Hamilton tempers his return with reason

Tim Brown

ANAHEIM, Calif. – Hey, Josh Hamilton(notes) wishes he was sturdy enough, too. He wishes he hadn't run into a couple walls, hadn't been to the disabled list twice, hadn't needed abdominal surgery, hadn't had all that stuff happen to him in just half a stinkin' season.

So, yeah, he'd like to be hitting something more representative than .240. A week before the All-Star Game, he has six homers and 24 RBIs? A year ago he boarded a flight to New York with 21 and 95, then lit up Yankee Stadium with those 28 bombs in the first round of the Home Run Derby, a few clearing 500 feet.

He came off the disabled list Monday night for a three-game series against the Los Angeles Angels hoping, he said, to be the “same old Josh,” but he might not be that hitter right now. For the time being, he'll concentrate on staying on the field and helping the surprisingly competent Texas Rangers remain surprisingly competent for the rest of the summer, which means, sorry, no Derby this year in St. Louis.

And, well, were it only just that easy.

Based on last season (32 homers, 130 RBIs, .304 batting average, etc.), and on his comeback story, and on his very humble countenance, and on the fact he knocked the daylights out of all those balls in the Bronx, Hamilton rated very well on more than 2.4 million All-Star ballots, enough to win a starting job on the AL squad next to Jason Bay(notes) and Ichiro(notes) Suzuki.

It's a little dicey, because Hamilton ranks only fifth among outfielders in home runs and fourth in RBIs – among Rangers. And, well, there's the strong possibility Hamilton received a lot of those votes because nobody cared what he did from April through June, folks wanted him at Busch Stadium for the Derby, challenging Albert Pujols(notes), and Ryan Howard(notes) and the rest.

On the other hand, more than a few voters simply appreciate Hamilton's tale. And if they wanted to see Hamilton in St. Louis, who is Hamilton to refuse? They, after all, might be the people who welcomed him back to the game after his well-chronicled addiction to crack cocaine when they could have been unforgiving.

So, after consulting with the Rangers, Hamilton will accept his position in the AL outfield and decline an invitation to hammer away in the Derby.

“You get that, right?” he asked. “I mean, that makes sense, right? You understand?”

The man is coming off abdominal surgery. Two months ago he'd strained his rib cage and spent another couple weeks on the DL. Seems a lot to risk for a glorified batting practice, just to give MLB a show.

“I talked to Josh about it before he went out on rehab,” Rangers general manager Jon Daniels said. “Basically, I just said we'd support him playing in the game if that's what he wants, but we'd prefer he not participate in the Derby. He agreed, said that's what he was thinking.”

In case the message wasn't clear, manager Ron Washington said, “I told him I didn't want him to do it. I told him I certainly hope he's man enough to understand the Texas Rangers is where we need him to be. It just takes so much out of you doing that.”

Even a reasonably healthy Hamilton last year was no match for a full big-league season (his first) and the Texas sun and a home run derby. All of his offensive numbers declined in the second half. In September he admitted he was exhausted, so much that he sought out Mark Teixeira(notes), renowned for his big second halves in Texas, for a survival hint or two. Washington said he'll play Hamilton almost every day, but will rest him occasionally in one of the outfield corners or at designated hitter.

Meanwhile, Hamilton still has three months of games left and he doesn't want to leave any of them in St. Louis on Monday night. It's a reasonable decision, the right one.

“I'm ready to go,” he said before hitting a single in his first at-bat against the Angels and hitting a double in his second. “I wouldn't be back if I wasn't ready to go.

“It's good to be back here and be one of the guys again, actually feel part of the team instead of a guy just hanging around.”