By Cameron Heffernan
Last night Josh Hamilton realized the baseballs that were being used at Oriole Park at Camden yards needed a definite attitude adjustment. Hamilton blasted four-homers, going 5-for-5 with eight RBIs, a double and the aforementioned four-home runs joining a coveted list of only 16 players to reach that mark in a single game in the entire history of professional baseball, including Lou Gehrig and Willie Mays.
Josh Hamilton has had a tumultuous career so far. Battling substance abuse for the early portion of his career, the team that drafted him first overall in 1999, the then named Tampa Bay Devil Rays (now just the Rays) brought Hamilton up through their farm system where signs began to arise of his substance abuse. Hamilton was released from the Rays in 2006 and subsequently picked up by the Chicago Cubs in the Rule 5 draft and traded to the Cincinnati Reds for cash considerations.
Hamilton made his Major League debut on April 2, 2007 for the Cincinnati Reds receiving an extended standing ovation from the crowd after a line-out . Eight days later Hamilton got his first Major League start at center-field for the Reds hitting lead-off, Hamilton, hit a home-run for his first Major League hit, and then the next night blasted another homer. In Dec. 2007 Hamilton was traded to the Texas Rangers and the rest has become history.
With the Rangers, Hamilton won the 2010 AL MVP and has gone .307/.360/.538 with 113 home runs and 414 RBI in four years, not counting the ludicrous .406/.458/.840 splits he’s putting up through 27 games this season including 14 homers and 36 RBIs and the 90 games he played as a rookie with the Reds in 2007 where he put up a modest .292/.368/.554 with 19 homers and 47 RBI.
In 2011 a year after Hamilton’s MVP season, on a routine foul ball, Hamilton as a kind gesture to his adoring fans, tossed the ball into the stands as a souvenir; a fan leaned out to catch it and ended up falling over the protective rail and plummeting down onto the seats below. That fan later died on the way to the hospital and seemed to have stuck with Hamilton throughout the season as he was below his usual stats hitting for a .296 average with 25 homers and 94 RBIs, although good, not as stellar as his previous MVP campaign where he hit for a .359 average and hit 32 home runs with 100 RBIs. Hamilton experienced a re-lapse in the off-season of 2011 going into 2012 when it was reported that he went out for a night of drinking at some local Texas bars, even inviting fellow teammate Ian Kinsler out with him. Hamilton later issued a formal apology to his fans and the Rangers organization but it was obvious that the fans death had taken its toll on Hamilton.
Earlier this morning as I was watching ESPN’s First Take, Skip Bayless, for better words, a shock-jock type of journalist was posed this question by show host Jay Crawford of what will Hamilton’s career look like now after he lost six years in the Majors due to substance abuse, Bayless’s answer was this.
“Take away the drugs, take away the alcohol, I think Josh Hamilton could’ve been the greatest player ever. Beyond my favorite player Barry Bonds, beyond my old school favorite player back in my Oklahoma days, Micky Mantle. He was the real life “Natural” this was a 6’4” 240 pound man; and I haven’t heard any PED suspicions surrounding josh Hamilton. No 1 pick as he should’ve been, he couldn’t live up to that pressure.”
Hamilton has a damn good chance of not reaching the milestones, of Bonds, Mantle, Williams, Mays, and Aaron but of coming damn close. Let’s say Hamilton has about nine years left in him, meaning he’ll play till he’s 40-years-old. At a pace of at least 25-homers per year Hamilton is on his way to hitting a total 357 career home runs. That’s only at a 25-home run per season quota, completely hypothetical. If he is able to reach the 400 home run plateau by the end of his career and win at least one World Series, which by the looks of things in Texas may be this year or the next year, or even the year after that he will be a shoe-in for the hall of fame. I hate to say that Bayless is right, but he is. Had Hamilton not lost seven years of his career due to substance abuse he would probably be looking at hitting his 600th home run when he’s 40-years-old. Hamilton is a free agent this summer and a highly valued one at that but hopefully Texas will make the right decision and lock up one of the best players of his generation who with four-homers in a game is a good start to becoming one of the best all-time.