Share This Page
MLB

Rangers GM knows hot and cold sides of slugger Hamilton

| Saturday, Feb. 9, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

ARLINGTON, Texas — Josh Hamilton squeezed a solid month of production into one week last May, hitting .467 with nine homers, 18 runs batted in and 43 total bases in seven games for the Texas Rangers, including an epic four-homer night at Baltimore's Camden Yards on May 8.

“When he gets on a tear like that, he's superhuman; it's ridiculous,” Rangers General Manager Jon Daniels said.

That game-changing ability motivated the Angels in December to commit $125 million over five years to Hamilton, who hit .368 with 21 homers and 57 RBI the first two months of last season.

But there is a flip side to Hamilton as a hitter that gives reason for pause. That torrid two-month stretch was followed by averages of .223 in June, .177 in July and a sluggish second half in which Hamilton says he battled withdrawal symptoms after he quit chewing tobacco and subsequent vision problems caused by excessive caffeine consumption.

Hamilton, 31, a five-time All-Star, is confident the tobacco and caffeine issues are behind him.

“When I stopped dipping, I didn't realize I was drinking more coffee,” he said during a recent interview. “I'd have an energy drink before a game and a Mountain Dew after it. I was overstimulated. My eyes were good, but I was just so wired I couldn't focus.”

Hamilton's final 2012 numbers — a .285 average, 43 homers, 128 RBI — suggest the left-handed-hitting outfielder is still a premier player, and he clearly has retained many of the tools that made him the first pick of the 1999 draft.

“With all due respect to the game, there can't be 10 players in the history of baseball who have been blessed with the skill set Josh has,” Rangers outfielder David Murphy said.

Hamilton is three years removed from his 2010 American League most-valuable-player season, when he hit .359 with 32 homers and 100 RBI. The Angels expect him to team with 21-year-old phenom Mike Trout and slugger Albert Pujols to give them one of baseball's most prolific lineups.

Provided, that is, that these red flags from Hamilton's 2012 don't rise again: He hit .259 with 16 homers and 53 RBIs in the second half and had a career-high 162 strikeouts in the season. He was overmatched at times by left-handers with good breaking balls.

Hamilton also dropped a fly ball for a key two-run error that helped Oakland win the AL West on the final day of the regular season, and he was booed by his home crowd after going 0 for 4 with two strikeouts and a double-play grounder in a span of eight pitches during a wild-card loss to Baltimore.

All of which raises a troubling question for the Angels: Has Hamilton, who abused his body during a brutal four-year addiction to alcohol and cocaine from 2001 to 2005, begun to decline?

“I don't know if he'll be this caliber of player for five years,” Daniels said, “but it wouldn't surprise me if he is. Unique guys with special talents do special things.”

Hamilton has always been streaky, with many hot spells followed by prolonged cold ones. Injuries, often the result of violent collisions with outfield walls or head-first slides into bases, have limited him to an average of 123 games a year.

“I feel like I'm a reaction player, just get after it,” Hamilton said. “The less thinking I do the better, but it's human nature to start thinking and overanalyzing things. I'm aggressive to begin with.”

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.