Josh Hamilton is still a hot button topic of every radio station in Dallas/Ft Worth, as well as with every Texas Rangers fan across the North Texas area. All you have to do is mention his name to someone, stand back and watch the anger come flying out.
It never used to be like that. From the moment Hamilton was acquired by the Rangers from the Cincinnati Reds back in 2007, he quickly became a fan favorite. One year, and one incredible home run derby, later he was a favorite of just about every baseball fan.
Two years after that, Hamilton and the Rangers found themselves in the franchise’s very first World Series appearance against the San Francisco Giants. A series that went much different than most expected.
A year after that, the Rangers were back in the Fall Classic ready to take something they believed was rightfully there’s. This time, it was the St. Louis Cardinals standing in the way of the ultimate goal.
In what became one of the most dramatic, and most painful, World Series games in recent memory, at least in the minds of Rangers fans, the Rangers found themselves going into extra innings after being just a single pitch away from their very first championship.
And as if a perfect script had been written for the perfect character, Josh Hamilton, a guy battling a severely torn groin, stepped to the plate. The collective baseball world held its breath as if it knew exactly what was about to happen.
With one swing of the bat, Hamilton sent Texas fans into a frenzy with a two-run home run that put the Rangers on top. This was too perfect of an ending. Not even the best writers could have seen this kind of script playing out in real life. But, as we all know, that’s not how it ended.
Two years, two disappointing World Series appearances, and a complete divisional collapse later, the baseball season for the Texas Rangers came to a painful end. What was supposed to be a magical three-year run for the organization became arguably the three most painful years the team had ever been through. Fans expected more, the front office expected more, the players expected more.
Well, that is, except for one: Josh Hamilton.
If you believe the rumors and reports coming out of the clubhouse after the team quit against the Baltimore Orioles in the American League Wild Card game, Hamilton seemed to be the only one not down in the dumps, angry, or even the slightest bit upset.
In fact, it was quite the opposite. He seemed almost happy the season had come to an end. No more questions about dipping, or lackthereof, or over-caffeinating himself. No more questions about his approaches at the plate that looked more like a little leaguer still figuring out his swing than a big leaguer getting paid millions of dollars to be an offensive catalyst.
Did the Rangers really want this guy back? Were they seriously going to invest in a guy who seemed so done with the game in the middle of the season and even more done when they needed him the most? Could they justify giving that guy five years or more, and $100 million or more, to a fan base that seemed ready to run him out of town with torches and pitchforks?
The winter meetings rolled around and we watched as just about every big name was connected to the Texas Rangers. From Zack Greinke to James Shields to Justin Upton, it sounded like Texas was on the verge of lighting up the baseball world by landing whomever they wanted.
Then Greinke signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Shields was traded to the Kansas City Royals, and a three-team deal between the Arizona Diamondbacks, Cincinnati Reds and Cleveland Indians all but killed any possibility of an Upton deal.
Fans began to wonder what the front office was waiting for and if bringing Hamilton back was almost something the team needed to do, even if they had to overpay him to get it done. They couldn’t keep losing players to other teams.
Fast forward to Thursday, December 13, 2012.
Most of us here in North Texas were just coming back from lunch or maybe finishing our last bites of it when the rumors of Hamilton signing with the Angels began to circulate around every social media outlet. Was it true? Could Josh really sign with the Rangers’ direct divisional rival?
Not long after the rumors began, the confirmations slowly started to roll in. Hamilton’s agent had called Rangers general manager Jon Daniels during a luncheon and gave him the news. A five-year $125 million deal was enough for Josh to take his talents to Anaheim, California.
It stings. There’s no question about it. Hamilton leaving the Rangers high and dry left a lot of fans, and the front office itself, speechless. This organization had accomodated Josh’s many issues, including making sure they had an accountability partner always with him at all times. How many MLB teams would do that for one player?
When he relapsed prior to the 2012 season, the Rangers and their fans rallied around their star and wanted to make sure he knew they were behind him. No matter what had to be done, they were going to make sure Hamilton was accomodated so this issue didn’t rear its ugly head again.
When an accidental tragedy struck at the ballpark, with Josh right in the middle of it, the fan base and the organization once again came to his defense and made sure he could get himself mentally right to play a game that seemed so unimportant in the grand scheme of things.
You’d think, after all that, there would be some sense of loyalty. You would think Hamilton would give Texas every opportunity to bring him back to Rangers Ballpark and allow him to show off his power in a Rangers uniform for the forseeable future.
But, as we’ve learned so many times, loyalty in sports is few and far between. In fact, more times than not, loyalty plays absolutely no part in it.
On Saturday afternoon, Hamilton donned a red Angels hat, and it couldn’t have looked more strange. It wasn’t supposed to end this way. The script couldn’t take this much of a severe twist.
Unfortunately, that’s exactly what happened.
He’s gone from one of the most-loved to one of the most-hated players in the state of Texas in just a few short months.
The script that was supposed to end with a championship coming back to Arlington now seems to be far from any sort of feel-good ending.
Whether you want to wish Hamilton well in his new city with a new team, or whether you want to hate him, what’s done is done.
It was never supposed to end this way. Not like this.