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Rejuvenated rejects rock for Rangers

Jeff Passan
Yahoo Sports

All of them are rejects. Cincinnati didn't want Josh Hamilton because it was worried his body would break down after years of drug abuse, and San Diego didn't want Milton Bradley because he tore a knee ligament arguing with an umpire, and Boston didn't want David Murphy because he wasn't good enough to crack its outfield rotation.

They wear these slights with pride. Because every time someone bats an eye, Hamilton cracks another home run, Bradley piles up another multi-hit game, Murphy gaps another extra-base hit.

And it leads to an intriguing question with a simple answer. How, exactly, did the Texas Rangers back into the best outfield in baseball?

Actually, they didn't back into anything. They gave all three players what they needed – Hamilton support and confidence, Bradley another chance in a long line of them and Murphy an opportunity to play – and now the Rangers lead baseball in runs. Their three starting outfielders having driven in 164 of them and thrust the team to 19 wins in May, the franchise's most in a month in 25 years.

They're back around .500, too, like a fresh start on the year, which really is something, because the team's season is beginning to parallel its outfielders' careers.

"This is a new beginning for all of us," Hamilton said. "And it's been a great fit. The plan was for us to all be here at the same time, and hopefully it can stay that way."

If it does, and if the three can produce even close to the level they've established, counting the Rangers' outfield among the game's best won't sound so hyperbolic. Currently, they hold the best batting average (.311), the most home runs (42) and most RBIs of a starting three, and their on-base and slugging percentages are right there with Pittsburgh, which fields another surprising trio. Even though Bradley has spent a majority of his time at designated hitter returning from his ripped ACL, he's back in right field, available along with Murphy to spell Hamilton in center.

The tale of Texas' outfield starts with Hamilton, the story of the season thus far, his days of addiction past and his talent omnipresent. His 18 home runs and 72 RBIs lead the American League, and for a week he owned first place in the batting race as well.

All this from someone in his second full year of organized baseball after missing nearly four seasons trying to kick drugs. Hamilton inspires because of his bat and his fight, transcendence and redemption personified.

"Watching Josh Hamilton play every day has been as good of a time as I've had playing baseball," Murphy said. "It's scary that he's getting better every day. It is. What's behind him is behind him, and he knows it happened for a reason, and he's ashamed and embarrassed about it.

"All that being said, if that didn't happen and he'd have gotten to the big leagues at 21 or 22, it would be incredible to see where he'd be at this point in his career."

Similar sentiments surround Bradley's career, though they are more of this variety: It would be incredible to see what he'd have accomplished were he not occasionally cuckoo-for-Cocoa Puffs crazy.

The latest incident took place Wednesday night in Kansas City. Bradley, peeved after overhearing Royals television announcer Ryan Lefebvre comparing and contrasting his troubles with Hamilton's, jumped into the elevator following a Rangers victory to confront Lefebvre. Rangers general manager Jon Daniels intervened, and Bradley returned to the clubhouse, where he paced about, reportedly on the verge of tears.

It only added to a rap sheet worn parchment thin: the tantrum with a water bottle in Los Angeles, calling a reporter an Uncle Tom, getting run out of Cleveland for bad attitude, the domestic violence allegations and, finally, blowing out his knee in San Diego when his manager, Bud Black, tackled him to keep him from umpire Mike Winters.

"Best thing that ever happened to me," Bradley said of the injury. "For one, people got to see that I'm not always the one in the wrong. Two, it made me get in shape. I kind of got big the last couple years."

Following surgery, Bradley said he returned home to L.A. and lost 20 pounds, down now to 215. He vowed to be ready by Opening Day, a ludicrous notion for a major knee injury. Rangers manager Ron Washington, who knew Bradley from their time in Oakland, vouched for him. And there Bradley was March 31, not just ready but slugging. In 11 June games, he's batting .378 with six home runs, 14 RBIs and 14 walks. Overall, he leads the AL in on-base and slugging percentages and ranks second with a .330 batting average.

"Wash felt very strong about Milton," Daniels said. "If Wash wasn't here, I don't think we would have signed him, and I don't think he would've come here."

Bradley said his 2-year-old son has calmed him down, though Washington admitted that "every now and then he's gonna blow up." Mount St. Bradley is dormant for the moment, if not infused with the feeling of disrespect and wonderment regarding why his ascent to the top of leaderboards hasn't created more of a ripple.

"I'm never gonna get credit for anything," Bradley said, similar sentiment to what he said following the averted blowup with Lefebvre. "Nobody comes back six months after an ACL and plays like I do. They don't play at all. But I'm never going to get a story about that, never going to get any credit for that, because people don't like me.

"When I'm healthy, this is what you get. When I'm not healthy, and I'm in and out, in and out, in and out, you get inconsistency. All I've ever needed is health."

Murphy, on the other hand, needed only a shot. A supplemental first-round pick out of Baylor, he languished in the Red Sox's farm system for five years before the Rangers acquired him in the Eric Gagne deal. He wasn't a throw-in, necessarily. He wasn't a key component, either.

Though Rangers scouts did tell Daniels that they thought Murphy had untapped power potential that could be exploited at Rangers Ballpark. He hasn't done so with nearly the same fervor as his outfield mates – Bradley's on-base-plus slugging is 485 points higher at home, and Hamilton's is 259 – which bodes well, with the majority of Murphy's extra-base hits coming on the road.

"Who knew?" said Murphy, who ranks fourth in the AL with 31. "I had a decent end of the year last year, but 100 at-bats is a small sample size."

While Murphy wasn't guaranteed a starting spot coming into spring training, Bradley's recovery helped his cause. As did his natural left-handed swing, one, Hamilton said, that "makes him look like one of those guys who can roll out of bed and hit."

Actually, that seems to go for all three. Without them, the Rangers, who have baseball's worst ERA, would probably be in last place, even worse than lowly Seattle. Washington may well have been fired, and Daniels, despite overseeing trades and drafts that have led to Texas owning perhaps the best stockpile of position prospects in baseball, might have been on his way out.

"Every acquisition is going to have some level of risk," Daniels said. "It may be in the form of injury, and it may be in the form of off-field issues. Risk comes in all different shapes and sizes, and we felt it was well worth taking the chances."

Rejects? The Rangers certainly didn't think so. All they did was reject convention, and thankfully so.

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