St. Louis Cardinals fans tend to forget, but Josh Hamilton almost broke their hearts all over again a decade ago.
While many revel in David Freese’s bases-clearing triple that tied Game 6 of the 2011 World Series at nine runs apiece between the Cardinals and Texas Rangers, they forget Hamilton quickly erased that thrill less than 15 minutes later. On a juicy fastball from Jason Motte, the Rangers star clobbered it into the bleachers near center field.
In a career spanning 1,027 games and nine seasons (five full-time seasons included), Hamilton hit 200 home runs, put up a slash line of .290/.349/.516 (BA, OBP, SLUG), and tallied an OPS+ of 129. In the big leagues, 100 OPS+ is considered average. Hamilton was above average on the field, but roughly below away from the action. How else do you wonder does a guy get drafted first overall in 1999, but not make his MLB debut until 2007?
A substance abuse addiction is how. Hamilton battled drug-related demons at an early age, derailing a contract, career, and life before it could even get going. When he finally got to the diamond eight years later with the Cincinnati Reds, he hit 19 home runs and compiled a .922 OPS in 337 plate appearances. But that didn’t stop a trade to Texas from happening before the 2008 season.
If there was an arrival moment for Hamilton, 2008 would be the year. In 156 games played, he smashed 32 home runs, 190 hits, drove in 130, and collected 331 total bases that year. The best part came during the All Star Game, where he hit 28 home runs in a single round. The AL team gathered around him at home plate, realizing the talent that had taken nine years to make it to this moment.
Two years later, Hamilton’s OPS approached Albert Pujols territory at 1.044, in a season where he hit a very Pujols-like .359 at the plate. Hamilton won the MVP and Silver Slugger award that season. All was going extremely well. A year after nearly drowning the Cards in “Hambino” power, Hamilton signed a highly-lucrative deal with Texas to continue hitting big flies at Arlington.
Before we get into the sad part, let me state for the record how dominant he was. Totaling five seasons, from the start of 2008 to the end of 2012, this is what Hamilton did at the plate:
647 games, 142 home runs, 156 doubles, 17 triples, .912 OPS, 137 OPS+. That’s legit robust production.
But good times die in fairy tales all the time, unbeknownst to the majority of fans. @TexasTheater, a good Cardinals follow and former movie theater owner (my kind of friend), wondered what happened to Hamilton, a star who was still burning bright as the 2012 season wrapped. He became a rich man, but the wheels had already started falling off. It wasn’t all related to drug and alcohol abuse. The body started falling apart.
In 2009, he only played in 89 regular season games, but reportedly got drunk at a bar in Arizona. A ballplayer getting drunk and getting home safely shouldn’t make headlines, but when that particular player is a longtime addict of both the sauce and the pharmaceutical, it’s a problem. A bruised rib cage sidelined him in 2010 as well, and he broke his right humerus bone early on in 2011. According to ESPN, Hamilton reportedly suffered a relapse in the 2012 season.
After flourishing in his first full season with the Angels in 2012, the next season was different. Hamilton played in 151 games, but only added 21 home runs and a .739 OPS. He still hit 32 doubles and five triples, but the slugging percentage went from .577 in 2012 to .432 in 2013.
2014 saw Hamilton go full Chris Davis on Angels fans, collecting just 10 home runs and going hitless in the playoffs. In 2015, he underwent shoulder surgery and while on the mend back with the Rangers, and suffered a drug relapse. That would be his final season in the Majors. There was some postseason magic and minor league contracts, but Hamilton never made it back to the plate at a Major League game. Knee injuries zapped his last final comeback attempt in 2017. His time was done.
What happened to Hamilton? Drugs, alcohol, and injuries. Perhaps, he was just tired of trying to continually make rehab-related comebacks. His actions should be condemned, but on a human level, he had to be fried from the comebacks. Combine the bruised rib cages and messed up shoulders, add in the drug use that can dilute a body faster than any hard hit in the NFL, and you have the tale of the tape.
There’s also the 2020 incident where Hamilton was indicted on a felony charge for injury to a child. His teenage daughter accused him of beating her. There hasn’t been a resolution to that case, but it doesn’t shine a great light on a guy with more than a few strikes against him.
In baseball alone, Hamilton did burn bright while he was alive in the show: MVP award, ALCS MVP, and a final slash line of .290/.349/.516 is something to hang your hat on. But away from the field, Hamilton could never outrun his demons and faults.
Take care of your body, folks. Don’t do hard drugs that carry a toll, legally and morally. And don’t fucking hit women either. Simple things to most. Not so much to Josh.