Saturday, August 8, 2009

It's the Fall That's Gonna Kill'ya.

Troubling photos of Josh Hamilton have shown up today on the sports blog Deadspin. Hamilton, the star slugger for the Texas Rangers, was last year's unambiguous feel-good story---a talented outfielder who overcame his drug and alcohol addictions to emerge as one of the league's best all-around players. This victory saved his life, his marriage and his career. The culmination of his comeback was at last year's All Star Game in Yankee Stadium. Taking part in the home run competition, Hamilton's performance was the stuff of legend as he launched 500-ft HR after 500-ft HR. In the first round, with his elderly Little League coach throwing to him, be smashed 28 homers into the night sky, most of which were epic. He ended up losing the overall competition (something I hope does not become a metaphor for his life), but Hamilton's story is all anyone will ever remember about that summer day in New York.

This year tells a different story. While the Texas Rangers are on the rise, they've done so without the support of Hamilton who has been both ineffective and oft injured. The numbers don't lie:

(2008) .304 BA, .371 OBP, .530 SLG, 32 HRs, 130 RBIs

(2009) .235 BA, .289 OBP, .394 SLG, 8 HRs, 33 RBIs

There's been a lot of speculation as to why he has struggled so dramatically this year. Hamilton himself points to some ADD medicine he just stopped taking (his numbers have started to improve off the meds) but, secretly, people have been wondering if the reason was something far darker. While the photos on Deadspin prove nothing (you don't see Hamilton actually drinking), and while it may have been an isolated incident almost seven months ago, it certainly adds fuel to the speculation and can't help but make one sad.

More importantly, Hamilton's story has been an inspiring one that has helped remove some of the taint from the steroids-era of baseball. MLB needs Josh Hamilton. The battle against addiction is a never-ending one, so falling off the wagon is not something which should be completely unexpected. If that's what has happened, however, I can only hope he's back on...less so for the Texas Rangers and Major League Baseball, and more so for himself and the countless others who look to his example in their own struggles with addiction. Here's hoping.


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