Divorcing Josh Hamilton Was Exactly What the Rangers Needed to Do
Shortly after Rangers general manager Jon Daniels swapped erratic right-hander Edinson Volquez and reliever Danny Herrera for Josh Hamilton five years ago, I placed seemingly unrealistic expectations on the troubled outfielder.
Josh Hamilton is off to the Angels.
"He has the potential to be the best center fielder in Rangers' history and could even replace Michael Young as the face of the franchise," I wrote about a month after Texas agreed to the trade with Cincinnati, which one year earlier had purchased Hamilton from the Chicago Cubs for a measly $50,000.
Just two months into the 2008 season, I was convinced Hamilton had already earned both labels, after watching him destroy American League pitching and regularly display Gold Glove-caliber defense in the outfield.
Although Volquez was leading the National League in ERA and strikeouts at the time, I defended the trade, even calling Hamilton "a bona fide star destined to lead the Rangers in the coming years to places they haven't been to in a long time."
It's rare when you heap that much praise on someone and they actually deliver, but Hamilton did just that. And more.
Five-straight All-Star Games as a starter. Thirty-five bombs in the 2008 home run derby. Regular season MVP, ALCS MVP and a batting title in 2010. Countless times laying out and crashing into walls to make an amazing catch. Helping lead the franchise to its first two World Series appearances. His Kirk Gibson-like blast in Game 6 that Darren Oliver ruined. The four-homer game this year against the Orioles.
Five years of Hamilton's prime (ages 27 to 31) cost the Rangers a total of about $27 million, or roughly half the amount Texas paid the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters last year just for the opportunity to sign Yu Darvish. During that time, Hamilton averaged 129 games played, a .305/.363/.549 slash line, 28 homers and 101 RBI.
Not a bad deal at all. But, of course, Hamilton came with some serious baggage, highlighted by severe drug and alcohol addiction and a three-year ban from baseball during his time with the Tampa Rays organization.
From licking whipped cream off women's chests while shirtless and apparently looking to score cocaine, to the Sherlock's episode, to needing an "accountability partner" constantly by his side, to the ginger ale celebrations, to quitting chewing tobacco, to vision problems caused by downing too many energy drinks, Hamilton summed it up best when he told reporters, "Guys, it's me, Josh. It's gonna be something weird, so just go with it."
We went with it all, and it was truly a spectacular ride. But it was time to part ways. The Rangers knew it. Hamilton knew it. The fans knew it too.
Because Hamilton had done something more egregious than any of his previous transgressions at the end of the 2012 season. He stopped trying.
With the Rangers trying to secure the AL West and build momentum heading into the postseason, Hamilton looked like he couldn't care less, hitting 10-for-43 with no homers, no walks and 19 strikeouts as the Rangers lost eight of their last 10 games this year. Even the prospect of landing a massive contract in the offseason didn't appear to motivate him.
I was there October 5 as the Rangers hosted the Orioles for the wild card play-in game, just two days after Hamilton infamously dropped that fly ball in Oakland and lazily chased after it. I was disgusted at what I saw that night.
After grounding into a double play on the first pitch he saw in the bottom of the first inning with runners at the corners, Hamilton struck out looking on three pitches in the third with a runner on first and weakly grounded out to the pitcher to begin the sixth. That's when booing, which began in spurts after the first inning, engulfed Rangers Ballpark.
Then, when Hamilton stepped to the plate in the eighth inning representing the tying run, he watched a strike go by and then swung pathetically at the next two, as if the end of the season couldn't come fast enough for him.
That's when I couldn't help myself. As much as I was a Josh Hamilton fan and appreciated everything he had done for the Rangers, I booed him too because he deserved it. There was simply no excuse for his performance.
When asked by reporters after the game about the crowd's reaction, he said with a straight face: "I gave it my all every time I went out there."
That was a flat-out lie.
I don't know exactly why Hamilton waived the white flag during the last few weeks of the season, which began with that bizarre five-game absence he attributed to drinking too much caffeine. And I'm not sure Hamilton does either, but I think it's related to something I pointed out back in 2008 after reading the Sports Illustrated cover story about Hamilton written by Albert Chen.