The Best Story in Sports Practically No One is Talking About

Linsanity. I know, I know. It transcends sports, attracts the attention of the President of the United States, makes one of the most maligned NBA franchises other than the Charlotte Bobcats suddenly relevant. But the real story is in Texas, as inspiring and electric as Lin has been.

That story with the himself electric and in his way enigmatic Josh Hamilton, the 2010 AL and ALCS MVP who also was the first player drafted in the 1999 MLB draft by the Tampa Bay then-Devil Rays. A man who struggled with drug and alcohol use for the better part of the ’00s — famously, if you pay attention to this sort of thing. It’s no secret he dropped out of baseball entirely from 2004 to 2006, only to re-emerge in stunning fashion as the Roy Hobbs of the Texas Rangers.

His recent (much-publicized) relapse with alcohol abuse wasn’t the sort of thing that surprises an addict. His frankness in admitting to his personal failures and human nature testified, however, to both his willingness to change the former and attest to the latter. It showed his family, friends, and fans that Josh Hamilton knows he screwed up, but wants desperately to change.

Josh Hamilton is a fortunate human being. He’s a preternaturally gifted athlete, a man who can drive a ball further with a flick of a ham-sized wrist than I can probably see. He’s got more money than I’ll probably make in my life. His failings are public, because that’s the way of baseball, and of professional sports — or even high-profile amateur sports — in general. People care about him, what he does, what he doesn’t do, because he matters. To a substantial investor class and largely disappointed fan base, he matters.

So what he does in his off time matters. There are few things that make a fan sad than a wasted high draft pick. Ask Wizards or Blazers fans alone about Kwame Brown or Greg Oden (just to name recent examples from one professional US league alone), how they feel about management bollocksing top draft picks. They don’t exactly come around all the time. To draft a guy and watch him waste it all on alcohol and his particular drug cocktail is not only a nut-blow to the fans (and management) but a sad thing to watch.

In Hamilton’s case though, there seemed to be a happy turn: traded to the Rangers in 2008, he completely annihilated opposing pitching in spring training and won the starting CF job. With a .304/.371/.530 he hadn’t even gotten started with AL pitching, feasting on division cohorts like Felix “The King” Hernandez, posting a .359/.411/.633 line with a 7.0 WAR and a 170 OPS+ (all stats cited courtesy of in that 2010 MVP season. And aside from the production, he led the Rangers to consecutive World Series, falling respectively to the Giants and the Cardinals. But he led them there, and consecutive pennants is nothing at which to scoff.

The man’s a great ballplayer. That he slipped in his battle with addiction recently comes as neither a surprise nor a disappointment. I’m not going to judge the man for slipping; if anything else, a crime, any other ethical misdoing occurred, then it’s on him. Yet so far, Hamilton has been forthcoming, saying he did wrong, he slipped, he’s seeking and working toward help, and most importantly earnestly desires it.

Hamilton, however, is a flawed dude seeking redemption and desperately hoping to find it. Isn’t that us all?

~ by Benji on February 16, 2012.

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