Josh Hamilton on coming home
Josh Hamilton will return to Globe Life Park on Saturday for the first time since 2015 to be inducted into the Texas Rangers Hall of Fame.
Former Arlington Mayor Richard Greene, one of the driving forces behind the construction of Globe Life Park, will also be inducted in an on-field ceremony scheduled to start at 6:45 p.m.
Hamilton, though, is at the top of the marquee, and with good reason. From 2008 to 2012, his first of two stints with the Rangers, Hamilton was arguably the best player in baseball.
He was the American League MVP and AL Championship Series MVP in 2010, and he nearly won the Rangers their first World Series a year later.
Not every moment was a highlight, but those highlights are hard to forget.
Here’s a look at the top five moments he produced in his six seasons with the Rangers.
Hamilton first became an MLB superstar the night of July 14, 2008, at Yankee Stadium.
People who followed baseball closely knew Hamilton’s story of a former first overall draft choice overcoming drug and alcohol abuse, but they didn’t necessarily know the talent he possessed and the charm he could have while playing the game.
But it came out in the first round of the Home Run Derby, when the first-time All-Star smoked a record 28 homers on pitches delivered by a 71-year-old volunteer coach who had thrown batting practice to Hamilton as a teenager in North Carolina.
Of course, Hamilton didn’t win the Derby, falling to Minnesota Twins first baseman Justin Morneau in the final round, 5-3, but Hamilton won the night.
He was a star.
“That was the moment when the rest of the country and the rest of the league realized how special this guy was,” general manager Jon Daniels said. “I remember when they’re chanting his name at Yankee Stadium. That never happens.”
A perfect game is considered the rarest feat in baseball, but that isn’t the case.
There have been 23 perfect games in MLB history, but only 18 players have done what Hamilton did May 8, 2012, at Camden Yards in Baltimore:
Hamilton became the 16th player in history to do it when he connected for four two-run shots. The first two came against former TCU star and future Cy Young winner Jake Arrieta, the third came against former Rangers farmhand Zach Phillips and the final blast came against former Rangers teammate Darren O’Day.
The only non-homer Hamilton had in five at-bats was a double that one-hopped the center-field wall.
Shortstop Elvis Andrus was on base for each homer.
“It was unbelievable,” Andrus said. “It was the best performance I’ve ever seen in person. It makes it that much sweeter that I was the one on base the four times. They still blame me for not hitting five because I didn’t get on base the fifth time.”
Nearly the clincher
Only the Rangers and a few others knew the pain Hamilton played with in the fall of 2011, during the Rangers’ second straight trip the World Series.
He had a sports hernia, an injury that would require surgery after the season, and before each game, he received a shot in a very delicate place that helped numb the affected area.
The Rangers kept him in their lineup, as Hamilton at 50 percent was better than a potential replacement could offer, and he very nearly won the Rangers the world title.
Hamilton connected for a two-run homer off St. Louis Cardinals closer Jason Motte in the 10th inning of Game 6 after the Rangers had just blown a two-run lead in the ninth inning.
Of course, the Rangers couldn’t hold that two-run lead and eventually lost the game 10-9 and the series the next night. But it would have been a storybook ending had the homer won the title.
“The guy’s playing on a bad groin, but here he comes, facing their closer, and he flips the ball out to center field,” Daniels said. “It was almost too unbelievable, if you made the movie out of that. I don’t know if he seemed to find the big moment and thrive in them, but it always seemed like that.”
An entire month as one moment? Yes.
That’s how unbelievable Hamilton was in the best month of his MVP season.
Hamilton swatted nine home runs and 31 RBIs, marks he beat in May 2012 thanks to the four-homer game. But he batted .454, posted a .482 on-base percentage, a .815 slugging percentage and a 1.297 OPS.
Hamilton finished the month on a 23-game hitting streak and had a hit in 25 of the 26 games he played. Included in the month was a five-hit game at Houston and a 490-foot homer off Astros ace Roy Oswalt that stood for six seasons as the longest homer at Globe Life Park.
For his encore in July, Hamilton batted .418 with a 1.172 OPS.
“He was locked in, man,” said Ron Washington, the manager for Hamilton’s first five Rangers seasons. “Everything in his life was good. His family life was good. His life at the ballpark was good. His life was good with his teammates. He stayed injury-free. He played on both sides of the baseball.”
One last hurrah
Hamilton had been on the injured list three times in 2015, the last in September for surgery on his left knee, but there he was starting in left field for the Rangers against the team he left them for, the Los Angeles Angels.
The Angels had unceremoniously dumped Hamilton in April following a relapse, essentially giving him to the Rangers for free. He was effective when healthy, and he made sure he was healthy enough to play in the season-ending series against the Angels.
The Rangers needed two wins to clinch the AL West for the first time since 2011, but the Angels were the division’s hottest team.
Hamilton helped cool them off Oct. 1 by robbing Shane Victorino of a two-run double in the second inning with a tumbling catch that took him into the left-field wall.
In the eighth, Hamilton delivered a sacrifice fly that gave the Rangers a 5-3 victory.
The catch resulted in another tweak to Hamilton’s knee and a second surgery in the span of a month. The knee never cooperated enough again for him to continue his career.
“He literally came back from knee surgery a month earlier, and he won the game against the team that traded him,” Daniels said. “Here’s this big guy, who would be a tight end or a defensive end in the NFL, and yet he did things so easily.”