I got an interesting text message a few days ago. My buddy Max, in his always tactful manner, sent a text that said "There is no fuckin way josh hamilton is not on hgh", almost unquestionably due to Hamilton hitting 500 foot bombs out of Yankee Stadium during the 2008 Home Run Derby. When I received the message, I laughed it off, Max just being Max was what I thought, classic over-reaction, mixed with sarcasm, that's Max all over. But then all of a sudden it hit me, Max (whether he knew it or not) was dead on, Josh Hamilton is absolutely using performance enhancing substances, absolutely.
This is the point of the post where I say that I have never seen Josh Hamilton use performance enhancing drugs, nor do I have any sort of evidence to suggest Josh Hamilton is or ever has used performance enhancing drugs. In fact, outside of last week's text message, I have never even considered that Josh Hamilton might be using performance enhancing drugs. All that being said, I know Josh Hamilton is using performance enhancing drugs.
Here are the condensed facts (as you no doubt already know): Josh Hamilton was the #1 overall pick in 1999, because of injury and drug abuse Hamilton did not play organized baseball from 2003 until 2006 (and played only 15 minor league games in 2006), the Cubs selected Hamilton in the Rule 5 Draft and immediately sent him to Cincinnati for cash. This is when the craziness starts, Hamilton, despite only playing 15 minor league games in four years, makes the Reds team out of spring training and hits .294 with a .554 slugging percentage in 298 ABs. In the off-season Hamilton is traded to the Texas Rangers where in a little more than half a season puts up some huge stats: .310/.369/.552 with 21 HR and 95 RBI (as of the All-Star Break).
Hamilton's rebirth is the stuff of fiction novels (no, really, Bernard Malamud's The Natural). In fact, it's completely illogical that a player, regardless of physical gifts, could be completely out of baseball for four years and develop into an All-Star caliber player within two years of returning to the game. It just doesn't add up.
Let's looks at a player who compares very well to Hamilton: San Diego's Adrian Gonzalez. Gonzalez, like Hamilton, was the first overall draft pick (Hamilton in 1999 to Tampa Bay, Gonzalez in 2000 to Florida), both were drafted directly out of high school and both were first-time All-Stars in 2008. Like Hamilton, Gonzalez's first full season in the majors (2006) was a huge success, .304/362/.500 with 24 HR and 82 RBI (compared to Hamiltons .310/.367/.552 with 21 HR and 95 RBI in 93 games thus far in 2008). Unlike Hamilton, Gonzalez played in 712 professional baseball games from 2000 through 2005 , he had 2672 AB against professional pitchers, he spent a year in Rookie Ball/Low A, another year in High A, and three years between AA and AAA. Gonzalez spent five years working with professional hitting coaches, five years facing professional pitchers and five years working out in a baseball environment. Hamilton spent nearly four years doing drugs and not playing professional baseball, not working with professional coaches and not facing professional pitching... and Hamilton's first year big league numbers are across the board better than Gonzalez's. This makes no sense.
Check that, it can make sense. It can make sense if you believe that Hamilton is a supremely talented player, one that is so much more talented than good Major Leaguers (ex: Gonzalez) that he can catch and pass them by in just two years. Unfortunately, this is the exact type of thinking that dominated the steroids era. In the late '90s I believed that players could do superhuman things, I believed that Mark McGwire could hit 70 homers on skill and weight training alone, I believed that Barry Bonds could follow that feat three years later with 73 homers because of his baseball pedigree and I believed Roger Clemens could win his 7th Cy Young Award due to his legendary work ethic. I believed Ken Caminiti could have a 40 HR, 130 RBI season despite the fact that in the first 8 years of his career he never went better than 18 HR and 80 RBI. I even believed Rafael Palmeiro when he wagged his finger.
I had a lot of faith in baseball and was burned time and time again, so how can I now believe Hamilton is having a incredible, clean season when everything I have learned over the past ten years suggests otherwise? Josh Hamilton's story is one of resilience and resurrection, but just because it's a good story doesn't mean that we have to accept results that are completely illogical without the aid of performance enhancing drug. Ten years ago, I might have believed Hamilton was clean, but a lot has happened it ten years and I'm not willing to ignore those years just because it makes for a good story.
(This post was started in August; I lost direction for a while, and obviously we've got some new information, a la the actual gameplay, ...
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