Josh Hamilton requires special care
There are enough red flags in Josh Hamilton’s on-field dossier to make the Angels’ five-year, $125-million investment in the slugger seem dubious.
Injuries have limited Hamilton, 31, to an average of 123 games a year. Though the outfielder hit .285 with 43 home runs and 128 runs batted in for the Texas Rangers in 2012, he tailed off considerably in the second half, hitting .259 with 16 homers and 53 RBIs in 69 games.
Hamilton, who underwent a physical Friday and is scheduled to be introduced at 11:30 a.m. Saturday at the ESPN Zone in Downtown Disney, also had a career-high 162 strikeouts, chased far too many pitches outside the strike zone and led major league regulars with a 36% swing-and-miss rate.
But the biggest risk in signing Hamilton is an off-field blotter that includes years of drug and alcohol abuse, several relapses and public apologies to his wife, Katie, and teammates, and the constant battle with the inner demons that can fuel such addiction.
“I encourage people who may question Josh to give him a chance and support him, because his heart, his intentions, are in the right place,” said Johnny Narron, the Milwaukee hitting coach who served as Hamilton’s “accountability partner” for five years in Cincinnati and Texas.
“It’s a daily situation that Josh and Katie confront. He’s not perfect, but he’s working hard to do what’s necessary. They know what needs to be done to make sure Josh has the best chance to be the man, father, husband and ballplayer he needs to be.”
Narron, 61, has known Hamilton for more than 20 years, dating back to Hamilton’s youth-league days in Raleigh, N.C.
“He played on my son’s basketball team when he was 8 or 9 years old,” Narron said. “I asked people in the gym, ‘Who is this kid?’ He looked bigger, stronger and faster than the other kids. They said, ‘That’s Josh Hamilton, but wait until you see him play baseball.’ ”
The two remained close through dark days, when Hamilton blew much of the $3.96-million signing bonus he received for being the first pick of the 1999 draft on drugs and booze, when he reportedly bartered Katie’s wedding ring for cocaine, when he was on baseball’s restricted list for three full years (2003-05).
“He’s like a son to me,” Narron said.
When Hamilton got sober in 2005 and reached the big leagues with Cincinnati in 2007, the Reds hired Narron as an assistant hitting coach.
Narron followed Hamilton to Texas in 2008, serving four years as an assistant hitting coach and Hamilton’s chaperon, advisor and confidant.
The two had adjacent hotel rooms on the road. At home, Narron and his wife socialized with Josh and Katie. Narron sometimes took control of Hamilton’s pocket money to reduce temptation.
“There were things we did to help him stick to his sobriety,” Narron said. “The most important thing was to support him in his faith and his family. Embrace him, encourage him, stay positive with him. Those things have worked for Josh.”
Hamilton, a 6-foot-4, 240-pound bundle of power, speed, natural curls and tattoos, thrived on the field, hitting .304 with 32 homers and 130 RBIs in 2008, winning most-valuable-player honors in 2010, when he hit .359 with 32 homers and 100 RBIs, and leading Texas to the World Series in 2010 and 2011.
But there were two alcohol relapses in 2009. After Narron took the Milwaukee job, Hamilton relapsed last spring at a bar in Tempe, Ariz., an incident that was followed by another mea culpa news conference in which Hamilton described himself, when he drinks, as being “very deceptive, very sneaky.”
“Josh owns up to it,” Kansas City outfielder Jeff Francoeur, a former teammate, told Sports Illustrated last June. “You see a lot of people deal with personal issues, they hide behind it. Josh is very upfront, and people appreciate that. They know he’s a real person.”
The Angels know exactly what they’re getting in Hamilton, a guy who could team with Mike Trout and Albert Pujols to form one of baseball’s most lethal lineups, and a guy with enough personal baggage to fill a 737’s worth of overhead bins.
The Angels won’t announce Hamilton’s signing until Saturday, so it is not known whether they’ll hire an accountability partner, “but I’m sure Josh’s agent will discuss that with the Angels and do whatever is necessary,” Narron said.
When Hamilton is right off the field, he can do serious damage on it, as he did May 8 in Baltimore, when he became the 16th player in major league history to hit four homers in a game.
“He’s an outstanding player, an impact player, a difference-maker,” Narron said. “The fans in Anaheim are in for a treat.”
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