Booing Josh Hamilton: Hard Feelings in Arlington

Texas Rangers v Oakland Athletics

You know the story. Josh Hamilton is drafted #1 by the Rays. Josh Hamilton goes to a dark place of personal demons dealing with drugs and alcohol addiction. Josh Hamilton returns to baseball and has a successful year with the Reds, gets traded to Texas and becomes a bona fide star. He wins an MVP, makes two World Series, and despite struggles, produces at a very high level.

And then there were relapses, a terrible accident involving a fan, and awful plate discipline. There was a really bad final few weeks that coincided with the Rangers missing the real playoffs on the final day.

There were boos. And contract talks. And a former hero moving to LA to go where he felt like he was wanted. I’ve written a lot about Josh Hamilton as a player. His amazing skills and terrible plate discipline. His flawed past.

And then there was this, that Hamilton said after leaving town:

“Texas, especially Dallas, has always been a football town. The good with the bad is they’re supportive, but they also got a little spoiled at the same time, pretty quickly. You can understand a really true, true baseball town. There’s true baseball fans in Texas but it’s not a true baseball town.”

All of this stacked on top of itself makes it pretty unsurprising that the Rangers faithful greeted him with Bronx cheers on Friday. They booed. They read the paper. There were hard feelings all around.

I have complicated feelings about Hamilton. I’ll lay them out.

  1. Hamilton is very talented and can do really exciting things on the field
  2. Hamilton has terrible plate discipline, a skill I value greatly
  3. Hamilton wasted a great deal of his God-given talent when he buried himself in drugs and alcohol
  4. Hamilton’s story is one of redemption, which is very emotionally powerful
  5. Hamilton seemed to phone in his final month in Texas

On balance, Josh Hamilton has enough personal demons to deal with without me getting on his case. But he’s frustrating to watch. He could have been an all-time great and he wasted so much potential. He doesn’t seem to like baseball very much, but he’s a great comeback story.

But the fans in Texas have some reason to be angry. I think he did quit on them last year. He looked awful in the biggest games of the year. A little more from Hamilton during the final weeks might have helped the Rangers secure a playoff berth. But then again, they don’t know what was going on with him. The right thing to do from the fan perspective would have been unconditional support. He was theirs, they should defend him.

And then he left. They parted ways. It was a breakup that both sides needed. Fine, good, it was time. But then the quote posted above. Hamilton insulted the Rangers’ fans. He challenged their love of the game. He made it about them and not about him. He all of people should know about his flaws. But there he was, blaming them. Pouring salt in the wound.

Classy it was not. If Hamilton hadn’t said it, I think I’d take his side on the booing issue. But after the way he left, to make a public statement like that, Hamilton was asking for it.

He deserved it. But the fans didn’t come away smelling like roses. It was just kind of ugly. It was a divorce. They couldn’t live together anymore and it was time to go their separate ways. But then there was a snarky comment to a mutual friend that resulted in an arms race of animosity.

It’s sad really. There’s so much about their relationship that was good. And it ended so poorly.

I want to blame Josh Hamilton for who he is, but that’s probably not right. I want to blame the fans for bailing on him too early. I want to blame Hamilton for disparaging his old fan base. I wish the fans had taken the high road rather than show him up.

It wasn’t pretty, but not everything is. Josh Hamilton is baseball’s flawed giant and he always will be. He was wrong. The fans were wrong. Time is the only thing that will heal this wound. Hopefully, the day will come when they can reconcile. And the kids who grew up wearing Hamilton jerseys can stand and cheer for star they used to love.

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