Nobody has said Josh Hamilton is finished as a professional baseball player, at least not yet.
But not saying it fits a larger pattern of unspoken truths that have defined Hamilton's second tenure in Texas. Hamilton never should have left and it was never going to be the same once he came back. He sometimes revealed brief glimpses of the player he was – a two-homer game here, a walk-off there. But it never came often enough. His plate discipline was gone and there was no feasible expectation for it to resurface. More than that, his body was failing him.
Arguably the most talented player of his generation was doomed to be lapped by less gifted competition, even though he was only 33 at the time of his return, even though he has only completed five seasons and chunks of a few more. Now he is 35 – soon to be 36 – and unemployed, after the Rangers released him last week. He needs an operation on his knee, too. It would be the 12th of his baseball career and fourth in the last year-and-a-half.
Hamilton is at once baseball young and baseball old, and addiction is the reason why. His vices were even more astonishing than his ability, somehow more unprecedented than a 6-foot-4 titan with top shelf power, a studied eye, deceptive speed and an arm strong enough to throw 95 miles per hour at the time he was drafted. The story has been told so many times now: The drugs and the booze, the rebirth through Christ and the accountability partner, the relapses and the failed marriage. But it is told because it is powerful, and it is powerful because Hamilston worked tirelessly to better himself. The story made him inspiring. It made him significant. If you are an addict, the story may very well be essential.
Nobody in baseball has ever sunk to Hamilton's depths from such heights, only to bounce back exponentially higher. He won an MVP Award in 2010 and nearly became a World Series icon one year later. It is too simplistic to note that the most successful period in franchise history coincided with Josh Hamilton's prime, of course, but it is not entirely coincidence, either.
For all their foibles, Texas has employed some of the most dynamic hitters in baseball over the last 25 years, and yet Hamilton was unlike any of them. He was athletic in a way that Pudge Rodriguez was not and more fully realized as a Ranger than Mark Teixeira became. He was vulnerable in a way that Alex Rodriguez could never be and relatable in a way that Juan Gonzalez never wanted to be. He was more imposing than Adrian Beltre and more exciting than Rafael Palmeiro. There is no debating that all of those men each enjoyed appreciably better careers than he did. But Hamilton was just as magnificent at his apex, if not more so.
He was baseball's Kurt Warner, from the truncated career right down to the sermonizing. Unlike Warner, it's doubtful Hamilton will ever be enshrined in his sport's hall of fame. In this case, falling short is not quite a failure. Baseball will never see another player quite like Hamilton, who was so gifted and so troubled and so captivating and so damn weird, too. He'll be remembered, because how could anyone forget all of that?
There is no obvious post-retirement move, not that anything with Hamilton has ever been straightforward. He can be vague and sometimes laconic – not the broadcasting type. Maybe it's coaching or the ministry. Perhaps he just stays home and raises his daughters. But there are more reasons to retire than press on and endure another surgery, attempt another hasty position change or try to excavate his timing in 2018 after last playing a major league game in 2015.
Hamilton did his best and it was more than enough, even if it wasn't for as long as expected. Nobody will call him one of the great hitters of his generation. But if you caught him at the right time, the work spoke for itself. Like everything else with Josh Hamilton, leaving things unspoken doesn't make them any less obvious.
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