I believe we have two lives…the one we learn with, and the one we live with after that. – Iris Gaines, “The Natural”
To properly celebrate Josh Hamilton is to not look at what he has done with his career. Sure, by simply looking at his statistics, you can see that he is a consistent and proficient hitter (career .311 batting average) who has both power (.549 slugging) and discipline (.369 OBP) at the plate. In addition, four All-Star selections (and probably a fifth this year), the 2010 MVP award, a batting title (also in 2010), and the centerpiece to two consecutive A.L. pennants for the Texas Rangers serve to highlight an already impressive resume.
These are the “natural” statistics. However, to properly celebrate the impressive achievements of Josh Hamilton is also to not just look at what he has overcome. By now, we are all familiar with his descent into drug addiction and alcoholism following his being the first overall selection in the 1999 Major League Baseball Draft. The time he wound up on his grandmother’s doorstep with nowhere else to go. How he didn’t even play professional baseball from 2004 to 2006.
My life didn’t turn out the way I expected. – Roy Hobbs
No, because Josh Hamilton signifies more than that. Between his ability to overcome the impossible while still retaining his significant talent is impressive enough in its own rights. That he should have also remained drug and alcohol free since 2005 is also impressive (with only two slips involving alcohol coming in August 2009 and February 2012 presenting themselves as black marks). Many players have come back from impossible odds, though none perhaps so severe, so threatening, so overwhelming as the odds that stand against Hamilton.
What brings Josh Hamilton to the forefront is his ability to perform the impossible. To play the game with such grace and ability as to call forth the ancestors of baseball.
Red, it took me sixteen years to get here. You play me, and I’ll give ya the best I got. – Roy Hobbs
Two instances in particular bring to light the legend of young Mr. Hamilton. (Not so young anymore, as he turns 31 this season.) The first is his performance during the 2008 Home Run Derby. Though he did not win, he crushed a record 28 home runs in the first round, a record for any round of the Derby. What’s more, his barrage of home runs came in the send-off for old Yankee Stadium, the ‘House that Ruth Built’, scheduled to make way for a new stadium the following year. After finishing the round, he was serenaded over the loudspeakers with the theme music for The Natural, the Robert Redford melodrama.
It is easy to see Josh Hamilton as Roy Hobbs, the young player gifted with an almost preternatural talent for baseball, only to have a promising career snatched away by personal tragedy (real life = drugs; movie = crazy lady with a gun). Such a comparison might be overly simplistic, but rings true in the desire for media narratives. (“He came back against impeccable odds to be a star!” “The REAL American Dream!”) To temper such an overindulgence of Hamilton’s implications, let us remember that he is simply playing the sport of America’s childhood, and that he is making millions of dollars a year, all while getting a second chance that would never come to most other people.
The Home Run Derby serves as the birth of Josh Hamilton as “the Natural,” or “Wonder Boy,” to steal from the iconic bat used by Hobbs in the movie. The crowning moment could have been his home run in Game Six of the 2011 World Series against the Cardinals, coming in the top of the 10th inning and giving the Rangers a two-run lead. Had the lead been held in the bottom of the 10th, there is little doubt that Hamilton’s legacy would be cemented forever in Texas, bringing them their first World Series title. Alas (for the Rangers), David Freese won the game in the bottom of the 10th, leading to the Cardinals win the following night in Game Seven.
The crowning moment happened on May 9th, 2012 in Oriole Park at Camden Yards. On that night, Hamilton hit four home runs, each of them two run shots. Going 5 for 5 on the night, raising his season batting average to .406, the night resulted in a 10-3 Texas win.
To give an idea of the relative scarcity and magnitude of the event, consider that this was only the 16th four-home-run game in Major League history. Twenty-one perfect games have been thrown. Innumerable no-hitters and players hitting for the cycle have graced the pages. However, the four-home-run game is a rarity. Hall of Famers Lou Gehrig, Willie Mays, and Mike Schmidt have performed this feat, sitting alongside immortal names such as Mark Whiten (he of the 105 career home runs), Pat Seery (86 career home runs), and Bobby Lowe (a paltry 71 home runs).
When examining the career of Josh Hamilton, his early lapses and lack of playing time will ultimately hurt his career numbers. Even after tonight, he only stands at 132 career home runs. He has played in 150+ games only once in his career, coming in 2008. His body, suffering from his prior trials and tribulations, seems to be ready to betray him. When he retires, his numbers may fall short of the Hall of Fame.
Roy Hobbs: I coulda been better. I coulda broke every record in the book.
Iris Gaines: And then?
Roy Hobbs: And then? And then when I walked down the street people would’ve looked and they would’ve said there goes Roy Hobbs, the best there ever was in this game.
However, as previously stated, the numbers do not add up to a completed picture when regarding Josh Hamilton. Rather, the moments are what create a full picture, one that we can’t help but regard as supernatural in its conception. He is Roy Hobbs, given life, made flesh and blood before our very eyes. When watching him, he reminds us not only of our human frailty, but of the occasional moments when we rise above our inadequacy to become something greater than life.
To become legendary.