Albert Pujols should lead Angels through the Josh Hamilton mess

Albert Pujols should lead Angels through the Josh Hamilton mess
Albert Pujols, left, and Josh Hamilton chat between innings back in March 2013. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

When playoff time in major league baseball comes this fall, the measure of success for the 2015 Angels will be directly related to how they handled the Josh Hamilton mess.

We aren't talking about Angels management.


It has already taken its stance, and that hasn't made a lot of their players happy. That doesn't mean it is wrong. It just means it is generally unpopular and an easy target for politically correct media rants.

It would be interesting to see how people would feel if they were forced to write a check for $83 million for services never rendered.

Angels fans feel for Hamilton because they know he is sick, not evil. Fans generally see players as blue-collar guys answering to a corporate Wal-Mart. That's even though these blue-collar guys make millions and work in manicured, multi-million-dollar ballparks surrounded by nightly adoration numbering in the thousands.

Fans also are conflicted because Hamilton hasn't worked out. Last season, when the Angels won more games than any other team in the major leagues, they did so with little help from Hamilton. He was injured a lot. And when healthy, he was mostly lousy.

The details and intrigue of this case — especially who is right and who is wrong — are already so complicated it may take George Mitchell and his law firm to give us the full rundown.

Nothing will come easy here. This has Donald Sterling distraction written all over it. It has different players, different reasons, different issues, but is the kind of mess that can make an entire team's baseball season into one big check-swing.

Every story about leaks and players' union demands and public disagreements between players and general managers is one less story about the players and their game. The players always say that they just want to play, but they play with less effectiveness when they can't focus only on doing so.

Making this even more difficult for those in the clubhouse is that Hamilton is a really decent person, popular among his teammates. This isn't Kevin Brown, acting like a frat boy in the Dodgers clubhouse years ago, or A-Rod, slithering around with whatever new lie appears to be useful.

This is Josh Hamilton, a guy next door who once could hit towering home runs and carry teams on his back but has a very human addiction problem.

So, if the Angels are to fulfill their promise — and they are a team with plenty of that — the players need to create their own haven of togetherness in the clubhouse. It's almost too much to expect Manager Mike Scioscia to lead this, because he will always be seen as management. He can manage, but he can't be soul mate.

And who would be the head of the haven?

A few years ago, that would have been a no-brainer. Torii Hunter was an Angel, and he was unique. He handled the media, welcomed rookies and set the tone in the room.

Actually, it is still a no-brainer.

Last week, when the Angels were attempting, once again, to beat the Kansas City Royals — something they are odds-on favorites to do before 2020 — there was a telling incident.

Albert Pujols had doubled and Mike Trout came sliding across home plate to score. Suddenly, Trout was having words with young Kansas City pitcher Yordano Ventura. There could have been punches, but it was mostly a typical baseball incident — lots of threatened testosterone and no use thereof.

But, as both benches half-heartedly emptied, Pujols came running in full sprint from second base, getting right in the middle of it all.

Consider that Pujols is 35 and in his 15th major league season. Consider that he has seen more silly push-and-shove baseball fights than maybe any other current player and could easily have just shrugged, yawned and stayed on second base.

Consider that he is Dominican, that Ventura is Dominican, and at 23, Ventura would, and did, listen to the harsh words Pujols apparently had for his countryman's behavior toward one of Pujols' teammates. It appeared to be, in one quick burst, a fatherly lecture to Ventura and a big brother looking out for Trout.

This wasn't just anybody. It was Albert Pujols, whose eventual election into baseball's Hall of Fame is a no-brainer.

There's that word again.

Angels players will always say the same thing. They just want to play games, win a lot, go to the World Series and be left alone to just do it. Today's world doesn't allow for that.

Social media are everywhere. Regular media keep plugging away too. Money, issues, greed, league rules, players' associations, mediators, commissioners, team presidents and general managers and angry fans and happy fans are unavoidable. You can't turn off the noise. This isn't 1927, when Babe Ruth did whatever he wanted and nobody wrote about it or even dared discuss it.

This is 2015. The Josh Hamilton mess is not likely to calm down or untangle for some time, and the only way that doesn't infiltrate players' psyche and affect their performance is to establish a team cocoon.

Who can best lead them there is a no-brainer.

Twitter: @Dwyrelatimes