When the Angels signed Josh Hamilton I knew it was going to be tough. Tough on Hamilton to meet expectations. Tough on the front office to prove signing Josh was a smart decision. Tough on the fans to embrace a former enemy. Tough on me just to figure out how to deal with Hamilton's presence and all that comes with it.
As a general rule, I try and keep my own personal opinion and beliefs of the non-baseball variety to a bare minimum on this blog. I even specifically tell all the other writers for the site that politics and religion are strictly off limits. After all, this is a baseball blog and it would seem stupid to alienate members of the audience over something that has nothing to do with baseball.
Well, I think I'm probably about to do just that.
In the months since the Angels signed Josh Hamilton and the one actual week that he has played in meaningful games for them, I've come to the conclusion that loving Hamilton and accepting him as one our own might just be impossible for me to do. But because he's an Angel for the next five years, I'm sure as hell going to try, but mostly out of obligation. While there is on rule that says we must unconditionally love every player on the roster, I feel like I'm not doing my job as a fan if I don't at least try. After all, there was a time long, long ago that I gave Jeff Mathis the benefit of the doubt and would jump to the defense of Vernon Wells.
Now it is my chance to talk myself into liking Josh Hamilton. Thus far it isn't going well. It isn't going well at all.
This isn't even a topic I ever really wanted to address in this space, at least not for a few months if ever. But the events of the last week have forced my hand. Part of that has to do with his play on the field, but a lot of it has to do with his behavior off of it. That and Ranger fans on Twitter keep asking me about it since I am apparently the de facto Angel blogger that Texas fans don't find to be a total troll.
Back when Josh was still with Texas, I never really liked him. His inspirational story was great and all, but he was still the best player on the team that was the Angels' biggest rival. But this was more than guilt by association because I also didn't have the same kind of regard for his struggles with addiction that the mainstream media seems to want me to have. Yes, it is an amazing story that Hamilton overcame his substance abuse issues, revived his career and became an MVP. That is literally the thing movies are made of. It is also something I can't identify with at all. Addiction just isn't something that has affected my life in any real way. And I'd be lying if I didn't admit that there is part of me that wonders why we glorify someone who came inches away from throwing away his incredible baseball talent and entire life because of booze and drugs. But I try not judge him for that because there is always something that leads to substance abuse. The keyword there is "try." Sorry, I'm not perfect.
None of this is to say that his fight against addiction isn't to be applauded. Just for me it is more of a golf clap. I'll save my standing ovations for the likes of Jackie Robinson when it comes to ballplayers overcoming adversity.
Perhaps it is my opinion on his addiction issues that is influencing my opinion of Hamilton's on-field play at the moment. Much in the same way that I have a limited amount of sympathy for him nearly throwing away his tremendous gift because he was powerless against drugs and alcohol, it looks as if he is throwing away his talent all over again because he powerless against the basic principles of plate discipline. Being addicted to heroin and not being able to lay off a low and away slider in the dirt on 0-2 that everyone in the ballpark knows is coming are far from the same thing, but right now, it looks like the end result is not all that much difference when it comes to Hamilton's on-field play. If this was just a recent development, I wouldn't be too concerned, but really it goes back to June of last season, and he was never all that disciplined before that.
Where as I do have some sympathy for his substance abuse plight, there will be no such condolences for Josh's free swinging ways. Frankly, I find it infuriating. You can blame the demon that is addiction for Josh's drug problems, but the his epic whiffing issues seem to be born out of ignorance and/or stubbornness. I want to like Hamilton, I really do, but until he reins in what appears to be a very fixable plate discipline problem, that won't be easy.
What makes it damn near impossible though is how Hamilton deals with things off the field, specifically his comments on his own struggles. Now, this is the part where I might offend some of you, so I apologize in advance because that is not my intention. Not to put too fine a point on it, but all his Jesus talk is driving me crazy. For me, it is the straw that broke the camel's back, specifically when he recently compared his ability to cope with being vociferously booed upon his return to Texas to the trials and tribulations of Jesus Christ.
In the interest of full disclosure, I am not a religious person, which you probably guessed. That actually undersells it. I'm actively anti-religion. I'm an atheist and I have a huge problem with people who feel the need to throw their faith in other people's faces and try to force their belief system on others. But this is not something I ever bring up in the blog because, well, I don't want to throw my beliefs in your face or force my value system on you. I only bring it up here to illustrate why Josh's pervasive habit of working the topic of his faith and Jesus into almost every single sound byte drives me up the wall. He is certainly not alone in that practice as Albert Pujols does the same thing to a slightly lesser degree but I suppose I am able to tolerate it more because his Jesus-speak doesn't sound quite as robotic and, let's be honest, Albert can actually hit the ball right now. I'm sure they are both very nice men and I don't have anything against spiritual people in general (my issues are mostly with religious institutions, not the people), I just am not going to be signing up to sit in the front row of any of their press conferences.
It all combines to be a perfect storm with Hamilton. Fighting off years of being conditioned to not like him but having to do so in the face of him shooting himself in the foot on the field and irritating me off the field is just a lot to overcome.
Having said all that, I realize that I am probably coming off as a callous asshole and maybe even as a bit intolerant. I don't want that to be the case but if it was, don't worry I promise I will never bring up the topic again. I am pulling back the curtain here so that I can explain why it is that I am having such a difficult time warming up to Hamilton and really to make it clear that I actually do want to like him even with as hard as he is making it for me to do so. I am sure that I am not alone in my sentiments though the details behind them might be different. Still, Hamilton is one of our own now and one way or another I'm going to keep trying to find a way to not only tolerate him but maybe even come to genuinely like him. Maybe.
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Full Disclosure, Ranger fan here and thought I'd check in here and see how Josh was going over in LA. Must say, Great Post! I think you nailed it and I believe ChuckPasedena captured the majority of all Ranger Fans feelings as well. A lot of the boos were not for his football town comments. It was for quitting on the team and his propensity to use religion, addiction, or some wild ass physical excuse as a crutch.
I wish the best for the dude, but he is REALLY hard to like. Good luck.
Interesting read, MWAH. I'm sure there are Texas fans trolling Angels boards everywhere about Hamilton and his struggles so far, just like last season when it seemed it was open season on Pujols and his contract early in the year. Full disclosure: I've been a Rangers fan since they moved here from Washington, but I had a few things I thought I might add. First off, the incessant reminders about his salvation from addiction being wholly the work of Jesus. That was something that bothered me from day 1 of Josh's time in Texas. It got old, and fast. I'm not an atheist, but I was most certainly agnostic for the vast majority of my adult life. Like you, I don't begrudge him for his beliefs, and who's to say that his belief didn't help him in his recovery? Baseball players are a superstitious bunch in general, and if, say, Adrian Beltre believes that he can't hit if he wears a cup (which he doesn't), and he's had back to back extremely good seasons all while believing something that's at best reckless, who am I to say he's wrong? The difference is Beltre doesn't make sure he mentions his complete lack of testicular protection being the key to his success at least three times every time someone shoves a microphone in his face. My views on religion are the same ones I have on homosexuality. I've got no problems whatsoever with either, but the moment you start forcing your beliefs on me I do have a problem with that. Maybe since Arlington is pretty much, as Dennis Miller put it well, one of the notches in the bible belt, Josh's testimony was all the rage with a large percentage of the population, and it sure sold papers because rarely did a week go by that a story wasn't written about the team hiring an accountability partner for Josh on the road, about how his wife went with him to fill his truck with gas to pay for it because he didn't carry money, and on and on. By the middle of his first season I'd avoid any story with his name in the headline. Still, though, he was hitting, playing hard, and helping a team win that really hadn't won anything but a couple of division titles. I ignored it and enjoyed his play. But the signs started to appear soon after the All Star break that things might not be all that they seem. I bear him no ill will, nor do I wish any misery on someone that loves the Angels like I lobe the Rangers. Now when our teams meet, yeah, I want the scoreboard lit up like a pinball machine all the while the Angels appear to have holes in their bats, but that's it/
I'm glad you actually tried to love Josh. Shoot, I had to work hard to like Napoli at first, but soon enough I did. Now, though, Josh Hamilton is public enemy #1 to most fans, and the story has been that the fans were upset because he took some shots at them, calling Texas football fans first and foremost. And Josh is 100% right about that, and anyone who argues otherwise is willfully blind. No, the torrent of boos weren't because of anything he said, it's because Josh Hamilton quit on the team last year, and in hindsight everyone should have seen it coming. There was the request to not play day games, the "sunlight in his light blue eyes" making it difficult to hit. The Rangers gave in, sent him to specialists, tried special eye drops, but nothing worked, so Josh got day games off (side note: he hit just above .300 in day games the next season. His blue eyes must have been fixed by Jesus). Then after his monster start last year the real downfall began. As you alluded to, pitchers adjusted, realizing he's never seen a pitch too far outside to hack at, and his off June turned into a pitiful July and only slightly improved thereon. Washington tried to have him take more pitches, the hitting coaches forced him into the video room to see how bad he looked, but Josh took the Rangers to 2 World Series, and Josh has always been a free swinger. Asking Josh not to swing made him an even worse hitter (we learned when Josh's dad chimed in through the media to let the team know they were incapable of coaching him correctly). So... once again the Rangers backed down. Every night Washington was forced to tell the media "it's best if we let Josh work this out himself". Then Josh chimed in that the real issue was that he's quit chewing snuff, and that messed up his swing. At this point the fans were getting restless, but not outright hostile. Then, in the middle of an historic collapse in September, with a huge series on tap in Oakland, suddenly.... Josh couldn't see. Pulled himself out of game 1, then flew back to Texas to see eye specialists while his teammates, shocked that their supposed best player up and abandoned them when they needed him most, they were swept and the writing was on the wall. Everyone knows how this ends. Hamilton drops an easy fly in the clinching game against the A's, then leisurely fetches it and chuckles while every Ranger on the field looked like they would choke him if they could. Then against Baltimore in the wild card, 0-4. On 8 pitches. After the game he looked shocked that the fans had the audacity to boo the inspirational Josh Hamilton. And now he's an Angel. The boos got old by the third game this weekend, frankly. He's gone, and so are the monster numbers he puts up when he puts his mind to it.
I wish you luck if you decide to keep trying to love him, but just be warned that the second you do give and love him Josh Hamilton will break your heart again and again. And the worst part of it is he won't ever understand how any "real baseball fans" could ever do something so terrible, because Josh Hamilton would never do that. Because he's Josh Hamilton, and he knows better than you or anyone else.
Sorry that was long winded, but that's 2 and a half years of frustration. I hope you guys don't have to endure it often, but my head tells me there's going to be days when getting Wells back would seem to be the more sane option.
I have a question. If Hamilton was always talking about his wife and kids and how they help him solve problems and get through trials, would you have a problem with it then? It's like what Tebow said. He has an incredible love for Jesus, and its the most important thing in his life, so he talks about Him. Idk I personally like that they talk about Jesus. Better than being arrogant and always giving themselves praise like tons of athletes do, but I guess they talk about what they love most.
@erstadfan17 I should also add, it isn't specifically a Jesus and Christianity thing. If he was talking all about Allah or Buddha or whatever, it would just as problematic for me.
@erstadfan17 No, probably not. It might be slightly irritating if he talked about them as much as Jesus, but I fully admit that part of my problem here is that I have a issues with organized religion. I'm not hiding that. My point though is that it makes it very hard for me to connect with him because I just can't get past the over-the-top religious talk. It is a personal bias and I brought it up to relate to others who have similar issues with him because of their own biases.