The Legacy Of Josh Hamilton
I have somewhat of a special connection with Josh Hamilton. I grew up a Ranger fan. We watched almost every game as a family when I was a kid. A few times a year, I’d even get to stay up late enough to make the trip to old Arlington Stadium for a game. Like many, though, I was pushed away from baseball by the bursting of the steroid bubble. Sosa and McGuire’s battle for 62 sucked me in, and the ensuing scandal drove me away. I still kept up with the Rangers, but I wasn’t nearly as interested as I had been before. I just didn’t know if I could trust what I was seeing.
I watched with pride as one of my favorite Rangers, Rafael Palmeiro (who was then with Baltimore) told congress, “I have never used steroids, period. I don’t know how to say it any more clearly than that. Never.”, as he wagged his finger in defiance. Unfortunately, my pride in that moment was dashed only months later when Palmeiro became one of the first big name players to be suspended for steroid use…another blow to my baseball innocence.
By now you’re probably wondering what any of this could have to do with Josh Hamilton. Well…I’ll tell you. On July 14, 2008 my wife and I went to have dinner at a restaurant just a few blocks from out house. We were seated in the bar, and there was a TV right in my line of sight. That television was tuned to the MLB Home Run Derby. I’ve never been one that made a point to watch the derby, but I got sucked in that night. Josh Hamilton stepped up to the plate and captured the attention of the sports world. Our meal was over a few bombs into his first round turn, but I insisted we stay. Hamilton was putting on a show. He hit 28 home runs in that first round, but the number was just that…a number. It was the majesty of the long balls that had me hooked. It was the fact that he had a Yankee crowd chanting his name that made me want to watch. Justin Morneau ended up winning that derby, but Hamilton was the big winner. After it ended, he was interviewed by ESPN. He talked about his road back from addiction, and his dream years before of being interviewed after the Home Run Derby at Yankee stadium. Hamilton may have lost that derby, but he won some hearts that day.
After that, I recommitted myself to baseball. I started watching the games more and was willing to hitch my wagon to the team again. The weird thing was, though, that I wasn’t a particularly big fan of Hamilton. I didn’t have a problem with him, but he was never my favorite player, either.
From that day in the middle of the 2008 season, I was a hard core Ranger fan again. I watched Hamilton fall off in the second half of that 2008, lose most of 2009 to injury, win an MVP in 2010, and go to his second straight World Series in 2011. I watched him wow America with home runs and get laughed at for some spring training photos taken in a moment of weakness. I saw him make amazing plays in the field, and heard him make ridiculous statements in press conferences.
After Hamilton’s bone headed play in game 162 that allowed the winning two runs to score, I heard at least two radio personalities say that they hoped Hamilton wasn’t remembered just for that one moment. That was the moment where he failed to make a routine catch, took only minimal steps to salvage the play, and then laughed at his manager when confronted about
the botched catch. Unless somebody just started watching the Rangers in the last part of the 2012 season, I don’t think that will be the case.
For those of us that have been around a while, I think it will be hard to think of Hamilton without thinking of his whole story. For that reason, my memories of him will always be both good and bad. They will be of the Home Run Derby and the whipped cream pictures; of the tenth inning world series home run and of jumping over a low fence at Sherlock’s; of the blistering start to 2011 and the missed catch in game 162; of the tape measure bombs and of the Shannon Stone incident.
There may be a day that I am able to say whether I’m able to assign a specific emotion to my thoughts of Josh Hamilton, but that day is not today. It will take some time for that. What I can say, though, is that sports in general are a diversion for every day life. Hamilton was definitely that. He was never vanilla. He was either red hot or ice cold, and either loved or hated. He started his (likely) final season as a Ranger with people proclaiming, “Pay the man”, and ended it with the crowd booing him. While I think he brought some of the negativity on himself with his comments, I also hate to see a good player go out in that light.
To remember Hamilton for a single incident, moment, or play is to ignore his story. I think we have to consider that story, take everything into account, and weight his performance and contributions as a whole. I know I’m not capable of doing that in an unbiased manner right now. The wounds are too fresh. It will take some time before I can really say what I think of Josh Hamilton as a Ranger, and I think many other people’s opinions will change with time as well.