Clinton Hollon

On Clinton Hollon and Prospects Breaking Your Heart

Clinton Hollon was never the most highly publicized Blue Jays prospect in his tenure with the club. Taken in the 2nd round of the 2013 MLB draft, he was only given 40 percent of the allotted slot value because of an arm injury, which allowed the club to spread the wealth and obtain higher level prospects like Rowdy Tellez. That arm injury ended up doing him in, and he made just six appearances before needing Tommy John surgery.

He rehabbed the injury and made his way back onto the mound, but only made it 12 appearances before his career was derailed once more, this time for failing a drug test. Still, he was not to be deterred, and when I spoke to him for a story on his rehab last winter, he told me about all the work he was putting in to strengthen himself for the 2016 season; changes to his throwing mechanics were being made, he was working on getting stronger, and from the tone of his voice and the words he spoke over the phone, it truly sounded like he was aiming to come back strong in 2016.

Hollon never got to pitch last season. Before he had finished serving his suspension for amphetamine use, he failed another drug test, this time for a drug of abuse, which usually means marijuana. That ended his comeback season before it began. Word got out on Saturday that Hollon was released by the Blue Jays after four years and just 18 games played in the minor league system. His story, if it is indeed over, is one of the sadder ones you will hear. Dozens of minor league baseball players lose their jobs every month, but you’ll be hard pressed to find a promising career that featured so many downs and yet so few ups.

When I spoke to Hollon, I asked him to tell me his story. How he got suspended. Why he did it. That kind of stuff. He denied knowingly taking amphetamines. Instead, he talked about a car accident he was involved in while playing in Vancouver, the ensuing doctors appointments that followed it, and how traces of amphetamines can be sometimes found in the generic brand medicine he was given. At the time, I reserved judgment, presenting the facts of what he told me in the article without stating whether or not I believed him. My job as the one writing the article was not to declare him guilty or innocent. What he did, or did not do, is his business, and not for us to judge him. I still believe that is true today.

He claimed his innocence. He spoke about his newborn son and how everything he was doing to get back on the mound was for him, then said he was going to make it to Double-A New Hampshire by the end of the 2016 season. To Hollon, the toughest part of the suspension was letting everybody around him down. He had apologized to his teammates, his coaches, and the Blue Jays organization for a crime he claimed he did not commit. Every spoken word was about returning stronger, better, and more determined to put the past behind him.

That’s why I was so saddened when I heard he was suspended again last year, and even more so when I found out about his release a few days ago. Hollon made choices. He chose to participate in drug use that would get him suspended. Knowing the consequences of his actions, he still did it. What those actions mean for his first suspension, I’m not sure. I don’t think it is fair to make the connection that a player doing recreational drugs means he also used performance enhancing drugs.

I also struggle to blame this all on him. His career path, although shaped and defined by his actions, is a tragic one. But it didn’t need to be. Hollon’s story is yet another reminder of the unnecessary constraints put on minor league players because they do not have a union.

MLB’s player association allows for players on 40-man rosters to escape unpunished for drugs of abuse. Unfortunately, minor leaguers are not granted that same freedom. They are not paid living wages, and the hundreds that are signed from Latin America are put through a system where they must put the slim chance of making the Major Leagues ahead of getting a basic education that’ll allow them to be functioning members of society if their baseball dreams do not work out.

The system is so corrupt that teams hand kinds that just finished High School, like Hollon did in 2013, oodles of money and then expect them to follow all these rules that their presumably more mature counterparts in the Major Leagues are not expected to obey. That doesn’t seem fair to me.

Look, I can’t say Clinton Hollon didn’t deserve to be released by the Blue Jays. At some point, all the promises of change and hopes of a future on a mound striking batters out with a dirty slider are not good enough. The headache of dealing with the player off the field becomes too much to weigh against their production on the field. For the Blue Jays, that point seems to have been this off-season. But although he may have deserved to have his Blue Jays career come to an end this winter, it doesn’t make his story any better.

Prospects usually disappoint by failing to reach their potential on the field. To me, Hollon was more than that. He never lived up to his potential on the field, because he couldn’t live up to it off the field. He again let down his teammates, coaches, and the Blue Jays organization. He told me that he was doing everything he could as a baseball player to make his son proud, but unfortunately that hasn’t worked out recently.

Prospects don’t just break your heart on the field. When you realize that they are people off the field as well, that’s when it truly hurts.

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