high fat, high calorie meals that he used to require. Ate fruits and vegetables, little flour/gluten, no sweets, no soda. I worked with him 3-4 years later, and he’s now about 175 lbs. I have no doubt that he was clean, but simply changing his diet and changing the focus of his condition, he lost a ton of weight.

    I personally do not doubt that Bonds took steroids, but a blanket statement that retired athletes (or just athletes in general) looking better and thinner due to retiring or changing their diet/activity really seems overblown and overly skeptical to me. For retired players, gone are the days of ‘going to pot’ and being lazy now that they are retired. While some do go that way, a lot of the more fitness minded guys are much more concerned about their health than the old days.

  • http://www.metstoday.com Matt Himelfarb

    Yeah, no. Not really. It’s only ‘fair’ if one is absolutely delusional and an utter ignoramus regarding body composition.

    So Hamilton started the off-season weighing about 250 pounds. I’ll take a rough estimate and say he was approximately 15% bodyfat (partly based on those lovely deadspin pictures of him from a couple years ago). That means he was carrying about 38 pounds of fat, and 212 lbs. of lean body mass

    Assuming he really dropped 20 pounds of pure adipose tissue, he’d be at about 8% bodyfat right now. Of course, keep in mind, those 20 pounds could easily be exaggerated. When anyone initially goes on a diet, they see a significant drop in water- particularly a guy like Hamilton, who was 250 lbs. (at his size, he can easily shift about 10 lbs. of water, purely based upon the amount of food in his stomach, sodium intake, etc.). He could simply be comparing his ‘normal’ weight to a day he woke up completely depleted. And of course, we know people are never prone to exaggerate weight loss/gain. The actual fat loss might very well amount to less than 10 lbs.

    But I’ll be generous and say he really did lose 20 pounds of pure fat. Going from 15-8% bodyfat is a perfectly reasonable improvement for any gym rat (in fact, that is a pretty standard winter-summer weight shift, for those who do a traditional bulk and cut). Me and plenty of young guys do it from our college dorm room every year.

    Hamilton, meanwhile, is one of the genetic elite. He’s predisposed to being lean, and has plenty of money to burn on the best nutritionists/trainers.

    I’m not accusing you of deliberately lying/misleading anyone or anything, but even your implied accusation is absolutely absurd.

  • Pingback: Is Josh Hamilton losing weight a sign of … something? | HardballTalk

  • Josh

    I do agree with the overall point about the shrinking ballplayers.

    With Hamilton, though, if you’ve ever read the stories about him, the guy would put away several thousand calories a day to stay at his weight of 235. He apparently would finish a game, eat the postgame meal, get in a quick lift, drink a 2,000-calorie shake on the way home, then eat a full home-cooked meal made by his wife before bed.

    Not much would shock me in regards to players with the juice, but in Hamilton’s case, if he truly gave up all the grains in favor of more plant-based energy sources, it wouldn’t shock me if he simply lost 20 or more pounds in an offseason.

  • Dave

    I think we all now must, not should, but MUST, ask Pearlman the hard questions of whether he plagiarizes articles. After all, he is a writer writing articles and we know writer do plagiarize work.

    Further, Pearlman must also prove he has not plagiarized any work by him producing everything that has been written by anyone and compare it to his own work. It’s the only way we’ll know for sure.

  • albert

    Ummm…are you not a reporter? Isnt it your job to ask the questions?

  • Ike Farrell

    What a POS hatchet job of an article. When you have to continually reassure everyone that you don’t know something, you probably should shut your trap instead of casting aspertions on another person. I thought you were better than that.

    I was wrong.

  • suziecue

    And really, really irresponsible bullshit. 20 lbs (and I’ve not read 30) is nothing for a guy his size. Get real. Are you that desperate for clicks? He’s drug tested 3 times a week and has been since he came back in the league. So, now you’ll accuse Miggy of PED use because he won the triple crown? Or, you don’t have that courage? Don’t know why idiots like you don’t just leave this guy alone and let him play baseball.

  • Art Vandeley

    It’s a valid question for a journalist with your experience to ask, especially since you wrote a book about Barry Bonds and probably know thing or two about baseball players and PEDs.

  • ruru

    “the idea of an ex-drug addict taking, well, drugs didn’t make much sense to me,” are you serious? maybe the stupidest sentence ever.

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Once again, Jeff Pearlman has produced an exhaustively researched, elegantly written book that re-creates one of the most colorful and memorable teams of the modern era. No basketball fan's bookshelf will be complete without it.

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