Josh Hamilton is 34, and he is now finally on the back end of a baseball career that began at around thirty four months.
Whatever the reason, justification, rationalization, excuse or explanation why, he is here; and at some point both life and his career are on him.
If baseball truly matters to this generation’s Mickey Mantle, and real-life version of Roy Hobbs, Josh won’t take for granted what God gave him and be aware that this is not going to last forever.
The Angels gave him the contract he wanted for himself, and his precious union, and now the Rangers have allowed him to come back to the team where they went the extra 3,000 miles to “understand him,” “accept him” and “provide him with a support system.”
He should recognize just how fortunate he is, and at least be accountable for the rarity that this is the type of an opportunity extended to but a few people on this earth.
Beginning with his first at-bat back as a Ranger on Monday in the first of their three-game series in Cleveland, this is Hamilton’s last chance to write a more pleasant finish to what is one of the most bizarre baseball careers in recent memory.
Whether it’s addiction, injury, family problems or just a case of foot-in-mouth disease, how Josh wants to be remembered has begun. Baseball is only going to give him so many chances, and his body only has so many more innings. He can do it, but it’s up to him.
In his first game back as a Ranger, it looked like he never left. In his first at-bat, he was able to turn on an inside pitch and crush it down the right field line with that effortless swing. Too bad it was foul. He struck out swinging. He looked goofy trying to field a fly ball in left field that led to an Indians run in the second inning.
He drew a walk in the third and scored a run; he looked bad on a swinging strikeout in the fifth on a nasty pitch; and he lucked into reaching first base in the seventh inning when the pitcher committed an awful throwing error that allowed the tie-breaking run to score.
Basically, Josh looks like a guy who has not played all season.
It’s far too early to determine whether this second marriage between the Rangers and Josh is worth the risk, or the time. Monday was his first MLB game since he went 0 for 4 with the Los Angeles Angels in Game 3 of the American League Division Series last October.
I was never for this move and not because I hate Josh, or don’t believe he deserves another chance; I’m just not a fan of standing in the way of progress, and this move feels like just that. Plus the line “You can never go back” is usually right; it’s a cliche for a reason.
Josh immediately makes this team more interesting to watch, but I don’t think he makes them any better as a team for the long haul.
He may never again be the player who was the American League MVP in 2010, and was so wonderfully and mesmerizingly brilliant for this franchise in the runs to consecutive World Series. No one should expect that Josh to return. At a minimum, what we should all expect is a guy who understands this is not going to last for the rest of his life, and that he should try accordingly.
The one thing that he was better at than nearly every other person alive has a limited shelf life. If he plays like he gets that, he will be fine.
But how do you get a guy to not take for granted the one thing that he has been good at since literally before he can remember? The man was blessed with once-in-a-generation, God-given ability to play baseball, and is put together like Zeus. His actions sometimes (all the time?) suggest he takes those realities for granted.
He is not doomed for early retirement, but he is closer to the end than the beginning.
At this juncture, nothing should surprise us regarding Josh; it could end with a walk-off home run in the World Series, an injury, a slip with addiction that ends it all, or a .215 season and no team signing him.
Some things are beyond Josh’s control, but effort, maturity and sincerity he has a say in. Clubhouses will deal with a lot if a guy puts up numbers, or isn’t a drama mama dog.
Whatever the reason/excuse/explanation, Josh Hamilton is back with the Texas Rangers. For the first time in his baseball career, time is finally not with him. The ugly last month with the Rangers in 2012, the awful stay in Los Angeles, do not have to be the end.
If he wants it badly enough, the ending can be different. It’s in there.
But it’s on him.
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Mac Engel, 817-390-7697
Twitter: @macengelprof and The Big Mac Blog