This is the perfect fit for you, even though you may not be the perfect fit for them. This is the one place that might — might — work for you in baseball, and this is happening only because they were open to it. They had plenty of reason not to be.
Hey, man, yeah, you probably need a hug, but you’re not the only one. Your baseball career became a baseball career here, after it had been nothing but a tragedy, and you ushered your way out badly, both on the field and off, and you can bet one of those is less easily forgiven.
This is your last shot. The organization that has shown you the most professional and human support is embracing you again, but you understand the accountability is a multi-faceted thing.
Step up, and apologize. Apologize when the microphones are turned on for the first time, but before that apologize when the clubhouse doors are closed. Make it right.
The Angels couldn’t wait to get rid of you.
Let me rephrase.
The Angels’ owner, who couldn’t wait to exact sweet revenge on the Rangers (Napoli, Beltre) and who didn’t listen to the baseball people he’d hired to make baseball decisions and instead promised you a massively backloaded eighth of a billion dollars with eyes wide open to all the obvious risks given your history, couldn’t wait to get rid of you.
The Angels’ owner will have paid you $42 million to play, and $68 million for you to leave.
Think about that, Josh.
Over this year and the next two, Texas will reportedly pay you less than $7 million, which is about eight cents on the dollar that the Angels, pawning the ring that they put on it, will pay you to play for a division rival.
You have a thousand reasons to be motivated by this gift. That ought to be one of them.
The Union doesn’t have a history of blessing deals in which a player gives up guaranteed money (or in this case, essentially, waives the windfall that coming to a state without income tax would have triggered), here, in exchange for an opt-out that will never be exercised. The Union is apparently blessing this deal. That ought to tell you something.
The Angels could have simply released you, but to them it was worth saving $15 million or so of the $125 million deal to send him to Texas — the one place where the decision could turn into a public relations disaster for their owner — and get nothing in return but that 12 percent write-off. (Not even something like AAA first baseman Trever Adams, a Creighton product whom Angels Assistant GM Scott Servais would probably have liked to bring aboard.)
“Unless the Angels are absolutely convinced Josh Hamilton cannot be an effective hitter,” writes Buster Olney (ESPN), “this deal makes very little sense for them.”
And yet they embraced it, and jumped at this chance to make you a Ranger again.
Your Los Angeles teammates, from Mike Trout to Albert Pujols to C.J. Wilson to David Freese, have all said in the last week or so that they believed in you and believed you were ready to come back and contribute, and would be disappointed to see their club turn you loose.
Your manager was less supportive and less optimistic, at least publicly, and we all know what management thinks.
Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times: “My reaction to [the] Angels paying Josh Hamilton to play for [the] Rangers is [the] same as Halos team [president John Carpino’s reaction] to MLB’s exoneration of Josh: It defies logic. . . . I did not see the harm in sending Josh Hamilton to AAA for 20 games just to see what he had to offer. [The] Angels think differently.”
Pedro Moura of the Orange County Register: “Arte Moreno was the only one who wanted to bring Josh Hamilton to the Angels. Now he’s the only one who wants to get rid of him. Fitting, isn’t it?
“Chances are, Texas will benefit from Moreno’s arrogance. It must be more difficult for the rational, conscientious fan to cheer for this team now than it was in the winter.”
Moura was referring to the rational, conscientious Angels fan, of course, but there’s going to be a faction of Rangers fans who will be less supportive of this move than you might think. It’s a minority, if you go by the media polls (and for what it’s worth, my email inbox is running about the same ratio of yea to nay), but it’s there. You have something to prove to this fan base, who embraced you more than any fans in baseball ever have, given the way you vocally turned on them when you left for Disneyland.
You’re going to need to address that, today or whenever your very first chance to do that comes.
And here’s the thing: We can talk all day about the ways the Angels have demonstrated how badly they wanted to toss you out, and how much risk they’ve voluntarily swallowed, paying what amounts to around $110 million for two years of playing baseball in their uniform — the flip side is how little risk Texas is taking on. It will be very easy for the Rangers to move on from this experiment, for any reason.
This isn’t a publicity stunt. (Just as Manny Ramirez wasn’t.)
But it’s not a slam dunk for you, either. (Just as it wasn’t for Manny Ramirez.)
Just as it’s on you to make things right with your teammates here, and your fans, it’s on you to rehab your way onto the roster, and play your way into the lineup. You have to produce, or the Rangers will let you go, too, far more painlessly, and at that point baseball is probably a permanently closed chapter for you.
This is going to cost Ryan Rua at-bats when he returns — which could be as soon as the organization feels you’re ready yourself — and maybe Jake Smolinski and Carlos Peguero, but down the road it’s not going to cost Nomar Mazara and Joey Gallo. And even if you’re moderately productive, if the Rangers think they’re better off not having you in the clubhouse and the weight room when Mazara and Gallo arrive, well, you probably have an opportunity now to make sure that’s not a factor.
Which is not to say you were ever a bad teammate. This is more about being an example to young baseball players. About 100 percent, every single day.
The Rangers wouldn’t do this if they didn’t think you have the chance to prove something to the Angels and to baseball and to Nomar Mazara.
Clint Hurdle was huge for you when he was hitting coach here in 2010, maybe more so mentally than mechanically. Jeff Banister isn’t Clint Hurdle, but you’re going to see some similarities.
You’ll be around Adrian and Elvis and Colby and Derek and Mitch and Matty again, but there are a whole lot of new players on this team to prove yourself to.
You’ll be around Michael again, too, and you can bet this doesn’t happen if Michael didn’t throw his strong support behind the idea.
You’re going to be around Roy Silver again, and I guess Shayne Kelley or some other accountability partner, and that’s because the Rangers, as always, will do everything they can to support you and pave your path to productivity.
But the greatest duty of accountability is yours.
You were a big part of the greatest Rangers teams ever, but this is not the same team anymore, and you’re not the same player. Everyone accepts that. When this team is healthy again, there will be 15 guys more important to its chances to return to contention than you are. At least.
Right now, Nick Martinez is 100 times more important to this thing than Josh Hamilton.
So much of what the national media is focused on right now is the Angels’ conduct, rather than the Rangers’ decision to take this chance. And that makes sense. This story is more about loss, and subtraction, than it is about anything that anyone has gained.
But you have the chance to change that.
Olney wrote: “[I]t may be that this deal gone awry became so personal for the Angels’ ownership that Arte Moreno just wants Hamilton out of his sight. Which would be somewhat ridiculous, because Hamilton’s history of addiction was hardly a secret. The real possibility that this would take a turn for the worse was always in play. Other teams evaluated Hamilton as a potential target when he was a free agent and ran in the other direction, based on what they heard about his issues. The fact the Angels bid far more for Hamilton than any other team was their mistake.”
And you can compound that, which would be such a beautiful, schadenfreudy baseball thing.
Are you motivated?
Are you thinking about humility today, and how you will communicate it to the fans you once shared so much with before rejecting them?
I’m on record with my support of the idea of bringing you back to Texas, especially given the incredibly minimal risk the club is taking. But it’s not absent of risk, because playing time is finite. At-bats and defensive innings given to one player are taken away from another.
Pudge and Juan and Sunny and Boo all came back toward the ends of their careers, but this isn’t the same. You have a lot to prove here, and if at any point it’s not working out, Texas will move on. That’s not what anybody wants, but it’s always going to be an option.
The day in December 2012 when you decided to leave Texas and go somewhere that lots of people thought could be close to the worst choice possible, I wrote something short and finished it by saying: “He’s just another Los Angeles Angel now.”
If the news rumored to be teed up today comes to fruition, then, as far as I’m concerned, you’re just another Texas Ranger now.
And that’s OK.
This is probably your final shot to contribute to a big league baseball team, and if that’s going to happen then this is the right team.
Make it happen. And first, make it right.
— A Rangers fan