Change-UpJuly 15, 2008
On Josh Hamilton
By Patrick Sullivan

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.


My only concern about Hamilton is whether he can keep up the pace through a full 162-game season. He has already played three more games this year than any other season in his career. And, half his games are in the misery of the north Texas summer. I'm sure he's well-conditioned and fit as a thoroughbred but I suspect some late-season fade might be in order.

I'd love to be wrong, though. This kid is having a hall of fame season right now.

Addiction is a tough thing, maybe the toughest of things. I just hope the guy can stay sober.

And by the way, how good would the Rays be with him in their outfield?

If he's got a guy that will be good for him on the road, he'll have a much greater chance. That being said, I'd look at him in the same light as a player who was badly injured. When he's healthy, he's good, when he's not, he is useless.

The Rangers organization and his teammates are a big plus on the relapse front. Hamilton has spoken several times about how supported and loved he feels by his teammates, who have gone out of their way to make him feel like they have his back. The team hired Narron to continue being his shadow and all involved seem to be trying everything they can to alleviate the risks of addiction recovery.

Hamilton's future may very well include a relapse, whether it becomes public or not. But I think the support system he has in place will minimize the damage and long term he'll be ok.

Maybe the years off will work in his favor in an odd way? Instead of playing baseball 200 days a year he was sitting around doing drugs. Addiction is not kind to the body, obviously, but I'm not so certain as everyone else that it will mean he can't play baseball for a long time. Perhaps his prime and decline are delayed, sort of a macro case of a player being on the DL mid-season and being rested for the playoffs. I can hope, anyway.

I can see Hamilton being in the HOF even if he only hits 300 HRs or so, on a Koufax-like short but dominant career vote. More importantly, though, he has the chance to make a huge difference in thousands of young lives with his story.

First of all, I've seen the guy play — and he's a competitor! He's going to fight hard against returning to abusing himself. He can keep beating it. I can see it in the way he plays. The fact he doesn't trust himself, is good. It's part of his fight. Unlike in baseball, he wins or loses in life depending completely on his own choices of whether he wants to win today or lose today. He doesn't just want to win, he has that killer instinct. I really believe it.

As for missing the first 5-7 years or whatever it was, well... he can still play another 12-13 after this year. It's like Ted Williams in a sense... Ted took off some time to be in the military. He still ended up with HOF numbers. There's also Ichiro... started in America late, but he looks like he'll still have HOF numbers when he ends his career.

I think he'll get better and better for the next couple years, and then plateau at some amazing level for a few years....without a steroid controversy.

There are some parallels to Rick Ankiel, another story of a guy who had all the talent in the world, lost it, and came back. Like Hamilton, Ankiel has enjoyed the support of his teammates and his manager, especially. And like Hamilton, there's always a sense of how fragile things seem to be with Ankiel.

If Hamilton is smart (or if Mrs. Hamilton is smart) they will pay somebody large and likeable a decent salary to follow him everywhere, all the time, as long as he's in baseball, and he'll stay sober for the next ten years, and retire having made tens of millions of dollars, with the (say) one million or so spent on his caretaker being the best investment he ever made. The odds are against Hamilton having a decent career otherwise; there's too many opportunities to make bad choices for a young man with judgment issues and so much money. Meal money alone is enough for most junkies to get high. For the sake of baseball I hope Narron stays with the job, because I think Hamilton could be something really special if he can stay sober.

I am lucky enough to have seen Josh Hamilton play as a High School player back in May of 1999. I saw him walk 3 straight times on 4 straight pitches. As all the fans chanted "lets go big foot". I was not sure why they were calling him that until I looked down at his feet (later learned he wears a size 19 or something like that). On his 4th trip to the plate he homered on the only strike he saw that day hitting a ball way out to give his team a 1 run lead. He quickly made his way to the bullpen to warm up. I clocked him at 94-96 as he struck out all 3 batters.

I would later see him play 2 more times telling the boss that it was hard to make a judgment based on one swing. In all honesty I just wanted to see him play again because it was a special thing to watch. It was almost a repeat performance of the first game. So after the game he took BP launching balls like you saw him do in the HR Derby.

In 2000 I was assigned to cover the Future Game in Atlanta. I can still remember sitting on the steps of the 1B dugout that day as Josh Hamilton was named the MVP with Sean Burroughs. In a side bar Carlos Pena hit a screaming line drive over the right field boards for the World Team (saw him in 1998 at Northeastern). Of all those players playing that day it was easy to see he was the best player/tools out on the field. The hard thing to remember was he had been out of H.S. for all of 13 months and was just turned 19.

When a good friend told me about what was going on with Hamilton, and all the injuries and accident and the drug issues I was really shocked. I would always ask about him when I saw those that new him, and the reports always came back worse then before.

To watch what he is doing now is not that hard to imagine. After all it was never about his ability it was about his injuries, and addiction. If anything it just goes to show that the TB scouting department got it right. Just like they did with a bunch of players they currently have on their roster.

What is hard to imagine is that someone that has gone through all he has can still maintain his skills. This great game of baseball is not something you can walk away from, and years later after abusing your body come back and be good at let alone one of the best. Unless your name is Josh Hamilton.

To do what he's done with the time away from the game, he must possess talent of historical dimensions. Not saying he's one of the all time best - long way to go for that - but it looks to me as if he's one of the most talented ever to put on cleats. I was in the RF bleachers and the performance, the crowd were like an intense playoff game.

what we saw at the home run derby.we will never see again,,,he very well may be the best to put on a pair of cleats he has all the tools,,but more important i pray that he can keep the peace with himself and his family,i read that his wife is having another baby,i really hope god hands him a healthy baby boy,there really is something special looking into your own eyes,you just have to look for it,,good luck josh you are doing great ,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,

No one can dispute the strength of will and character required of Josh Hamilton to put down the pipe and not only return to the land of the living, but return to an extremely difficult, very public occupation and not only perform, but excel.

I just urge caution when those of us who are sober toss off a casual, "Well, he did it to himself." True, he did pick up the pipe. Jon Lester certainly didn't ask for cancer, and he had to show enormous courage, heart and will as well in not only beating back his cancer, but in also returning to perform his enormously difficult profession at the highest level.

But I'm sure Hamilton didn't ask to be a drug abuser. We can never see inside the heart of another, and thus we cannot fully understand what combination of personal demons and pressures drove Hamilton to drugs, and science does not know why some (Ray Charles, Jerry Garcia, James Taylor, Billy Joel) can pick up a substance, then put it down and continue to work, and others can't.

Some people may argue, "Well, I have pressures and demons, too, and I never did drugs." Yes, that's true. YOU didn't. Josh Hamilton did. What's true for you is only, in the end, true for YOU, not necessarily true for another. Life is not interchangeable.

Addiction is a disease. I don't blame Josh Hamilton any more than I do Jon Lester, and I salute them both for battling back and inspiring us all to echo their determination.

I don't think anyone knows just how good Josh Hamilton really is. I think there is the possibility that we could be seeing one of the all-time great baseball players hear. Multiple scouts have heralded him as "best player they've ever seen", his Rangers teammates swear on their lives that he is the best player in the game right now, and just the amazing feats he has been able to accomplish in a year of major league baseball.

There is real something special about this guy, his story is unearthly and his skill level is once in a lifetime. Only time will tell just how he pans out, but I think we are witnessing something truly special here

There is a wonderful quote from iconic comedy actress Mae West: "I've been rich, and I've been poor. Rich is better."

Josh Hamilton or one of his advisors should get that quote printed on laminate and Krazy Glue® it to the inside of Hamilton's locker and to the inside of his suitcase, and to the inside of his residence's front door. It will remind him of the hellhole he experienced when he was "poor"(addicted) compared to his considerable accomplishments and bright future now that he is "rich." The guy is a fascinating, inspirational, amazing story.

There is a wonderful quote from iconic comedy actress Mae West: "I've been rich, and I've been poor. Rich is better."

Josh Hamilton or one of his advisors should get that quote printed on laminate and Krazy Glue® it to the inside of Hamilton's locker and to the inside of his suitcase, and to the inside of his residence's front door. It will remind him of the hellhole he experienced when he was "poor"(addicted) compared to his considerable accomplishments and bright future now that he is "rich." The guy is a fascinating, inspirational, amazing story.