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A farewell to Josh Hamilton

 

We die so that others can be born
We age so that others can be young
The point of life is live, love

If you can, then pass it on, right?
- Kate Tempest, “We Die”

America loves two things: superheroes and underdogs. Josh Hamilton, somewhat impossibly was both. It was always easy to write about Hamilton: all you had to do was pay attention. Everything he did was larger than life, from his pre-draft hype to his catastrophic addiction, through his comeback, to superstardom, the lurid relapses, the brave honesty of his confessions, and all the while, one of the most naturally beautiful and violent left-handed swings the world has ever seen.

Josh Hamilton was the grandest and most perplexing paradox. From 2008-2012, his outward appearance was that of a fighter jet in human form; a figure who did baseball things that snatched away the breath of anyone close enough to feel the earth shake. His very presence seemed to imply the existence of a team of scientists hell-bent on the destruction of any and all baseballs on the planet. And yet, at the helm of this impossibly talented corporeal being resided...

Josh.

The man-child who perpetually reminded us, often in the most shockingly disappointing (yet profoundly honest) ways, that no, no: he really was just as human as they come. His story is well-documented, his foibles and feats the stuff of front-page headlines, books, and a hundred thousand articles.

Hamilton’s body once accomplished impossibly majestic feats, but it had betrayed him of late, most recently in Spring Training when he was doing something as routine as running the bases. You always just expected this particular fighter jet to finish his career with one last missile, circling back, putting the landing gear on home base one final time, and calling it a career.

Instead, after a decade of stories that were often too big even for Texas, Hamilton’s ended not in a magnificent walkoff or one last crash into an outfield wall.

No, after a lifetime of infinite bat-swings, four of which sent baseballs over a wall in Baltimore in one game, one of which appeared at the time to win a World Series, and twenty-eight of which launched baseballs over Yankee Stadium walls to set a first-round home run derby record, there was the final swing, in a facility in Houston, hidden away from the public eye. while rehabbing his left knee, he took a swing, and the right knee hyperextended, and that was it.

Josh Hamilton is thirty five years old. The surgery to repair his right knee is substantial enough that it would have kept him out for the season, even if he were in peak physical condition. It will be his 14th knee surgery. His doctors have advised him, for the sake of his quality of life, to stop playing baseball. He was released from his minor-league contract with the Rangers on Friday afternoon.

We die, so that others can be born

A few hours after the announcement, in the second inning, Joey Gallo launched a ball that threatened a popcorn stand beyond the right field bleachers and traveled 462 feet. Then later, in the fifth inning, a 23-year old Gallo stepped up to the plate a second time, and for the second time, launched a ball over the right field wall.

We age, so that others can be young

There are some who will remember the end of Hamilton’s 2012 season in Texas, his error in center field in Oakland, and his failed attempts at coming back in recent years. Those things happened, sure. They’re part of the story. But I’ll take a lot more enjoyment from remembering the MVP year, the impossible feats, the fearless battles with outfield walls, and the five minutes I was certain he had won the Rangers their first World Series.

There are some who will remember his moral failings, the ocular keratitis, the “baseball town” comments, and the shortcomings of Josh. Those things, too, happened. But as someone who knows and loves many addicts, I will remember this: Josh Hamilton got back up. He has been clean for years now. Addiction, especially relapses, can feel hopeless and permanent. All those years of sobriety gone, what’s the point in starting over now? But Josh did. And then he did again. And then again.

The point of life is live, love if you can, then pass it on, right?