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Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Josh Hamilton's Full Circle

Texas Rangers centerfielder and 2010 American League Most Valuable Player Josh Hamilton (.402, 18 HR, 45 RBI), age 30, was the first overall pick in the 1999 amateur draft by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Unlike highly touted phenoms such as pitcher Stephen Strasburg (3-1, 2.25 ERA) and right fielder Bryce Harper (.233, 2 HR, 5 RBI, .433 SLG) of the Washington Nationals, Hamilton's path to the major leagues was much longer and far less conventional than a typical high draft pick.


Hamilton made an instant splash in the rookie leagues, dominating opponents in 1999 and continued his progress into single A ball in 2000. The future appeared bright. The world was Hamilton's oyster.

By 2001, however, Hamilton's career and fortunes took a turn for the worse. Hamilton became addicted to alcohol, marijuana, cocaine...and crack. Following the 2002 season with single A Bakersfield, Hamilton was out of baseball altogether. The young man who, four years earlier, was at the top of the world had hit rock bottom.

Hamilton would fail multiple drug tests in the years to come. He was kicked out of Major League Baseball, its affiliates, and not permitted by MLB (whose Devil Rays franchise still controlled his rights) to play in any independent leagues. At age 21, he had taken his last at-bat for several years to come.

Hamilton fell a long way from this 1999 draft announcement. 3


Hamilton, whose story you are probably not reading for the first time if you are a regular reader of sports blogs, continued to grind through several stints in rehab. He earned his way back into professional baseball in 2006, playing with the single A Hudson Valley Renegades of the New York-Pennsylvania league. The Devil Rays left Hamilton exposed to the 2006 Rule 5 Draft. He was claimed by the Chicago Cubs then traded to the Cincinnati Reds. Hamilton would make his Major League debut in 2007.

After bursting on to the MLB scene in the second half of the 2007 season with a .292 batting average, 19 homeruns and 47 RBIs, he established himself as a rising star. The Texas Rangers wasted no time snatching Hamilton up in a trade with the Reds. The rest, as they say, is history.

An American comeback story in the flesh. 2

To say that Hamilton rebounded would be an understatement. His story would be an inspiring one had he simply earned a regular spot on a major league roster. Instead, Hamilton's great fall was followed by an equally stellar rise.

Hamilton would be named to the American League All Star team four consecutive times (2008-2011); he is virtually certain to be on the 2012 team. He earned two Silver Slugger awards (2008, 2010), was the 2008 American League RBI champion, the 2010 batting champion, the A.L. MVP in 2010, and the MVP of the 2010 American League Championship Series. Hamilton followed his MVP year with a solid (albeit abbreviated due to injury) 2011 season with a .298 average, 25 homeruns, and 94 RBIs.

He was just getting started at the 2010 ALCS 4


For all of Hamilton's MLB success, he is on pace to making his MVP year of 2010 look like a warm up. Through only 34 games into the 2012 season, Hamilton is on pace to challenge Ted Williams' hallowed, 71 year old single season batting mark of .406, set in 1941. That was the last time any qualifying player would hit over .400 in a season.

While the quality of present day pitching and the length of the season make it very unlikely that Hamilton will keep his average over .400, he is on pace to hit 86 big flies, destroying Barry Bonds' (steroid tainted) single season homerun record of 73. Hack Wilson's record of 191 RBIs in a season, set in 1930, may also be in jeopardy, as Hamilton is on pace to hit 214 RBIs this year.

Whether Hamilton demolishes any of these MLB records or not, he is off to the best start any major league hitter has had in quite some time. Hamilton is the embodiment of going through hell and back. His full circle story is a true inspiration to sports fans and is one of the stories that makes Major League Baseball worth watching.

Stay on the wagon, Josh, and keep up the hard work!

If you know Hamilton's tale, this picture says 1,000 words. 1
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