On Josh Hamilton
I did not tune into last night's Home Run Derby but for a half hour or 45 minutes, but I sure seemed to pick the right time. Josh Hamilton put on one of the all-time great shows at Yankee Stadium, racking up 28 home runs in the first round. A left-handed hitter, you might think that Hamilton took advantage of Yankee Stadium's short right field. You would be dead wrong. Hamilton hit balls 25 rows into the third deck, 20 rows back into the right-center field bleachers, 30 feet onto whatever the hell that black area in Yankee Stadium is and, most impressively, he hit a ball square off the wall that sits behind the right-center field bleachers.
I am no Chris Berman defender. In fact I think he is on the very short list of most annoying sports commentators going. "Back...back...back...oh, wow...this one's headed to STATEN ISLAND!" Please.
But Berman was quite good during Hamilton's show. He mentioned Hamilton's personal history (how could you not?). He made it clear that this is a great story but that it is important to keep in mind that Hamilton's problems were his own doing; an excellent point to make on a night when countless youngsters are watching, mesmerized as this guy hits 500-footer after 500-footer. He wondered aloud if Hamilton's Batting Practice coach was "on a pitch count." I thought that was pretty funny.
And then Joe Morgan, feeling the need to chime in on Hamilton's travails and all that he has overcome, said the following (and I paraphrase). "You can talk about all that other stuff and it is all well and good but what impresses me most is that he has been able to adjust to Big League pitching after three years out of baseball."
Now, I think I know what Joe was getting at. He was trying to rein the discussion back in and focus on baseball, a perfectly reasonable thing to do. Unfortunately, the way he introduced his line of thinking, casting aside all Hamilton had overcome in such nonchalant fashion, made his comment come off petty and insensitive. No, Joe, the most amazing thing about Hamilton is not that he can hit Big League pitching after three years away. It's that he's alive, sober and successful at all, whether it be in baseball, plumbing or any other field. His life is on the right track.
And yeah, as FJM points out, Justin Morneau got hosed and ESPN may have glorified Hamilton's personal story wee too much.
As for Hamilton the ballplayer, does anyone have any clue what to make of this guy? Without much of a Minor League track record and with the prospect of relapse hovering (he admits that he does not "trust himself" and has a personal advisor/sponsor to help him stay sober), how do you project him? There can be no doubt about his physical capabilities, especially after last night. The ball jumped off of his bat like none of the other participants.
He is a 27 year-old with a 138 OPS+ in his first 183 Big League games. I would love to know what you make of Hamilton, his potential and what the future might hold for the guy.