Matt Bush, Ryan Leaf.
A pair of four-letter words, actually a quartet of four-letter words, and a set that continue to curse the history of San Diego sports.
We thought the two couldn’t possibly hit rock bottom worse than they already had – but in the last seven days the pair has proved us wrong.
Matt Bush went first last week. Tagged as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2004 MLB Amateur Draft, he made GM Josh Towers regret the selection from the word “go.” The Padres settled on Bush that year in a draft that included Justin Verlander, Jered Weaver, and Stephen Drew mainly because he was a local product and the most signable in the upper tier of that draft class, with the other big names all being represented by Scott Boras.
On the field, Bush couldn’t get his average much above .200 as a shortstop in low-A ball, committed 38 errors, then broke his ankle. With a fastball in the upper 90s, Bush was converted to being a pitcher but soon blew his elbow out. By the time he was finally ready physically following Tommy John’s surgery, Bush’s blotter record had already become too lengthy for the Padres organization to continue.
The very day of his signing, Bush was paraded out at Petco Park before a game, and he along with family and friends attended the game from the owners box. Allegedly items were stolen from the suite that night. Not long after that Bush was arrested for an altercation at an Arizona bar (as he was supposed to report to his Rookie League team).
Later on Bush terrorized a high school lacrosse team (“I’M MATT (F’N) BUSH!!!, F—EAST COUNTY!!!” while driving his Mercedes), then earned a arrest for throwing objects at vehicles that Fox News infamously thought was amusing. By that point Bush had already been proclaimed the biggest bust in baseball history.
After being released by the Padres, Bush got a camp invite from the Toronto Blue Jays, who quickly cut bait during spring training after violating the organization’s “no tolerance policy,” then got yet another chance with the Tampa Bay Rays.
As of a couple weeks ago, it appeared Bush finally turned his career, and more importantly, his life around. Bush pitched in AA ball in 2011 and looked decent enough in camp to the point that he was slated to open 2012 in AAA, with a real possibility of finally getting the call to the show at some point during the season as a middle reliever. Bush had also done some interviews where he played the God/Jesus angle and talked about having to work hard on a daily basis not to fall into the same mistakes he made previously.
Unfortunately all the optimism crashed both figurately and literally in a felony hit-and-run case. Using a teammate’s SUV, Bush (after being kicked out of a strip bar and reportedly “flared up like a rooster”) allegedly ran over motorcyclist Tony Tufano, leaving the 72-year old in a coma with a broken wrist, broken back, broken ribs, collapsed lung, and brain hemorrhage. Had Tufano not been wearing he helmet, his head would had been crushed.
Meanwhile Bush continues to sit in jail, unable to make bail set at $1+ million. There is also breaking news on a possible second mystery occupant in Bush’s SUV.
Those events got people in San Diego debating again whether Bush or Ryan Leaf was the most infamous draft pick, which earlier in the week I thought was unfair – Leaf had his moments while being unable to justify his No. 2 overall pick in the 1998 NFL Draft, and also got into legal trouble in recent years, reportedly over a painkiller addiction. But at least Leaf’s selection couldn’t be second-guessed.
He was considered QB No. 1A along with Peyton Manning that year, and PM had already been selected at No. 1 – some even thought at the time that Leaf was the better prospect. By 2001 Leaf was out of the NFL, while Manning is a future first-ballot Hall-of-Famer fresh off signing a $95+ million contract with the Denver Broncos despite missing an entire year due to injury.
Recently Leaf spoke out in the media about his personal battles while promoting a just-released book. And this weekend Leaf was scheduled for a book signing in his native Montana.
It’s amazing how those whose public lives/careers crash in spectacular fashion seemingly always point to book deals for income.
Word came on Saturday that Leaf had been arrested again, this time for felony burglary/felony drug possession. Further details leaked during the day: The Central Montana Drug Task Force had been on the case the past month and reportedly intercepted a package found in Leaf’s SUV (not the first time he’s been intercepted) that allegedly contained 20 Oxycontin pills. Leaf was already on 10 years probation for reportedly stashing up to 1,000 pills in an eight-month period while employed on the coaching staff of West Texas A&M University.
Most likely, there were more authorities at his bail signing ($76,000) than would have attended his book signing. A contrite Leaf released a statement saying, “I’ve made some mistakes, and have no excuses,” both through his publicist and on his Twitter account.
The bad news is both Leaf and Bush have used up their final of many chances. It is OVER (as in REALLY OVER) for both of them.
Best case scenario for Matt Bush is several years behind bars, and zero chance of ever returning to baseball. That happens only if Tony Tufano survives, and the best case scenario for Tufano involves rehabilitation from his injuries for the rest of his life.
And Bush’s bank account will not be looking good either. Tufano’s family is already considering litigation, not only going after Bush but also teammate Brandon Guyer, who lent Bush his ride (Guyer’s agent says his client was not aware Bush’s license was suspended) and ultimately perhaps the Rays franchise itself.
In turn, the Rays face a PR crisis. The organization has been endlessly seeking local assistance in building a new stadium – the stain of having Bush on the roster and not looking after him (at least enough) will be hard to get off.
And commissioner Bud Selig also takes heat over this, although he seemingly takes heat for everything. But the fact remains, if Roger Goodell was MLB commissioner, would he had allowed Bush back on the field, at least before being completely sure he was on the right track and seeking proper counseling?
Ryan Leaf’s long-term future is not rosy either. Not surprisingly, the Texas DA who already had Leaf on probation wants him back in his custody, adding sadly that he is not surprised by the latest developments. While his current probation is only for 10 years, Leaf could find himself behind bars for much longer, as the seven misdemeanor charges from the previous case in Texas can now be handled separately, and carry potential sentences of 20 years each.
In other words, Leaf could end up with a much lengthier prison term than Michael Vick. Not to compare the two cases, but authorities go heavily after drug trafficking. Leaf also has had health issues in the past year in regards to a benign brain tumor and injuries from his playing days that possibly led to his painkiller use.
Beyond Rock Bottom
In both the cases of Matt Bush and Ryan Leaf, the debate rages on weather the principles involved are people who have “fallen into addiction” or are simply bad apples. On Saturday Jim Rome made mention on Twitter to his listeners “being played” when Leaf recently appeared on his radio show – adding that Leaf has “serious issues.” Others say that Leaf has been “diligent” about fighting his addiction but had in the last year shown signs of reverting back to previous behavior patterns.
I have far much less sympathy for Matt Bush. Having alcohol issues, etc. is one thing – showing absolutely no regard for human life is quite another. Bush has been a tool and has ran with the wrong crowd from the beginning, something Kevin Towers and the Padres organization apparently did not notice leading up to the 2004 MLB Draft – in the end it killed Towers’ career in San Diego.
Bush and Leaf have gone beyond rock bottom, they have reached the point of no return. And that book has way too predictable an ending.