Gil LeBreton

Concern for Hamilton, not relief, fills Rangers camp

Josh Hamilton could face suspension after reports of a possible drug relapse during the off-season.
Josh Hamilton could face suspension after reports of a possible drug relapse during the off-season. AP

The photo on the magazine cover still resonates.

Sports Illustrated, June 2, 2008. The picture didn’t even show the best player in baseball’s face. Only the sweeping follow-through of his powerful swing.

The headline, however, identified him perfectly:

The Unbelievable Josh Hamilton.

He had come from the depths of drug and alcohol addiction to baseball stardom with the Texas Rangers. From spending nights smoking crack cocaine in tattoo parlors to giving his born-again testimony in Sunday churches.

The story, indeed, seemed too good to be true, just as the headline coyly implied.

Many of the same Rangers fans who once cheered Josh Hamilton came to boo him when he returned to Arlington two years ago in the uniform of the division rival Los Angeles Angels.

His wife, Katie, hadn’t helped things when she took the microphone in December 2012, and snarked about the Rangers not wanting to “put a ring on it.”

Only a cold soul, however, could find joy in the report this week that Josh Hamilton has had another drug relapse.

“Forget baseball,” Rangers general manager Jon Daniels said Thursday. “My first thought was that I hope for the best for him as a person.

“I hope the rumors and innuendo aren’t accurate and that he’s doing all right.”

But Daniels, of all people, should know the reports are likely true. Even with an appointed guardian angel — the club called him Josh’s “life accountability partner” — to shadow and room on the road with him, Hamilton lapsed conspicuously.

“It’s just sad news,” former teammate Michael Young said. “I think about a friend and a former teammate, and a guy with a family. I empathize. It just has to be a very tough situation for Josh right now.”

The Angels put a five-year, $125 million ring on Josh Hamilton’s finger that December day two years ago. The Rangers had made earlier offers — one before the 2009 season and another incentive-laced deal when Josh was a free agent — but they were never going to match the rich contract that Angels owner Arte Moreno offered.

Yet, if you thought Daniels would sound relieved Thursday, you would have been wrong.

“There’s no way to verify this or quantify it,” Daniels said, “but I always in my heart felt like the match here was really good. I felt he would be as productive here as anywhere.

“Obviously, you can draw conclusions and make judgments on how things have played out so far. But I’m not convinced it would have been the exact same.”

Recovering from shoulder surgery, Hamilton was not expected to rejoin the Angels for at least two more months, even before the latest news. In the first two seasons, while paying him roughly $35 million, Hamilton has given the Angels 31 home runs, driven in 123 runs and batted only .255.

He hasn’t had a hit in the postseason since his first-inning double for the Rangers in Game 7 of the 2011 World Series. He’s gone 0 for 20 since.

While Daniels admits that Angels GM Jerry DiPoto talked to him about Hamilton in the off-season, he said Thursday he’d rather not discuss exactly what those talks were about.

But draw your own conclusions. Hamilton did not return to Texas, even though reports in California said that the Angels were willing to virtually give him away — and pay most, if not all, of his remaining $90 million.

Daniels has to know that bringing Hamilton back — at any price — would have consequences. Besides angry and unforgiving fans, there’s the memory of Hamilton’s daily drama that became an increasing drain in the clubhouse.

The Rangers and Daniels have every reason to feel relieved. But the prevailing emotion here Thursday was only one of concern.

Not surprisingly, ex-teammate Young put it best, saying, “Hopefully, he has a lot of good people around who are helping him through a tough time. But I hope he also knows that there are people that he’s played with that care about him, that care about his future and are willing to help in any way they can.”

For a time, when Michael Young played alongside him, Josh Hamilton seemed like the best player in baseball.

That much, if not a lot else, was true

Gil LeBreton, 817-390-7697

Twitter: @gilebreton

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