Scooping the Rangers: The decision to let Josh Hamilton walk away

Scooping the Texas Rangers banner -- Josh Hamilton

Josh Hamilton looks exasperated after striking out with the bases loaded.
Striking out appears to be Josh Hamilton’s specialty these days. (Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times)

I remember all the speculation when Josh Hamilton officially hit free agency. Everyone wanted to give their opinions about whether or not the Texas Rangers should or even would bring him back.

I battled with the idea. Went back and forth about whether or not it would be worth the money, or even the years, to keep him in Texas. The only thing I knew for sure was he was affecting the clubhouse and not in a good way. Was another five years of that worth it?

To me, there’s never been a question where Josh Hamilton’s talent is concerned. Say what you want about his lack of effort or wildly swinging at pitching six feet off the plate. When he steps to the plate with the game on the line, even opposing fans get nervous because they know what he’s capable of.

When he was introduced during a press conference in Anaheim, his first official day as the newest member of the Los Angeles Angels, I knew why the Rangers’ front office decided they were going to let him “date other teams” as Katie Hamilton put it. They knew it wasn’t in their best interest to re-sign him. His teammates were done with him, so the organization was done with him.

Josh Hamilton made it clear he didn’t “owe the Rangers” during 2012 spring training. That should have been the ultimate clue as to how he felt when he hit free agency. He wasn’t going to give Texas the first shot at re-signing him, and he wasn’t going to take a discount to stay with the team that gave him the chance to resurrect his career after acquiring him from the Cincinnati Reds.

The moment Josh Hamilton signed his five-year $125 million deal with the Angels, most national media pundits immediately picked the team in Anaheim to win the AL West – and why not? A lineup that forces opposing pitchers to face Hamilton, Albert Pujols and Mike Trout would make any baseball writer type the Angels name in the prediction box.

When Katie mentioned Texas allowing her husband to “date other teams,” it made me realize how out of love the Rangers were with Josh Hamilton and how far he had fallen in their eyes. The former humble star became the guy who liked being the center of attention and, most of the time, would say the most off-the-wall things just to make sure he was the guy who had the most media attention in the clubhouse.

It didn’t go unnoticed by his teammates, and they got tired of his act.

Was this a decision made by just the front office, or was this a decision brought to Rangers players, the feedback from which led to the decision to move on?

Through 19 games, Josh Hamilton is hitting .221 with 23 strikeouts in 77 total at-bats. Going into their series against Texas, dating back to their two-game set against the Twins, Hamilton had just one hit and eight strikeouts in 21 at-bats.

Needless to say, even the fans in Anaheim are wondering what their team is getting for the kind of money Josh Hamilton is being paid. Did they overspend on him? Do they now understand why Texas decided not to “put a ring on it?”

He can say this area isn’t a “baseball town,” which, if we’re going to be honest with each other, it really isn’t. The media in North Texas has said the same thing for years but hasn’t faced near the backlash that came from fans when it came from Josh Hamilton.

He may not think the fans here “get it,” but they really do. They understand why the front office didn’t fork over $25 million a year over five years to keep one of the biggest drama kings since C.J. Wilson, also a current member of the Los Angeles Angels and another member of the “Should we have spent that much on that guy?” club.

I spent a lot of time defending Josh Hamilton during his days in Texas. He went through both physical and spiritual battles, as well as scrutiny the likes of which hasn’t been seen since Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo went on vacation during a bye week.

The alcohol relapses and the two-month slump didn’t faze me in terms of defending the player. But, when the excuses came, and humility turned into arrogance, it was time to jump off the sinking ship.

If only he stood up and owned his slumps, or  if he didn’t make excuses, and he just called it for what it was — a lack of focus, not swinging the bat well, not seeing the ball well or anything that would have told fans he was still trying to improve.

Instead, the excuses came — from a lack of dip to drinking too much caffeine — and Josh wouldn’t take ownership of his wild swings or uncaring attitude, which fans began to notice as the season wound to a close.

A divorce between the two sides was inevitable. Rangers general manager Jon Daniels can say all he wants about Josh not giving them a chance to match the Angels’ free-agent offer. He knows they would have never gone to those lengths and, even if they did, it would have only been to force Angels’ owner Artie Moreno into a bidding war. One Daniels had no intention of winning.

If Hamilton thinks, for one second, the fans in Anaheim won’t show their displeasure if his poor performance at the plate continues, he will be in for a rude awakening. When you have names like Albert Pujols, Mike Trout, Mark Trumbo, C.J. Wilson, Jered Weaver and, yes, even Josh Hamilton on the same team, their patience will run thin on a team expected to be much more than mediocre.

The Texas Rangers are off to a solid month of April, and they’re getting it done with good starting pitching and a bullpen with names most haven’t heard of. They’re also doing it without Josh Hamilton. They no longer have the guy who can hit four home runs in a single game or the guy who can change the momentum with one swing of the bat.

But it might be what they don’t have that has made the biggest difference with the 2013 Texas Rangers. It’s the drama and off-the-field issues this team, and organization, can live without.

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