There’s a lesson for Rangers
A team’s kindness to a player is forgotten in face of big money.
They traded away their best young pitcher for him.
They gave him a fulltime, Bible-carrying watchdog.
They put up with the injuries. The special accommodations. The days and nights when he said he wasn’t ready to play.
They even lent an understanding ear when he went out drinking.
Nobody in baseball knew Josh Hamilton better than the Texas Rangers. And no matter what was said or how many porch lights they claim to have left on for Hamilton the past few days, the Rangers knew him well enough not to want him.
Not at first, at least. And before Thursday afternoon’s unsettling news, really not even at the last.
As far back as a year ago, the Rangers had been looking for a hitter - a better fit, they felt - to replace Hamilton’s lefthanded bat.
But in January, free agent Prince Fielder couldn’t turn down the Detroit Tigers’ nine-year, $214 million offer, and then the Cincinnati Reds surprised everyone in April by locking up their star first baseman, Joey Votto, for 10 years and $225 million. The Rangers coveted both.
Even as the 2012 season ended on a disappointing, perplexing note, the Rangers privately had Hamilton’s next heir apparent in sight: Arizona outfielder Justin Upton, age 24.
So go ahead and look around, they told Hamilton. Test the market, because that’s what free agents do.
Two remarks, meanwhile, had provided a window to the Hamilton family’s own thinking.
“I don’t feel like I owe the Rangers,” Josh said in addressing his contract status at the start of spring training.
And then Katie Hamilton, his wife, memorably told Sports Illustrated, “Fans and reporters are so far off base with where we are ... They keep saying, ‘Josh needs Texas. He needs the comfort of this team.’
“Uh, we need Jesus. We need God. He goes with us wherever we are.”
Whatever comfort the Hamiltons once felt in Texas, nevertheless, it had to be shaken by the anger that fans directed toward Josh as the Rangers stumbled to the finish.
And then came the Angels. The five-year, $125 million contract that they gave Hamilton this week represented the welcoming arms the Rangers never seemed eager to offer.
Did the Rangers want to keep Hamilton? That’s what they had been saying lately. And the way off-season things have been happening, they were probably speaking a bit of truth.
More directly, though, if they knew, would they have wanted to keep Hamilton from signing with the Angels? Of course - even, I think, at five years and $125 million.
But signing with the AL West rival Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim has a decided measure of spite to it, especially doing so without the promised return phone call.
To Rangers fans, Hamilton’s career here has gone from Lazarus to Judas.
When he returns to Arlington next April in an Angels uniform, the welcome is likely to get ugly. The annual A-Rod boofests will seem like pep rallies compared to the reception Hamilton will get.
For Rangers general manager Jon Daniels and his gang, Thursday’s sucker punch should be a lesson.
No matter how much you do for a player, no matter how many times you indulge him, don’t expect any courtesies in return.
For the Angels, meanwhile, the head-scratchings and headaches are coming. Josh Hamilton can hit the ball a mile — on the days when he’s focused enough to see it.
It’s hard to imagine, frankly, that the Hamiltons will find comfort in fast-moving, fast-living Southern California.
The guys at TMZ probably can’t wait.
Josh Hamilton was indulged several times during his stay with the Rangers. Now, he’s property of the Angels for the next five seasons.