Commentary

Josh Hamilton is going, going, gone

While it may be business for the Texas Rangers slugger, be sure it's personal for fans

Updated: February 27, 2012, 6:07 PM ET
By Jim Reeves | ESPNDallas.com

Prepare to say goodbye to Josh Hamilton.

Yes, it's going to hurt. You bet it is. Rangers fans have invested more in Hamilton than just the normal cheers and hopes that generally accompany a star player.

But it's time to accept and understand that he is very likely playing his final season as a Texas Ranger.

What a shame that is, because he has something so very special here and yet doesn't seem to understand that.

He asked us, all of us, to believe in him, and we did. He asked us to be patient with him, and we have been. He asked us for forgiveness, and we have forgiven; more than once. He has asked us for second chances, and we've given those, too, without even blinking.

We have loved him through his injuries and his failures, through his offseason slipups and the sleazy Internet photos, even through the public humiliation of his incredibly resilient and forgiving wife Katie and his beautiful family.

We have done this because it is what we do as people and, for many of us, as fellow Christians. We don't expect perfection. We know all about temptation and failure. We've either been there ourselves or know someone very close to us who has walked that difficult, treacherous path.

We have willed him, prayed for him, to be stronger, to somehow succeed in the face of the demons he fights on a daily basis.

Which is why it hurt so badly last week to hear him say, "What people don't understand, is this is a business." It's why, he said, he won't be giving the Rangers any kind of hometown discount when and if negotiations resume on a new contract that could be worth $100 million or more. He doesn't owe them anything, Josh said, other than what he already gives every game in the field and in the community.

A business? OK, sure, we understand the numbers side of the game. We try to grasp and live with the idea that a baseball player is worth millions upon millions of dollars a year to play a game. It must be true, or otherwise the owners wouldn't pay it.

Yes, we know it's a business.

Except, that's not why Rangers fans have invested in Josh Hamilton. It's not a business to the people who have loved and prayed for Josh. It's not a business for those who have read his book and lifted a prayer for him. It's personal. It's very, very personal.

Now perhaps it's just that Hamilton isn't quite able to articulate what he really means, which may be why he was backtracking slightly Sunday. Or, more likely, he was just repeating what he's heard his agent say. Either way, after his long spring training news conference last week at Surprise, the bottom line comes out pretty much the same.

If it's a business, nothing more, nothing less, then the Rangers simply cannot afford to invest $100 million in a player whose next tumble off the wagon might not be for a few beers in January. The next fall could be for something far worse, and it might happen in May, or July, or September.

The stakes are too high for the Rangers to take that gamble … unless both sides understand and believe that they are in lockstep with one another, that their commitment goes far beyond the legal mumbo-jumbo on a contract.

Maybe that tumble will never come. Let's hope so. Hamilton can truthfully say that his addictions haven't cost him a single suspended game since he came to Texas. But they very likely have cost him plenty of playing time, just in another form.

One of the reasons the Cincinnati Reds cautiously agreed to trade Hamilton to the Rangers in the first place in December 2007 was because of their concern about how much effect his long-term drug use might have on his body. There was a fear that it might make him brittle and more susceptible to injury. Medically, it's a difficult thing to prove or assess.

What we do know is that he has avoided the disabled list in only one season since he arrived in Texas. In Hamilton's defense, he also plays the game full out, without regard for his health.

What Josh doesn't seem to get is that when he says he's not going to bend, even a little, in order to stay in Texas, it's not just the Rangers organization he's playing hardball with, it's the fans he professes to love. He's telling us, in so many words, that there are more suckers just like us in the next burg down the road and that we don't really matter at all. It's all about the Benjamins.

This is what his agent no doubt prefers. It's certainly what the Major League Baseball Players Association keeps selling him.

I certainly don't believe he's getting that from the book he brought with him and read from at the news conference last week. I don't think he'll find that message in the Psalms, or in Mathew, Mark, Luke or John.

What I've been thinking, what I'd hoped that Josh had learned, is that he's found a home here; a real home. He's found an organization that appreciates him and supports him in every possible way, through thick and thin, through success and failure. He has found a fandom that loves him -- even adores him -- and has invested something precious in him.

Their hopes. Their dreams. Their prayers.

Where does that fit into the business model? How do you quantify that in contract negotiations? Does he owe us/the Rangers anything more than what he already gives?

That's something only he can decide.

Yes, Josh gives the Rangers all he can give and they pay him a fair market value in return. But at some point, I'd hoped Josh might have learned that life isn't all about how much money you can make, how many millions you can stock away for your grandkids' grandkids.

I'm pretty sure he'll find that message in that wonderful book he carries, if he looks hard enough.

Maybe he still will.

If not, a painful goodbye is headed our way.

Jim Reeves, a former columnist with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, is a regular contributor to ESPNDallas.com.

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