Mike Napoli deserves a warm welcome back

Posted Thursday, May. 02, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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galloway The greatest moments in Texas Rangers history centered around Josh Hamilton.

But almost the exact same thing can be said about Mike Napoli.

I’ve never heard anything louder or better at the local ballyard than the “Nap-O-Lee” chorus that shook north Arlington in the late summer and fall of 2011.

This, of course, is a homecoming season for Josh and Nap after both departed in December.

Hamilton had his a month ago.

On that same theme of “I’ve never heard anything...”

Man, the sports hate for Josh that first weekend of April far exceeded any unwelcome ever at the ballpark.

But a one-eighty kind of welcome is coming Friday night. Napoli and the Boston Red Sox are visiting for the first weekend of May.

It’s safe to predict love and appreciation will be showered upon Nap, and maybe, for old time’s sake, at least one “Nap-O-Lee” chorus will ring out again.

Josh’s problem is he can’t keep his mouth buttoned up.

The only thing Nap keeps open is the top button.

Its funny how this stuff works out, at least based on the very early returns of 2013, with only April baseball precincts reporting.

Regardless of his weirdness, it seemed logical to assume the Rangers’ batting order would surely miss Josh this season. A different kind of offense was predicted, with less run production involved.

So far, it’s true on one count. The bats have struggled for consistency, while pitching has carried the club.

But based on Josh’s current head case of a gag job with the Angels, there are 125 million reasons not to regret his departure. At the moment, you wouldn’t want him back here even for free, right, Jon Daniels?

If, however, the general manager could only have one do-over, and with current hindsight providing the clearest of vision, good ol’ Nap would be entrenched in Ron Washington’s nightly batting order.

Napoli is the American League MVP for the season’s first month. Playing first base for the Red Sox, he leads baseball with 31 RBIs and 21 extra-base hits, including six homers. His bat has helped propel Boston to the biggest American League surprise in the early go.

You might say Nap has already earned his meager $5 million salary for this season, which if you’re counting along at home, is $120 million less than what the Angels will be paying Hamilton for five years.

Four months ago, there was talk of Napoli’s career being over because of health issues involving the hip, the same kind of degenerative problem that ended Bo Jackson’s career.

But now, who knows what’s next for Nap, who has never exactly had good luck when it comes to cashing in on a hefty contract.

After his breakout year for the Rangers in 2011, the club offered a long-term deal at a reported three years, $38 million. Napoli said no, meaning he was willing to gamble on a bigger deal in free agency after the 2012 season.

When last season was a disaster for Napoli, I thought he’d never see three years, $38 million again. The Rangers wanted to re-sign him last winter, but only on a one-year deal, which was understandable, particularly because the club knew of the health scare with the hip.

Then along comes Boston, desperate to regroup after a couple of awful seasons, offering three years, $39 million in December. Nap took it, of course, and had recouped what he turned down with the Rangers a year earlier.

But then he bombed the physical, because of the hip problem, and Nap was on the street again. When the Red Sox came back with only a one-year offer at $5 million, the Rangers got back in the bidding.

That’s the whole point here. The Rangers wanted Napoli back last winter. But by then, Lance Berkman had been signed to DH, A.J. Pierzynski had been signed to catch and Mitch Moreland was told he would be the everyday first baseman.

The Rangers couldn’t, at the time, commit to a full-time position. The Red Sox had first base open. Nap took the offer from the Red Sox, who had piled on $8 million in incentives to the 5 mil base.

You can say the Rangers were somewhat close to keeping Napoli.

Based on hindsight, it would have been great if they had kept Napoli.

But none of us had it as any kind of high off-season priority, not with the dismal 2012 season and the health concerns that surfaced last season.

At the time of his departure, Nap was going to be missed because he is a great teammate and clubhouse guy, which, by the way, is exactly what the Red Sox needed after a couple of seasons of internal disruption in the clubhouse.

With his return tonight, Nap is also missed because of his outrageous early production for Boston, compared to the Rangers’ current paltry bats.

Plus, Napoli is the anti-Josh.

Around here, that deserves a warm welcome home.

Randy Galloway can be heard 3-6 p.m. weekdays on Galloway & Co. on ESPN/103.3 FM. Randy Galloway, 817-390-7697 Twitter: @sportsdfw

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