Rangers GM knows hot and cold sides of slugger Hamilton
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.”