Hamilton: Tragic Hero and Now Willing Villain

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Me and friends in happier Hamilton times, a few days after his four home run game. We even acknowledged then that he likely wouldn’t return. Joe Nathan actually told us during the game the he though Josh was worth $20 million a year. He signed for $25 million a year with the Angels.
We never returned the 75 cents we raised that night.

It’s been a week since Josh Hamilton has all but guaranteed that he will be booed forever by Rangers fans. I’ve taken some time to think about it instead of responding quickly (a novel idea these days). I’ve spent a lot of time this offseason considering the impact of Hamilton, and his baffling decision to sign with the Angels.

Hamilton will always be a tragic hero. A man with ability rivaled only by mythological beings. A man whose talent is only rivaled by his flaws, whose story of triumph is only tempered by his very public failings. But now, he has set himself up as a willing villain to Rangers fans.

We don’t need to review his whole story because it is well chronicled. Without a doubt, I will tell my children that I had the privilege of watching Josh Hamilton play live. I will tell them about watching his four home run game in my living room with my parents. I will tell them of the unbridled joy with which I ran around my apartment after his go-ahead home run in Game 6 of the 2011 World Series.

But, with the latter story, and more so with Hamilton’s story as a whole, I will also tell them of the major emotional swing as me and my friends watched that game unravel later in that same inning. Here was Hamilton, struggling through a painful groin injury that had hindered him the entire playoffs, gutting it out and peaking at exactly the right moment. This was the high point of his career, all of his hard work, all of his pain, had finally come to a climax with what should have been a World Series winning home run. But, it wasn’t to be. Through no fault of his own, the team blew the game and eventually the entire World Series. From that moment onward it seemed the Rangers and Hamilton began declining.

Sure, Hamilton hit four home runs in a game the next season and had one of the most incredible stretches in baseball history for part of the season. But, after that he had one of the biggest slumps in history. His effort began declining along with his health. No longer did Hamilton gut through injuries like he did in those playoffs. Instead he removed himself from important games for trivial eye injuries.

As Jean-Jacques Taylor of ESPNDallas.com stated, Rangers fans will cheer wildly for Mike Napoli, a man who only played two seasons for the Rangers, when he returns. Napoli struggled mightily last season, but he gave 100% every time he played. He was a fan favorite as much for his effort as for his ability.

Hamilton wasn’t always this way though, he endeared himself to fans with his wall crashing, head-first sliding, baseball bashing efforts early in his Rangers career. But it seemed about the time he decided that he didn’t “owe the Rangers anything”, he meant that not only in contracts but also in effort. I won’t even get into the ridiculousness of the statement that he didn’t owe the team that gave him a second chance and set up all kinds of necessary parameters to get him sober.

Either way, most Rangers fans would have understood if he signed with another team. The Rangers are never willing to give long contracts to older players, so if he wanted to go get money that he well deserves, most people would have understood that. However, what people don’t understand is signing with the direct rival of the same team that resurrected your career.

Now, to the point of booing Hamilton. I was at the playoff game against the Baltimore Orioles. I refused to boo Hamilton, and because I appreciated everything he had done for the Rangers. I refused to boo him because he played for my team, because I wanted him to return. But after his last, weak attempt at an at-bat, it was everything I could do to not boo him. Sure, this is all seems a bit ridiculous. However, it seems very clear that it is also the exact reason Hamilton did not want to return to the Rangers. In his reality, he was mistreated by the fans and this is the best way to get back at them.

Hamilton has become the jilted ex-girlfriend. He is not interested in staying friends with Rangers fans. He is like the girl that wants to flaunt her new boyfriend just so everyone knows that she is doing great without her ex. And Rangers fans would love to showcase their new, younger, girlfriend to Hamilton, too. Sadly though, this part of the metaphor doesn’t really work since the Rangers didn’t sign anyone to replace him.

If I had influence, I would have started a campaign to cheer for Hamilton during his first at-bat returning to the Ballpark in Arlington. I would have talked about all he had given to the Rangers, and given him the benefit of the doubt about signing with the Angels.

But after these comments, I’m glad I never did anything of the sort. I am hoping to go to one of those games against the Angels. And if I do, I will boo Hamilton as lustily as the uninformed drunk guy next to me. Not because I think Hamilton was wrong in saying that Dallas isn’t a baseball town, everyone knows baseball is secondary to football in Texas. But Hamilton’s comments carried a deeper context, he wasn’t saying that Rangers fans were bad baseball fans, in fact they drew the third most of any team in the country. He was saying that real baseball fans wouldn’t have booed him. The arrogance in that statement is shocking. Real baseball fans, and those waiting for football season to start, will stand side-by-side in Rangers gear and boo him for the next five years.

Hamilton’s story is one of triumph and tragedy. I don’t know what this part of his career counts as, only time will tell if his decision to sign with the Angels ends up being a great decision or another terrible one. Rangers fans hope it ends up being tragic, only on the field I hope. As a baseball fan, I want to see one of the greatest talents ever live up to his abilities because I would hate to see us robbed of even more years of greatness. I said that Rangers fans would boo him for the next five years, but let’s be honest, his body won’t last him that long. That wouldn’t fit the Hamilton narrative.

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