Jamey Newberg: Ink.

There’s no way I could deliver a requiem on Josh Hamilton’s career as well as Levi Weaver did.  Instead, I thought I’d pull some things I’d written about him over the near-decade since he arrived, as I probably dumped more ink on the Josh Hamilton story than on anything else over that time.

December 2007

The scariest thing about a trade like this one — for both teams — is that the spectrum of what Edinson Volquez and Josh Hamilton could be in 2008 and 2009 and 2012 is massively wide.  Both players are sickeningly skilled but had shown themselves to be unpredictable, if not undependable — until huge resurgences in 2007.

Both Texas and Cincinnati are selling high in this deal.  Only time will tell whether they were buying smart.

March 2008

The Hamilton swing is so devoid of effort, it makes no sense.  You’ve seen the scout’s comment about the “flat-out, God-given gasoline” that comes effortlessly out of Neftali Feliz’s arm.  Josh Hamilton endows his baseball bat with a flat-out, God-given thunderstorm.  A nearly silent thunderstorm, somehow.

July 2009

The players fringing the diamond tonight, each of them Major League All-Stars themselves, had the same speechless, wide-eyed, almost giddy expressions on their faces that Max and I had on the couch watching that spectacle.  Before Hamilton’s first round was done, the players were all on their feet, just like the 50,000 Yankee Stadium fans who, in the space of 10 minutes, had adopted him as their own. 

The best moment for me was not the 502 off the Bank of America sign in right center, or the 504, or the 518.  Not the 13 straight.  Not the blast that tied Bobby Abreu for the greatest first round in Derby history, and not the one that broke the record.  Not the blast that Milton Bradley and Ian Kinsler and Michael Young were having, though that was pretty cool.  

The best moment, I thought, was after home run number 17, when Hamilton stepped out of the box to catch his breath, and did what we all wanted him to do.  He stopped.  Slowly turned around and looked to the crowd, which somewhere included his family.  And then to another part of the crowd.  And another.  Smiling, soaking that moment in, the one he’d dreamed almost prophetically about, as awestruck as those 50,000 who were on their feet, looking back at him and chanting his name.  “I got chills,” Hamilton would say afterwards.  “I got chills.”

February 2010

Josh Hamilton is a physical specimen, a powerful, graceful, seven-skills ballplayer who could have pitched or played wide receiver or dominated on a hockey rink.

He’s also assaulted his body, on the field and off of it, and given his history, and the recent stack of evidence, his durability will always be part of the profile.  With Michael Young, you never ask about durability.  With Hamilton, you never don’t.

 

April 2011

There’s no point in dissecting the play in yesterday’s top of the first to dispense blame.  The decision was in line with how this team plays, a brand of baseball that marks this team and helps make it what it is.  I’m not going to sit here and blame the player or the third base coach for the Hamilton bone break any more than I’d blame the center field wall for bruising Hamilton’s ribs.  It’s his style, it’s this team’s style, and, as much as we hate it, we have to concede that it’s just another chapter in a book that’s never going to end, as long as Josh Hamilton is a baseball player.

July 2011 (days after Texas signed Nomar Mazara and brought the 16-year-old to Arlington for an introduction and a little BP)

October 2012

It’s wrong to blame 2012 on Josh Hamilton.  Without him, Texas would have never had a 163rd game to play.  He’s the most extraordinary player in baseball when he’s locked in, and there were a couple long stretches this year when he was seeing the game in slow motion and making the field smaller in every phase.  He was the best baseball player in the world.

He was the best for long enough stretches to end up – even though he “took June and July off” (his own quip) – with 43 home runs (easily a career high), 128 RBI, and a .285/.354/.577 slash.

But every one of us is weighed down right now by the sense, even if he’s not as great a player as the April and early May version, and not as big a mess as he was in June and July, that, all told, he simply wasn’t the best he can be.

He wasn’t the best he can be, maybe in part because he seemed to lose his focus (in more ways than one), to the point at which his aloof nature, a quirky aspect of his character off the field, began to typify his play.  Once viewed as a player who played the game too recklessly, too hard for his own good, he finished 2012 appearing detached, checked out, embodying the club’s impossible collapse, his unique toolbox frozen up through critical moments when he wasn’t laughing at the opposing catcher’s ninth-inning jokes in what was then the season’s biggest game.

If he’d hit .285 every month, if he’d spread those 43 home runs and 128 RBI out evenly, nobody would complain.  But the timing of Hamilton’s final funk is what fans will take into the winter, and probably remember if he does leave for another uniform.  That, and the four-homer game in Baltimore on May 8 that lifted his numbers to a .406/.458/.840 slash line that wasn’t done climbing.  That time when he was absolutely transcendent, you know, before he wasn’t.

“Josh.”  Verb.  To tease.

In what is a relatively thin free agent market, there will probably be teams prepared to overpay for the good stuff, ignoring the brittle body and the drama and the high maintenance and the questions about approach, if not commitment, and “It’s me we’re talking about here.  Guys, it’s me.  It’s Josh.  It’s going to be something weird.”

His body compromised by the abuse he put it through before ever getting to Texas, Hamilton has dealt as a big leaguer with a right foot bruise, soreness and inflammation in both knees, strains of both hamstrings and a groin muscle, a pinched nerve in the lower back, an abdominal muscle tear, an intestinal virus, cracked ribs and bruised ribs and a rib cage strain, a right shoulder fracture, an unrelated shoulder bruise (with muscle spasms near his neck), a right wrist sprain, a right hand bruise, pneumonia, a viral infection, an abscessed tooth, dizziness, blue-eye sensitivity, sinus issues, and caffeine-induced ocular keratitis.

And an in-season effort to quit smokeless tobacco that some blame for the titanic slump that spanned June and July.

Those are the things we know about.

December 2012

I’m (pretty sure I’m) not going to waste any space here bullet-pointing all the reasons that it makes tremendous sense not to commit five years and an eighth of a billion dollars to Josh Hamilton, a 31-year-old with more age than that on his body.  Or listing a small sample of the moments of extraordinary greatness that Hamilton provided the Texas Rangers.  Or pointing out examples of the extraordinary accommodations and support that the Rangers provided Hamilton.

He can be, as he’s reminded us, “very deceptive, very sneaky in a lot of ways” when he wants.  His unpredictability is completely predictable.  It’s him, Josh, it’s gonna be something weird.

He made $28.2 million in five years here.  He’ll make $125 million in five years there.  I’m not going to say those numbers will end up looking backwards in terms of the production he provides, but I’m sorta confident about which team will have gotten the better deal.

February 2015

Joey Gallo is never going to be associated with Red Bull overload or smokeless tobacco withdrawals or ocular keratitis or blue-eyedness (Gallo’s eyes are brown).  He’s never going to say, “It’s gonna be something weird.”  He’s never going to drop a pop-up in center field unless it’s in Fall Instructs.  I’m never going to have to write about him: “He made $28.2 million in five years here.  He’ll make $125 million in five years there.  I’m not going to say those numbers will end up looking backwards in terms of the production he provides, but I’m sorta confident about which team will have gotten the better deal.” 

And the Texas Rangers will never passive-aggressively open camp without putting a locker up for Gallo, or for any of its players, no matter the reason.

April 2015

The Angels didn’t put a locker up for Hamilton in spring training, while he was in Houston rehabbing his shoulder and possibly dealing with another substance abuse relapse.  

Texas would never remove a player’s locker, or pull his merchandise or banner, regardless of what he was rehabbing from.  

*          *          *

The Angels’ owner will have paid you $42 million to play, and $68 million for you to leave.

October 2015

In a game decided by two runs, Josh Hamilton — the man whose dropped flyball in Oakland was emblematic of the Rangers’ 2012 collapse — saved one run and drove in another, eliminating from the division race the team that was so desperate to get rid of him in April that they took care of almost all of his game check last night, paying him to make that impossible catch and drive in the game’s final run. 

 

It wasn’t the same as freezing A-Rod to end the ALCS, or the Mavs finally taking down the Heat, but Josh Hamilton (20 days post-knee surgery) accounting for two runs in Texas 5, Los Angeles 3, helping send his team to the playoffs and making his primary payor’s playoff path a little steeper, was pure sports poetry.

I skipped October 2011.

I know.

It’s not Josh Hamilton’s fault that the right fielder didn’t get a split second of a better jump, or didn’t take a more decisive route, or wasn’t Endy Chavez, any of which probably would have made Hamilton and his teammates World Champions forever.

It’s not on Josh Hamilton that, less than 10 minutes later, his two-run bomb off Jason Motte wasn’t the greatest sports moment I will ever have and probably would have conclusively settled which pose the eventual statue would capture.

He was the best baseball player on the best editions of my town’s team in my favorite sport.

We were all fortunate enough to cross paths with him.  With his genius on the field, in our uniform.

Rays, Cubs, Reds, Rangers, Angels . . . but Josh Hamilton will be remembered in only one uniform, even though it seems he was here for just a flash, centerpiecing a career that took forever to get going, and sputtered at length at the end.

He came to us late, and left us early.

And then when he came back, the comeback ended unceremoniously.

That’s part of what doesn’t feel right, not as the final chapter of the always dramatic story that was Josh Hamilton, even though most careers do end quietly, if not cruelly.  Not many leave fully on their own terms.

Pro careerse usually end without ceremony, casualties of ligaments that don’t hold up or slowed twitch or marginally dulled reaction time.

They usually end as a fade.  Not always.  But usually.  Even for the great ones.

But this was supposed to end with Roy Hobbs obliterating the light standards, and the credits rolling, right after he’s seen playing catch with his kid(s).

Hamilton experienced sports-highs none of us could ever approach, and not just once.  He’s known lows most of us can’t truly imagine, or understand.

Superhuman on the one hand.  Painfully human on the other.

Now he’s heading toward super-normal, or something approaching it to a much greater degree than anything he’s familiar with.

I hope that goes well.

I take comfort in the idea that Josh Hamilton moving in the direction of something more simple will work out.  In a way, a really weird way, it’s always been about simple for him — when he was at his best, that is — at least to those of us watching from a distance.  See ball, hit ball, run and throw and destroy baseballs with that nearly silent thunderstorm that appeared almost effortless.  Simple.

Los Angeles was a terrible idea from the start.

Texas was perfect for him.

And he for it.

We remember pieces of dreams, some eerily real and others too insane to be true.  Other pieces we forget, and maybe that’s because it make things easier, and better, and more comfortable to move on from.

I’m sad I probably won’t have much, if anything, to write about Hamilton anymore.  The team he helped take to a new level is still there, but it’s not the same as those five incredible seasons he gave this team and those of us who care so much about it, five incredible seasons that saw the Rangers and Hamilton himself grow up, each fulfilling potential, once and for all, that had always been so painfully elusive.

That part I’m sad about, but not as fired up as I was that Josh Hamilton wore our uniform, and played the game the way so few ever have, or have been able to, brandishing twisted-steel forearms inked with the reminders of his troubled past, yet hinting at the promise, here, for years, of a future of imminent possibility.

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This contribution was provided by Jamey Newberg of The Newberg Report. You can follow Jamey on twitter @NewbergReport

Comments

  1. TexasSportsFan says:

    I stopped reading the article when it began to go negative. Sorry, but at this point I don’t want to focus on those things. I want to look back at the great moments and celebrate those. Baseball is a poorer game without Josh Hamilton in it. There will never be another swing like that one. I never blamed Josh for leaving and was happy to see him return. I would love to see him out there one more time, but I realize that’s probably not going to happen. I’m just glad I got to watch him play. I doubt there’s ever been a more talented player. Just want to wish him well and thank him for the memories.

  2. StanTheMan says:

    Unfortunately, I think most people when they think of Josh Hamilton will think of the potential, how he could have been a generational player, a perennial MVP candidate, essentially Mike Trout. But demons are demons. I worry about his guy once he is gone from the game and just has his millions without anything to do and no organization watching over him.