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Jon Mark Beilue column - Posted March 29, 2013 noon
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illustration by Andy Chase Cundiff

Rangers, Hamilton: too good to last

As a lifelong Rangers fan, I’m supposed to be real mad at Josh Hamilton. If I were at the Ballpark in Arlington for the season opener on April 5 against the rival Angels, I would be expected to harmonize in a stadium of boos when he steps into the batter’s box. Sorry, I just can’t work up a good mad against him.

Oh, I’ve been frustrated with him, exasperated with him over the last three months of last season when he seemed disinterested at the plate, but I’m not upset with him. Plenty are. It’s not so much that as a free agent he left the Rangers in December when they seemed to make a competitive offer. It’s that his five-year, $125 million contract was with, of all teams, the division rival Angels. That seemed like an ungrateful shot across the baseball bow.

Then in February, at the start of spring training, he told a Dallas TV station that the DFW area was not a baseball town. He strangely reasoned that if it were, he would not have been booed in his last game in Arlington. That ignited folks since fans were loyal almost to the end and the club accommodated him and stood by him in his fight away from drug and alcohol abuse.

Ah, whatever. Yeah, it would have been nice to see him anywhere but in the Rangers’ division, playing Texas 19 times, but the game is a business and he followed the money and opportunity. As for his “baseball town” comments, pretty mild stuff.

At the end of last season, there was a sense that Hamilton and the Rangers had run their course. It wasn’t that his five, sometimes spectacular seasons weren’t too good to be true, but that Hamilton and the Rangers were too good to last.

Paul Bunyan had an expiration date too, didn’t he? It seemed frustratingly evident as the 2012 season wound down, and Hamilton was a strikeout machine. He struck out 30 percent of the time after the All-Star break, highest in the American League. He dropped a critical fly ball in the last game of the regular season that paved the way for Oakland to overtake the Rangers to win the AL West.

It wasn’t that he struggled so much, but that he seemed disinterested. His body language said that he didn’t care, that his immense talent was almost bored by it all. In the last game, that pitiful wildcard home playoff loss to the Orioles, he struck out twice and hit into a double-play grounder – in eight pitches.

It was a shocking decline to what was his last year with Texas. In May, he became just the 16th player ever to hit four home runs in one game. In July, he received a record 11 million all-star. In October, he was booed. Maybe Hamilton suffocated under the weight of his own lofty standards.

It seemed Hamilton needed a change. So did the Rangers. For five years, Hamilton and the Rangers seemed like a Disney movie, but the credits do eventually roll. They were great for each other, and we bathed in every tape-measure home run. With his strength at the plate and speed in the field, he led the Rangers to consecutive World Series appearances. But, of course, it was more than that.

The nation was smitten by his story of redemption, of this No. 1 draft choice in 1999 that was nearly destroyed by alcohol and drugs, out of baseball from 2001 to 2006. His strong faith in God, his family and careful counseling and accountability put him onto the right path.

And, by golly, he was doing it with the Rangers, an afterthought of a franchise nationally that was now basking in the coast-to-coast glow of a newfound superstar after obtaining him in a trade. He was a real-life Roy Hobbs at the 2008 Home Run Derby in New York, capturing a nation by hitting 35 home runs, 28 in the first round. He won the American League Most Valuable Player Award in 2010.

His time with the Rangers was almost beyond belief, and, indeed, “Beyond Belief” was the name of his best-selling autobiography. Hamilton may not have been the best player in Rangers history, but he was the most exciting.

But there were ominous signs, too: the two public slip-ups at Arizona and Texas watering holes, the battle with injuries that suggested the substance abuse had taken a toll on a 31-year-old body. The Rangers got the best five years out of Hamilton, and in October, it seemed to be time to move on. After is last game, when he heard the boos, he said, “I think about the Bible verse that says, if they don’t receive you in your hometown, then shake the dust off your feet and move on.”

He referred to Matthew 10:14, which states: “If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home and shake the dust off your feet.”

It was time to part, but I can’t boo Hamilton. A strikeout, though? That would be all right.

by Jon Mark Beilue

Jon Mark Beilue is an award-winning columnist for AGN Media. He can be reached at jon.beilue@amarillo.com or (806) 345-3318.
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