When the Angels signed Josh Hamilton I knew it was going to be tough. Tough on Hamilton to meet expectations. Tough on the front office to prove signing Josh was a smart decision. Tough on the fans to embrace a former enemy. Tough on me just to figure out how to deal with Hamilton's presence and all that comes with it.
As a general rule, I try and keep my own personal opinion and beliefs of the non-baseball variety to a bare minimum on this blog. I even specifically tell all the other writers for the site that politics and religion are strictly off limits. After all, this is a baseball blog and it would seem stupid to alienate members of the audience over something that has nothing to do with baseball.
Well, I think I'm probably about to do just that.
In the months since the Angels signed Josh Hamilton and the one actual week that he has played in meaningful games for them, I've come to the conclusion that loving Hamilton and accepting him as one our own might just be impossible for me to do. But because he's an Angel for the next five years, I'm sure as hell going to try, but mostly out of obligation. While there is on rule that says we must unconditionally love every player on the roster, I feel like I'm not doing my job as a fan if I don't at least try. After all, there was a time long, long ago that I gave Jeff Mathis the benefit of the doubt and would jump to the defense of Vernon Wells.
Now it is my chance to talk myself into liking Josh Hamilton. Thus far it isn't going well. It isn't going well at all.
This isn't even a topic I ever really wanted to address in this space, at least not for a few months if ever. But the events of the last week have forced my hand. Part of that has to do with his play on the field, but a lot of it has to do with his behavior off of it. That and Ranger fans on Twitter keep asking me about it since I am apparently the de facto Angel blogger that Texas fans don't find to be a total troll.
Back when Josh was still with Texas, I never really liked him. His inspirational story was great and all, but he was still the best player on the team that was the Angels' biggest rival. But this was more than guilt by association because I also didn't have the same kind of regard for his struggles with addiction that the mainstream media seems to want me to have. Yes, it is an amazing story that Hamilton overcame his substance abuse issues, revived his career and became an MVP. That is literally the thing movies are made of. It is also something I can't identify with at all. Addiction just isn't something that has affected my life in any real way. And I'd be lying if I didn't admit that there is part of me that wonders why we glorify someone who came inches away from throwing away his incredible baseball talent and entire life because of booze and drugs. But I try not judge him for that because there is always something that leads to substance abuse. The keyword there is "try." Sorry, I'm not perfect.
None of this is to say that his fight against addiction isn't to be applauded. Just for me it is more of a golf clap. I'll save my standing ovations for the likes of Jackie Robinson when it comes to ballplayers overcoming adversity.
Perhaps it is my opinion on his addiction issues that is influencing my opinion of Hamilton's on-field play at the moment. Much in the same way that I have a limited amount of sympathy for him nearly throwing away his tremendous gift because he was powerless against drugs and alcohol, it looks as if he is throwing away his talent all over again because he powerless against the basic principles of plate discipline. Being addicted to heroin and not being able to lay off a low and away slider in the dirt on 0-2 that everyone in the ballpark knows is coming are far from the same thing, but right now, it looks like the end result is not all that much difference when it comes to Hamilton's on-field play. If this was just a recent development, I wouldn't be too concerned, but really it goes back to June of last season, and he was never all that disciplined before that.
Where as I do have some sympathy for his substance abuse plight, there will be no such condolences for Josh's free swinging ways. Frankly, I find it infuriating. You can blame the demon that is addiction for Josh's drug problems, but the his epic whiffing issues seem to be born out of ignorance and/or stubbornness. I want to like Hamilton, I really do, but until he reins in what appears to be a very fixable plate discipline problem, that won't be easy.
What makes it damn near impossible though is how Hamilton deals with things off the field, specifically his comments on his own struggles. Now, this is the part where I might offend some of you, so I apologize in advance because that is not my intention. Not to put too fine a point on it, but all his Jesus talk is driving me crazy. For me, it is the straw that broke the camel's back, specifically when he recently compared his ability to cope with being vociferously booed upon his return to Texas to the trials and tribulations of Jesus Christ.
In the interest of full disclosure, I am not a religious person, which you probably guessed. That actually undersells it. I'm actively anti-religion. I'm an atheist and I have a huge problem with people who feel the need to throw their faith in other people's faces and try to force their belief system on others. But this is not something I ever bring up in the blog because, well, I don't want to throw my beliefs in your face or force my value system on you. I only bring it up here to illustrate why Josh's pervasive habit of working the topic of his faith and Jesus into almost every single sound byte drives me up the wall. He is certainly not alone in that practice as Albert Pujols does the same thing to a slightly lesser degree but I suppose I am able to tolerate it more because his Jesus-speak doesn't sound quite as robotic and, let's be honest, Albert can actually hit the ball right now. I'm sure they are both very nice men and I don't have anything against spiritual people in general (my issues are mostly with religious institutions, not the people), I just am not going to be signing up to sit in the front row of any of their press conferences.
It all combines to be a perfect storm with Hamilton. Fighting off years of being conditioned to not like him but having to do so in the face of him shooting himself in the foot on the field and irritating me off the field is just a lot to overcome.
Having said all that, I realize that I am probably coming off as a callous asshole and maybe even as a bit intolerant. I don't want that to be the case but if it was, don't worry I promise I will never bring up the topic again. I am pulling back the curtain here so that I can explain why it is that I am having such a difficult time warming up to Hamilton and really to make it clear that I actually do want to like him even with as hard as he is making it for me to do so. I am sure that I am not alone in my sentiments though the details behind them might be different. Still, Hamilton is one of our own now and one way or another I'm going to keep trying to find a way to not only tolerate him but maybe even come to genuinely like him. Maybe.