Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Can You Hobble Into the Hall of Fame?

As usual, Josh Hamilton leads the American League in several categories - including injuries. He has already won one MVP Award and he is looking for another MBUP (Most Banged Up Player) Award. 

And it's not just that he gets hurt on the field, he just plain has bad luck. Or is it all just bad luck? In April 2011 third base coach Dave Anderson sent him home on a shallow popup with league home run leader Nelson Cruz on deck. Hamilton has damaged legs so he slid head first and broke his arm in two places. Ironically he was DHing to lessen the chance of injury at the time. In Spring Training this year he played left instead of center to reduce the chance of injury. (See below.)

General Manager Jon Daniels prefers to avoid labeling Hamilton injury prone. "You're looking at an extremely athletic man - 6 foot 4, 240 pounds, with the way he runs and aggressive style ... you don't see that in guys that size." Note that in the situation described above Hamilton had not wanted to go home but followed his coach's orders anyway - and was out eight weeks. 

Hamilton has been hurt so many times that the Rangers' press guide has a special section for him called "Other Injuries" which lists - take a deep breath - infected root canal ... right knee soreness ... patella tendinitis ... cortisone injection of the knee ... Synvisc shot for the knee ...  lower back stiffness.

Hamilton won the 2010 AL MVP Award in spite of missing most of the last month with fractured ribs, the result of falling into a wall in Minnesota. The year before he he missed almost half the season after crashing into a wall in Toronto. At right he is taking on a wall at an All-Star game.

This season ... well he is having another great year. He leads the majors with 20 home runs, 53 runs batted in, a .753 Slugging Percentage, and a 1.175 OPS. BUT ... he's been out twice already, with back spasms at the end of April and now a bad cold. Even before the season began he'd had surgery to repair almost completely detached adductor muscles on his inner left thigh, a very rare condition - especially among baseball players. (It had been reported as just a sports hernia or a groin pull during the World Series, in which he was almost hitless.) His lower back problems, pinched nerve for example, probably stem from a serious car accident in 2001. 

In Spring Training he jammed his right heel fielding a double hit down the line. One wonders to what degree Hamilton's on-going problems with alcoholism and substance abuse affect his health and durability. He has been almost clean and sober since adopting religion in 2005, though there have been two notable slips - 2009 (pictured at left) and 2012. His urine is tested three times each week.

Hamilton is on his way to a possible Triple Crown. You would think the Rangers would be anxious to lock him into a long term contract. But Ranger CEO Nolan Ryan is far from chomping at the bit - no doubt due to the risk of locking in a player who has played 150 games only once in his career. The Rangers haven't exchanged numbers with Hamilton or his agent. A complacent Ryan says negotiating now would be a distraction. Good excuse. He seems quite ready to let Hamilton test the free agent market. 

What would you do - armchair owners/General Managers? Would you roll the dice and pay big bucks ( a lot of Hamiltons) for Hamilton? There'd be a hue and cry if he left Texas, but I'm not sure I would sign him for megamillions.

And, are you willing to bet a few more bucks that Hamilton will make it to the Hall? At 31, his career average is .313, but he has fewer than 140 home runs and 500 RBI. In spite of the numbers he puts up when he's in the lineup, how many more games will he play?

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