Gil LeBreton

Hamilton’s return to Rangers about baseball, not the other stuff

Josh Hamilton won an MVP award, hit 142 home runs and posted a .912 OPS in his five seasons in Texas.
Josh Hamilton won an MVP award, hit 142 home runs and posted a .912 OPS in his five seasons in Texas. AP

Because it didn’t end well here, you may not like Josh Hamilton.

You remember only the bad times, not the good.

The days he didn’t play. The daytime vision excuse. The too-much-Red Bull excuse.

You remember him dancing on the bar with the girls at Sherlock’s. You remember him dropping the fly ball in Oakland, and the stupid grin that he wore in the dugout the next inning. You remember the way that the Orioles’ Joe Saunders — Joe Saunders! — made him look like such an easy out in the wild-card game.

And you remember the way he left, like a guy skipping out on a lunch tab. His wife Katie saying, cattily, that the Rangers didn’t want to “put a ring on it.” And finally, Josh himself accusing this of not being a “baseball town.”

It all now seems, though, like a long time ago. Two full baseball seasons have passed since the Texas Rangers didn’t put a ring on Josh Hamilton.

And how have the Rangers done since that September 2012 day in Anaheim, when Hamilton took himself out of the lineup — “blurry vision,” he said — as a crucial series against the Angels began?

Coming into Saturday’s game, the Rangers’ record was 167-184, which includes the 91-win 2013 season.

Overall, they’ve been a losing team with a losing lineup — a lineup that still shows a gaping void that Hamilton once so superbly filled.

That’s what this is all about. The baseball, not the bull stuff.

The reported impending deal with the Angels is about trying to find a spark to ignite the most under-performing lineup in baseball. The Rangers began Saturday with the lowest team batting average in the major leagues, .210. They were batting .199 on the road. The .210 average is the lowest the team has been through 16 games since 1972, the year the franchise moved to Arlington.

The question, therefore, isn’t whether Rangers fans will cheer or jeer Josh when he returns to the ballpark. The truth is, the way the team has been playing, there may not be that many fans to boo or cheer him, anyway.

The deal itself is a baseball no-brainer. The Angels reportedly are going to pay Hamilton some $63 million, just to more or less go away. Hamilton, in turn, personally will be giving up some $8 million or so, just to get out of California.

The Rangers could end up paying Hamilton about the same salary they’re paying, say, Ross Detwiler, $3.45 million. And no players or prospects will be sent to the Angels in the deal.

A former MVP, virtually for free.

But it has to work from a baseball standpoint, or this will be just a waste of earnest effort and time.

Clearly, the Hamilton that wore an Angels uniform bore little resemblance to the Hamilton that won an MVP award, hit 142 home runs, became a Home Run Derby legend and posted a .912 OPS in his five seasons in Texas.

In California, his bat seemed slow. His strength sapped. His mind distracted.

As the story goes, Angels manager Mike Scioscia, a hard-nosed guy, eventually couldn’t stand him — or Josh’s daily drama — and wanted him gone.

As former manager Ron Washington used to remind, however, Hamilton played his best baseball in Texas. For all but two wayward nights, the support system, which included accountability partner Shayne Kelley, appeared to keep Josh’s heart with God and his mind on baseball.

The Rangers apparently think they can rebuild that support system — maybe bolstered by having Michael Young around — and regain some semblance of the old Hamilton.

“People have counted this man out before, and he has come back,” general manager Jon Daniels reminded me during spring training.

Maybe it was the money. Maybe just the expectations. Maybe Orange County just didn’t sit well with the Carolina-born Hamilton family.

Whatever, it all seemed to create a negative environment that weighed like a cross on Hamilton’s shoulders.

The Rangers apparently think they can recover the old Josh Hamilton.

They need him.

It’s about the baseball. Not the booing or the other bull stuff.

Gil LeBreton, 817-390-7697

Twitter: @gilebreton

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