As far as insults go, ex-Rangers slugger Josh Hamilton wasn’t exactly Don Rickles when he sat down for a one-on-one with CBS11’s Gina Miller over the weekend. Asked about the boos he received at the Ballpark in his final days with the club, he basically attributed it to folks who only understood football.
He actually said that Dallas-Fort Worth wasn’t “a true baseball town,” which isn’t exactly breaking news. Other than New York, Boston and St. Louis, it’s hard to label any place a true “baseball town.” But it’s obvious that North Texas has fallen in love with baseball, as evidenced by the 3.4 million people who attended games this past season, obliterating the team record. I feel like the best comparison is probably Philadelphia, which used to only be able to focus its hate on the Eagles.
But we’ll have that argument another day, because Hamilton’s simply using the “baseball town” theory as cover for his miserable performance down the stretch. I believe history will be kind to Hamilton, but let’s give it a couple decades. The reason fans booed him is because he disappeared on his team at the worst-possible moment. No one is innocent in the Rangers’ historic collapse, but Hamilton was the face of failure. And the fact that his failure didn’t seem to bother him much only emboldened fans to turn on a player who played a huge role in back-to-back trips to the World Series. It’s easy to forget now that he was set to be the hero of Game 6 in St. Louis before … well, you know.
In the aftermath of Hamilton’s recent comments to Channel 11, Hamilton has been characterized as a rube who doesn’t have an inner filter to keep him from making inflammatory comments. I’ve been a proponent of the “rube” theory in other situations involving Hamilton, but something in his demeanor during Sunday’s interview tells me he knew exactly what he was doing.
I believe Hamilton’s feelings were hurt, in part because he felt a special kinship with a fan base that’s likely to be in church on Sundays. He felt like his faith-based efforts would serve as a protective shield when things went wrong. And honestly, he was right. Fans didn’t hold it against him when he fell off the wagon in Scottsdale and ended up covered in whip cream. And they quickly gave him a pass for another personal setback that took place in a Dallas bar. (By the way if I ever suffer a public disgrace, please refer to it as a “personal setback.”)
Down here in the Bible Belt, we love doling out grace to our sports heroes. But the minute you stop acting like you give a damn, it’s hell and damnation. Hamilton’s still coming to grips with how his time ended in North Texas, although he’ll try to find comfort in his $125 million contract with the Angels.
The reason I believe Hamilton was calculating in his comments is because he’s about to embrace his “enemy” status with the Rangers. Like a professional wrestler transitioning from good guy to heel (think “Gentleman” Chris Adams in the ’80s if you grew up in North Texas), Hamilton is getting in touch with his inner rage. I believe he’s willing to embrace the boos that are sure to come at the Ballpark based on his belief the Angels are a superior team. His bravado is tied up in the fact that he’s no longer required to be the best player on the team. That role belongs to Mike Trout, of course.
Hamilton has found safe haven in Anaheim, although he’ll soon learn that’s also not a so-called “baseball town.” These people may have the gall to boo him someday if he misplays a routine fly ball and then loafs to pick it up.
I’ve often thought Hamilton was too truthful for his own good. But in this situation, I don’t think the “rube” label fits. He’s lobbing insults from a position of strength, in his mind.
So like other superstars before him, he’ll try to slip into the role of the heel. I’m just not sure a man so enamored with adulation is cut out for this sort of thing.