In 2004, Matt Bush was a California kid with a world of opportunity ahead of him. He was a gifted 18-year-old shortstop and during the last week of his senior year, he learned he was the number one overall pick for the amateur MLB draft. He was the first shortstop drafted first overall since 1993 (Alex Rodriguez) and was picked one spot ahead of Justin Verlander. Great company to be compared with, indeed.
Bush was selected by the San Diego Padres and given a signing bonus of $3.15M, the second largest in the organization’s history. In an interview with Fox Sports, Bush recounted the experience of draft week to Gabe Kapler. “I’m sitting in English class and I told the teacher, ‘Watch, check out the internet, I’m about to be the first overall draft pick,’” he said. “…The next thing you know the news is coming to my school, and a few days later I’m coming to class and my head coach says ‘What’re you doing here? You don’t need to be here.’” Some of his final exams were even waived in light of the good news.
But it would seem there were still plenty of lessons for young Matt Bush to learn.
Matt Bush’s legal troubles begin
Just two weeks after the draft, Bush found himself in an altercation at a bar near his team’s spring training facilities in Arizona. According to published reports, security personnel tried to escort Bush out of the bar upon learning that he was underage. Shortly after, violence broke out, and Bush was charged with suspicion of felony assault, misdemeanor trespassing, and disorderly conduct, in addition to being cited for underage drinking. Though the felony charges were later dropped, he started his baseball career on the suspended list. In retrospect, it was a sign of things to come.
A once promising career proves disappointing
After being released from his suspension, Bush played for the Padres’ Arizona Rookie League. He played decently but not quite up to expectations, hitting .192 his first year, then .221 in 2005. Following the 2005 season, Bush was converted to a pitcher. While he was able to throw his fastball 98 M.P.H., success still hadn’t found him. The young athlete was plagued by injuries, including a broken ankle in 2006 and a torn ligament in his throwing arm in 2007. The ligament was repaired by Tommy John surgery in 2008, sidelining him for the entire season. And soon thereafter, trouble would once again find him.
A pattern emerges
In 2008, it was reported that Bush was involved in another bar altercation, this time resulting in bodily harm, but the Padres took no disciplinary action while he was still in physical rehab for his surgery. Sadly, the destructive incidents would continue.
In 2009, El Cajon (located in San Diego, California) police investigated an incident in which a drunken Matt Bush beat up two high school lacrosse players. It was his third alcohol-related incident, and the Padres had enough. They designated him for assignment (i.e., released him from the team) and traded him to the Toronto Blue Jays.
Bush had yet to play a Major League game, but was making headlines across the country. And his troubles were far from over. One month after the trade, he drunkenly berated and assaulted a woman in Florida, where he was pitching for the Blue Jays’ Minor League team. The Blue Jays promptly released him, citing their “zero tolerance” agreement. He was able to find his way back to baseball again in 2010, when he began pitching for the Tampa Bay Rays on a Minor League deal.
Alcoholism reaches a peak, and Bush hits rock bottom
Though the troubled athlete fell far from grace, the stranglehold of alcoholism was not done with him yet. On March 22, 2012, Bush asked roommate and teammate Brandon Guyer if he could borrow his car, telling him he needed to run some errands. He started at a gas station where he “planned to have one beer.” He purchased a Four Lokos, a drink he described to Kaplan as “a really big, strong, alcoholic energy drink.”
“So, okay, I can just have one of these,” he remembered thinking. “That will be sufficient. So being in the car … you know … I’d hurry up and get rid of the evidence. Drink the beer, throw it away and move on.”
Bush made several more stops for drinks, including a strip club, before heading back home. Along the way, he hit a pole in his roommate’s truck. Frantic, he began speeding and driving recklessly before he hit something else: 72-year-old Tony Tufano, a man out for a ride on his motorcycle. Trying to escape the scene, Bush ran over the man’s head. Tufano nearly died, suffering a collapsed lung, brain hemorrhage, broken back and several broken bones. Bush was caught by police not far from the scene with a blood-alcohol level of .18, three times the legal limit in Florida.
A new uniform
Matt Bush pleaded “no contest” and was sentenced to four years in prison. During the interview with Fox Sports in his prison blues, he acknowledged the alcoholism and poor choices that destroyed his opportunity to have a career as a professional athlete.
“This isn’t just a problem. I’m an alcoholic.”
Sadly, the realization came far too late. But perhaps even sadder, in eight years, three Major League ball clubs, along with teams of players and coaches, completely missed the signs of Bush’s destructive alcoholism. He is, of course, the only one to blame for his actions and their consequences, but it’s hard not to wonder if an early intervention might have changed the outcome of this tragic story.
If you suspect a loved one is dealing with a substance abuse problem, or if you’re struggling with one yourself, don’t miss the signs. Get help today. Call The Watershed: 1-800-861-1768.