After Josh Hamilton(notes) broke his arm, he broke his third-base coach's reputation. Dave Anderson, a man with a name befitting the anonymity he enjoyed until Tuesday afternoon, sent Hamilton home on a play that could've gone two ways. If he slides in for a run, it's savvy. If he gets tagged out, it's stupid. Baseball, wicked sense of humor ever present, offered a third: It's painful, both in the snapped bone and the blow to the Texas Rangers as they spend the next two months trying to replace one of baseball's best players.
When Hamilton blamed Anderson for urging him to dash for a run when Detroit Tigers catcher Victor Martinez(notes) stood away from home plate, he wasn't wrong per se. And that's the irony in it: Hamilton, who has become so accountable as he beat drug addiction, blaming someone else for something he brought upon himself.
It's not just that he could've stayed at third base. Players ignore coaches all the time. It's that the Rangers – from owner Nolan Ryan down to the laundry guys – know that Hamilton must be treated differently not because of who he is but who he was.
Bobby Valentine tried to make this point Tuesday. Live television tripped him up. Amid his ineloquence was a sizable seed of truth when it comes to Josh Hamilton: He is a different person and player because he ravaged himself with drugs for years. While he turns 30 in May, Hamilton last year admitted: "My body is a lot older than I am."
Gifted with grace at 6-foot-4 and 240 pounds, Hamilton glides about a baseball field with an ethereal presence. He can do things no other players can, so when home plate is open and his coach tells him to go, he tries to do one of those things. And when the catcher has a bead and Hamilton's primal instincts kick in and he slides head-first – Lord, that's what makes Hamilton so easy to love, the attitude of a scamp inside the body of a deity.
He is fragile, though. This is a fact. Men who spend nights passed out in gutters and come back to win MVP awards, no matter how strong of mind, can be weaker of body. In his four major league seasons, Hamilton has made it through just one healthy. This is his fifth disabled-list stint – and that doesn't count last year's rib injury, which caused him to miss the season's last month. Major injuries have caused Hamilton to miss 122 days over his four seasons, according to injury expert Will Carroll, and that's not to mention time lost to a balky knee and the rest of his potpourri of injuries.
There are certain truths about Hamilton. He can be summed up ably in two statements.
1. Josh Hamilton is an absolute monster on the baseball field.
2. When Josh Hamilton isn't an absolute monster on the baseball field, it's because he's hurt.
And this makes Anderson's participation so material. As the last line of defense between Hamilton and the likeliest place he is to have a collision on the field, his job is to err on the side of caution. Always. The Rangers, organizationally, do it. There is a reason Hamilton is one of the sport's best and doesn't have a contract beyond next season. He's shown interest. But the Rangers balked every time because they're more comfortable paying an annual premium for not having to take the long-term risk.
Because, really, injuries are the only thing that separate Hamilton from transcendence, and as much as Anderson ought to recognize this, it's ultimately Hamilton's duty to account for his well-being. Conscientiousness is vital to continued health, and the fact that a child has more than he does underscores the issue.
It's the unknown kid's sweet voice in this video, taken last week, that is most damning to Hamilton. During a rain delay in Baltimore, fans urged Hamilton to go sliding across the drenched tarp. He smiled, considered it, grinned again and took off running. Hamilton dove headfirst – the same sort of dive on which he suffered his injury. As Hamilton stood up, the child said: "Cal Ripken nearly broke his arm doing that."
Ultimately, Josh Hamilton did.
So now we know who Dave Anderson is, beyond his place as the decoy standing in the on-deck circle before Kirk Gibson emerged to fist-pump his way around the bases in the 1988 World Series.
Hamilton sent him bus-bound in frustration, no question; he'll apologize for taking private business public, and they'll move on. With a greater understanding, the Rangers can only hope, of who Josh Hamilton is. Today, he is denizen of the DL, out for six to eight weeks with a right humerus fracture, victim of his own talent. Next, he'll be a man in rehabilitation, again, pitiable because youthful indiscretions and unfortunate addictions rendered him so susceptible. And when he comes back – with the Rangers fairly certain their pitching and pop and David Murphy(notes) filling in can keep them afloat atop the American League West – he'll be at war with himself.
His instincts say one thing. His body says another. And his career depends on him figuring out how to marry the two.
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