Ryan J. Rusak

We love Josh Hamilton for much more than baseball, so his downfall is incredibly sad

Watching the Washington Nationals celebrate their World Series victory Wednesday night, I couldn’t help but think of Josh Hamilton.

The Nats doused each other with beer and champagne, as all winning teams do, and it sparked the memory of the Texas Rangers’ careful playoff celebrations now nearly a decade ago. Hamilton’s teammates, out of respect to his struggles with substance abuse, sprayed ginger ale rather than alcoholic beverages while he was in the room.

The supremely talented but deeply addicted outfielder is, of course, back in the news, charged with injuring one of his daughters. The details of the allegations are difficult to read. Hamilton denies them, and anyone who’s dealt with the fallout from divorce or just with angry teenagers knows there could be inaccuracies in the accounts laid out in police documents.

josh hamilton mug fitted.jpeg
Josh Hamilton Tarrant County Jail Provided

Nor do we know whether what happened with Hamilton and his daughter had anything to do with his addiction.

That said, this new drama is achingly sad. It tarnishes one of our area’s favorite redemption stories. And it comes not long after his reconciliation with Dallas-Fort Worth baseball fans reached its apex with his induction to the Rangers Hall of Fame.

This one hurts a lot more than a simple drug or drinking relapse, too. Hamilton has been beloved for much more than his ability to crush baseballs. His path took him from highly regarded prospect to rock-bottom addict and then, through his relationship with Christ, to sobriety and stardom at the highest levels of American sport.

REDEMPTION THROUGH RELIGION

Anyone with a heart cheered the triumph of the human spirit at the center of Hamilton’s narrative. For his fellow believers, the religious redemption added a special layer of joy.

The fragility of Hamilton’s recovery made him vulnerable and, in a way, easier to love. He was the superstar with a deeply human flaw that he worked daily to overcome even while in the spotlight.

The Rangers showed incredible patience and dedication to Hamilton. Admittedly, his talent was a big factor in that. He was the superstar they desperately needed at a dark time for the franchise. They put him in a position to stay clean and succeed and stuck with him when he slipped.

The fans did, too. Even when his foibles bordered on the ridiculous, such as in 2012, when he missed a stretch of late-season games because he had overindulged in caffeinated energy drinks to the point that his vision was blurred.

But now — if, again, the allegations of abuse are true — Hamilton seems much less like a flawed avatar for all of us and more like someone whose demons make him dangerous.

And it’s heartbreaking. When Hamilton was inducted to the Rangers Hall of Fame just a couple months ago, he wrote a lengthy essay about his journey at The Players’ Tribune. The part that jumps out now is when the 38-year-old flashes to thoughts that, with the right prep, he could still play baseball.

Then he realizes “that my girls need me more than I need baseball.” Now, Hamilton is barred from contact with his children while the legal process plays out.

It’s one thing to accept a hero’s flaws and root for him to overcome them. It’s another to see a side of him that makes you question why you ever cheered for him to begin with.

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Ryan J. Rusak is opinion editor of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. He grew up in Benbrook and is a TCU graduate. He spent more than 12 years as a political journalist, overseeing coverage of four presidential elections and several sessions of the Texas Legislature. He lives in east Fort Worth.
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