I recall a time in 2006 when I went to see the Hudson Valley Renegades, the Class A affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays, play a game on a warm July night in Fishkill, New York. In the lineup that night was a strapping young man who was just coming off a long suspension for drug use. The Rays were taking a chance and hoping to find lightning in a bottle.
He was the DH that night and all the talk was that this would be a cameo appearance in the minors and that soon he would resume his predicted rise to stardom in the Major Leagues. I remember that I couldn’t take my eyes off him. He just looked like a ballplayer. He was one of those talents that even looks good striking out – which he did three times that game.
Incredibly, that was nine years ago. Since then he has amassed $83,790,579 in salary and this does not include future salaries ($56.8M) owed to him. He is now going on 35 and over the same span has managed to appear in a average of 113 games a season, and over the past two seasons has appeared in only 139 games for the Texas Rangers
The player who many claimed to be “the next Mickey Mantle” being graced with speed and power sits at 200 home runs for his career. And just today, the Rangers announced that Hamilton’s rehab assignment was being shut down due to a chronic knee condition that required surgery last year.
So, is this a repeat of the Darryl Strawberry story who by all accounts single handedly
committed baseball suicide because he liked the white powder too much……..or is Hamilton’s story, which includes several relapses over the years, something different that can be explained in another way……..
I can’t pretend to know the answer to that question and maybe we’ll never know the answer. Surely, the only person who can answer it is Josh Hamilton himself and in terms of his own inner peace, we all hope he can do that soon, and before the curtain falls on his career and not on the new life he is heading to.
However, there are some things we do know. We know that addiction to anything is a powerful disease. Nicotine, alcohol, drugs…….it’s all the same. Compound that with chronic depression and things can easily get worse. Add to that the pain your body endures as a performing athlete (knees can be especially painful) and things get even more worse……..and if you are Josh Hamilton, check ALL of the above.
Okay, I know. Before we strike up the oom-pah band and roll the procession down Main Street, at some point the blame game, the crutches, the enablers……..whatever we want to call it has to be cast aside and the individual needs to take responsibility for the choices he/she makes. I get that. But this is a story about baseball and I (for one) feel robbed and cheated from witnessing a player perform to the level that we all knew he was capable of doing.
Mickey Mantle was a notorious alcoholic and even he said once “If I’d known I was gonna live this long, I’d taken better care of myself”. But the difference is that Mantle had a distinguished career ending with membership in the Hall of Fame while winning multiple Championships. Josh Hamilton never got that far.
Hamilton can opt out of his contract at the end of this season. And I hope he does……..and I’m also hoping he announces his retirement at the same time. Enough is enough. Take the money and run. After all, it’s not his fault the Angels (who owe him the bulk of his money due) foolishly played the “Yankee Game” of signing every high priced free agent (add Pujols to that list) who didn’t walk with a cane at the time…..
There’s a place in the game for Josh Hamilton if he wants it. Major League Baseball would hire him in an instant to tour the country talking to Minor League players about the dangers and traps that await when you achieve fame and fortune. Similar to how Alcoholics Anonymous operates, he could also be assigned as a mentor for someone like Dee Gordon as he serves his suspension.
In the end, baseball is not and cannot be immune to the ills that afflict our society. The odds against it happening are mathematically impossible for it not to occur again. And for that reason alone, there’ll always be a Josh Hamilton in our game……
I only lament that we could have seen that sweet swing I saw back in ’06 reach its fruition…….