Hoping magical ride continues for Hamilton
So much for flying reindeer, the tooth fairy and the 2010 season of the Texas Rangers living forever in the minds of the compassionate whenever they hear the name "Josh Hamilton."
It was a magical time for what was a troubled soul.
We're talking about just two seasons and several controversies ago for Hamilton. Remember? American League batting champion, Most Valuable Player of the AL Championship Series before receiving MVP Award honors for the entire league, first trip to the World Series.
Through it all, there was the constant telling by the media of Hamilton's transformation. He went from a talented player whose career nearly ended early due to substance-abuse issues to a spiritual guy who found ways to show his baseball gifts by keeping the demons away.
Hamilton hasn't lost those gifts, but ...
Well, nobody wants him. Not at the price that Hamilton wants to join somebody as a superstar free-agent these days.
While Hamilton's asking price reportedly is a seven-year contract worth $175 million, his best offer through this week's annual Winter Meetings came from two teams for three years and much less than that. Those teams were the Seattle Mariners and the Rangers, Hamilton's employers during the past five seasons.
That said, word surfaced Friday through the USA Today that the previously penny-pinching New York Yankees are "quietly" running background checks on Hamilton. Not only that, Boston Red Sox executive Mike Hazen told a Boston radio station that his team still is "engaged" in talks with Hamilton and his handlers.
Maybe the Hamilton fairy tale will resume after all.
Let's hope so. It's a story of inspiration for everybody, and it has a chance of continuing, but only if Hamilton does his part to make this the happiest of endings. He's struggling along those lines right now after a 2012 season that left nearly as many questions as answers.
Huh? Are we talking about the same Hamilton who just ripped a career-high 43 homers for the Rangers? Yep. He also had 128 RBIs, his best total since he led the AL with 130 in 2008. Then there was his selection to the All-Star Game for the fifth time. In the end, he received more votes from the fans than anybody in history.
Plus, there was this moment for Hamilton: Going 5-for-5 with four home runs, a double and eight RBIs during a game in May. He set the AL record for most total bases in a game with 18.
It's just that Hamilton also got ripped in late July by Hall of Famer pitcher Nolan Ryan, the Rangers' CEO, president and franchise icon. Hamilton was slumping at the time, which caused Ryan to tell a local radio show, "He just doesn't seem to be locked in at all. So what you're hoping is that his approach will change and he'll start giving quality at-bats, because there's a lot of those at-bats that he just gives away."
That's because Hamilton actually was doing such a thing -- at least, according to his batting average. He dropped to .285 after he hit .359 two seasons before that and .298 in 2011. He was accused of vanishing in the clutch. He also struck out a ridiculous 162 times despite a lifetime batting average of .304 during his six Major League season.
The worst of the worst were the rumors.
You probably know where I'm going. At 31, and after supposedly seven-plus years of a drug-free existence, those rumors suggested that Hamilton was doing either some or all of the disastrous things last season that kept him out of the Major Leagues until April 2007 with the Cincinnati Reds. He first signed with the Tampa Bay Rays in 1999.
Hamilton had no off-the-field issues with the Reds. In fact, he flashed signs of having a solid future in Cincinnati after hitting .292 with 19 homers and 47 RBIs in 90 games. But the Reds needed pitching, and they got it by shipping Hamilton to the Rangers after that one season.
The Rangers weren't disappointed. Hamilton prospered quickly, all the way to his AL MVP Award season, and then the fairy tale began to fade.
There was that tragedy in the summer of 2011 at the Rangers Ballpark, where Hamilton tossed a ball to a man in the stands and saw the fan tumble to his death after losing his balance. The man's little son was standing nearby, watching it all.
Hamilton appeared to handle it well. That was until last February, when he suffered a relapse by drinking in a Dallas-area bar.
Here was the context of the situation: In addition to trying to recover from that fan incident, Hamilton was struggling to find his own way after losing his so-called accountability coach, Jerry Narron, who stayed around Hamilton more often than not, but who left the Rangers to become batting coach for the Milwaukee Brewers.
Then there was Hamilton seeking to forget that he was part of the losing team in the World Series for a second consecutive year.
Then came the 2012 season, with the superlative start, followed by Ryan's blast, the continuation of his slump, and the infrequent calls from teams at the start free agency.
The calls now are slowly coming. And somebody will give Hamilton another chance -- maybe even the Rangers -- and let's hope so.
Let's mostly hope this fairy tale continues without more goblins.
Terence Moore is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.