If any organization in baseball is capable of leading Matt Bush by the hand into becoming a productive big league pitcher, it's the Rangers. For the second time in the last eight years, the team has taken on a former first overall pick with a history of substance abuse and placed him successfully on the major league roster. Bush's predecessor in redemption, Josh Hamilton, became one of the all-time most beloved Rangers, thanks in large part to the appeal of his Christian faith to the Rangers' fan base. Bush's road to acceptance might be a bit murkier.
Bush was selected in the 2004 draft as a shortstop. He wasn't the best player in the draft — that honor probably belonged to longtime Angels ace Jered Weaver — but he shared a hometown with the team picking first, the San Diego Padres, and was willing to sign reasonably cheap. The Padres gave him a $3.15 million signing bonus.
The shortstop was suspended in June 2004, before playing a game in the Padres organization for his role in a fight outside the team's training complex in Peoria, Arizona. When the felony charge stemming from the fight was dropped, the Padres lifted the suspension and sent Bush to play at its Arizona rookie-league in Peoria.
He didn't hit in Peoria, and he didn't hit at his next stop in Single-A ball or after he returned from a broken ankle that made him miss half of the 2006 season. Bush didn't hit for so long that Bush and the Padres elected to try to salvage his career by switching him to pitcher. It worked for awhile. Bush proved capable of hitting nearly 100 mph on the radar gun and developed a nasty curveball.
Then he got busted for assaulting two high school lacrosse players in the parking lot of Granite Hills High in El Cajon, California. Bush, according to police, drunkenly threw one of the players into the other before declaring that he was "Matt Fucking Bush" and driving away in his Mercedes.
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The Padres prepared to release him, but because raw talent like Bush's is intoxicating, the Toronto Blue Jays, the team Bush faced in his major league debut Friday night, picked him up from the Padres before the 2009 season. Less than a month after he was acquired in February 2009, the Blue Jays ditched him, too, after Bush threw a baseball at a woman's head after he accused her of drawing on his face at a party in Duneiden, Florida.
The next year, the Tampa Bay Rays gave Bush what many thought would be his last shot. By 2012, he'd climbed to the Rays' Triple A affiliate — the Durham Bulls — and looked like he might finally make his major league debut. Then he ran over a 72-year-old motorcyclist with a borrowed truck.
Bush served 34 months of a 51 month sentence for driving under the influence with serious bodily injury and driving with a suspended license and fleeing the scene. When he got out of prison late last year, the Rangers signed him.
Friday afternoon, after averaging more than a strikeout per inning while toying with Double-A hitters for Frisco, the Rangers summoned Bush to the big club for him to finally make his major league debut. Friday night Bush pitched a perfect ninth inning and avoided becoming only the third first overall pick to never play in the majors — after Steve Chilcott, a catcher selected first overall by the Mets in 1966 and Brien Taylor, a left-handed pitcher taken first by the Yankees in 1991.