Thursday, July 17, 2008

Does Josh Hamilton Deserve The Applause?

Years ago, Mike Tyson appeared at a British awards show and was greeted with an extended standing ovation as if he'd gone to the tribal areas of Afghanistan/Pakistan and
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personally killed Osama Bin Laden while simultaneously negotiating a peace settlement between the Israelis and the Palestinians and, while on leave, stopped the genocide in Darfur. The reality of the matter is that if Tyson weren't a famous boxer and was merely the misanthropic, antisocial deviant he was before (and after) his talent for boxing was discovered, 99% of the people in the audience at that awards show would have crossed the street in a panic if they saw him coming toward them. I'm not equating Josh Hamilton with Tyson, but the accolades Hamilton is receiving are in the same ballpark as that unfathomable standing ovation.
What, other than finally making use of a talent so rare, has Hamilton done to warrant being treated so reverently? I completely understand that the applause is for the recovery and not
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the addiction; I completely understand that Hamilton's comeback is reason for others to see him as an example of rehabilitation because I'm sure many have either experienced Hamilton's problems firsthand or through family members; but it's getting a little out of control with the relentless promotion of Hamilton as someone to be admired because he was able to overcome addictions to cocaine, crack and alcohol and make use of his once-in-a-lifetime talent. And it's not as if his recovery is complete, end of story; he's only been clean for two and a half years. If I were the Rangers, I wouldn't even consider signing him to a long-term deal until it's absolutely necessary; and I wouldn't be standing and cheering for him as lustfully as the fans everywhere are now; and I wouldn't be writing such romantically-themed stories of redemption before a sufficient amount of time has passed to be able to state with confidence that he's going to be able to maintain his sobriety and on-field performance.
With Mike Tyson, people put up with his outside the ring issues because he still had
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something that they could use. When he was younger, he still had that boxing ability that made him so wealthy; as he aged and got into more and more trouble, his mere image sold tickets as more of a sideshow freak than a champion. People didn't want to see him fight; they wanted to see him get into a brawl at a press conference; scream and attack people like a maniac; do something outrageous or take a brutal beating in the ring. Hamilton has been with four organizations in the past two years and not one of them was interested in Hamilton because they were concerned about him as a human being or because they were running a halfway house.
The Rays dumped him because they didn't want to protect such a player on their 40-man roster; the Cubs drafted him in the Rule 5 draft in a prearranged deal to send him to the Reds and make their organization a quick $50,000; the Reds wanted to take a chance on his talent; and the Rangers needed a center fielder after their other options fell through. If his skills had eroded due to the layoffs and self-abuse, Hamilton wouldn't have been an All Star; he would've been bouncing from organization to organization trying to recover what it was that he lost. That his gifts are still present is the main reason he's still in the big leagues and flourishing. It's not a question of "helping the fellow man" on the part of the Rangers or anyone else; it's a mutually beneficial arrangement. Hamilton can still play, so he's in the big leagues; the Rangers, Reds and Cubs had some use for him, so they benefited from it.
Hamilton can be an inspiration; he can be an example of what's lost by addiction and what's gained by faith and recovery; but to idolize him after such a brief time sober (with
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relatively few valleys) is jumping the gun a bit. It's also a little out of line to be feting Josh Hamilton for getting himself clean when there are so
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many players----Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, David Wright----who comport themselves in such a classy and positive way on and off the field and are basically expected to behave correctly and receive no credit for it; or players who've made the most of limited ability----David Eckstein----and didn't have the option of wasting years of their careers with out-of-control behaviors and expect to be given chance after chance. If he stays clean for an extended period of time, then Hamilton should receive a fair amount of credit; but to me, that time hasn't elapsed and these "inspiring stories" are premature for a player and person for whom "one day at a time" couldn't be a more apt description.

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