The story of Josh Hamilton up to this point has already been told. His off-field troubles, while never far behind in his mind, are certainly far off when it comes to the media coverage it deserves, if it deserved any to begin with. It's hard to believe that it was nearly 13 years ago that Hamilton was taken with the first overall pick in the 1999 draft. I was only 16 at the time, wasn't following such things as minor league players, let alone the MLB draft.
So when the Rays took Hamilton, it was very exciting for a lot of people. A lot of people in Tampa, a lot of people who knew more about baseball than I did, a lot of people that knew Josh Hamilton. I'm sure that for him and his family, it was the greatest day of his life up to that point. While all players are at danger of "busting" based on failed expectation on the diamonds, Hamilton's only fault is that he got busted off of it.
That's all that needs to be said anymore about Hamilton's problems in the minor leagues with drugs and what kept him out of baseball for years. All I know is that when Hamilton was revealed to be a crack addict, I wasn't shocked because of the name "Josh Hamilton." That wasn't a name that I was familiar with. Most people that don't follow baseball on a certain level, aren't familiar with it. I'm aware of draft picks now but back then the real story was: "Former No. 1 Pick Is Addicted to Crack."
For the media, for the fans, that was all that mattered. After that story came out, then I knew who Josh Hamilton was. What would happen years later would be even more shocking than everything that transpired during his days of drug addiction; Hamilton is back again and the Reds are picking him up.
"Hmmm... let's see how this goes. Should be interesting, at least."
Expectations for Hamilton around most of baseball were low. After all, would the Rays dare dream to let go of the player that we've come to know today? Maybe they say that they would, that it was time to move on, or that Hamilton could have never gotten clean there, but nobody was sure what the Reds were getting after they sent $100,000 to the Cubs to acquire the Rule 5 pick, and certainly the Rangers might have really undersold what they were getting when they dealt Edison Volquez to the Reds to acquire Hamilton the next year.
Drafted at age 18, it helped that even though Hamilton made his major league debut eight years after he was picked by the Rays, he was only 26. Many players, including top prospects, struggle in their early 20s. Hell, for some of them those struggles aren't correctable. Maybe Hamilton was lucky to stay away from baseball and enter again at 26 with a new team in a new league.
2007: 90 games, 337 PA, 298 AB, .292/.368/.554, 19 HR, 47 RBI, 52 R, 17 2B, 2 3B, 33 BB/65 K, 131 OPS+, 2.6 fWAR, .387 wOBA, .262 ISO, 3 SB (with Reds)
In a little over half-a-season, Hamilton teamed with a healthy Ken Griffey, Jr., Adam Dunn, and Brandon Philips to feature a powerful lineup that should easily be a playoff contender. Except that the Reds had an ERA of 4.94 and went 72-90. They decided that they had to use something to acquire a starter and Hamilton, while maybe their best athlete, also came with health risks and off-field scares.
He was dealt to Texas for Volquez.
2008: 156 games, 704 PA, 624 AB, .304/.371/.530, 32 HR, 130 RBI, 98 R, 35 2B, 5 3B, 64 BB/126 K, 135 OPS+, 4.1 fWAR, .385 wOBA, .226 ISO, 9 SB.
Hamilton's second season was basically just like his first, except that it was 66 more games. If anything, he actually hit for a little less power, but you can see just how good of a pace he was on for the Reds. Had he played a full season with the Reds, he could have easily already had two All-Star games on his belt (went to the AS game in 2008) and two top 20 MVP finishes (finished 7th in 2008)
2009: 89 games, 365 PA, 336 AB, .268/.315/.426, 10 HR, 54 RBI, 43 R, 19 2B, 2 3B, 24 BB/79 K, 90 OPS+, 1.4 fWAR, .321 wOBA, .158 ISO, 8 SB.
Bruised rib cage, abdominal tear, contribute to Hamilton missing almost half of the season. Fans love him though, he gets voted into the All-Star game.
2010: 133 games, 571 PA, 518 AB, .359/.411/.633, 32 HR, 100 RBI, 95 R, 40 2B, 3 3B, 43 BB/95 K, 170 OPS+, 8.5 fWAR, .447 wOBA, .274 ISO, 8 SB.
Josh Hamilton reaches another level. He missed almost all of September and still put up such good numbers that he won the AL MVP with a 91% share of the 1st place votes. He struggled in his first playoff series, going 2-for-18 against the Rays, but was a monster against the Yankees in the ALCS, hitting 4 HR, 7 RBI, 3 SB, and 8 walks during the six-game series, winning ALCS MVP. He struggled again in the series against the Giants, going 2-for-20 but his incredible season won't soon be forgotten.
2011: 121 games, 538 PA, 487 AB, .298/.346/.536, 25 HR, 94 RBI, 80 R, 31 2B, 5 3B, 39 BB/93 K, 130 OPS+, 4.2 fWAR, .371 wOBA, .238 ISO, 8 SB.
Hamilton reverts back to his more normal days of posting All-Star caliber numbers, but MVP numbers only in a season where offense is down. He was still a feared middle of the order hitter but he wasn't the Bondsian form he took in 2010 that won him the MVP and helped the Rangers get to the World Series. This was just "regular" Hamilton, which is a very good Hamilton but probably not an epic Hamilton and certainly a long way to go before he's a Hall of Fame Hamilton.
Through 2011, Josh Hamilton had played in 589 games, hitting .308/.366/.543, .909 OPS, 135 OPS+, 36 stolen bases, 142 doubles,118 HR and is clearly one of the best hitters in the league during that five season stretch, except for when he got hurt. His 2009 season was an anomaly just like his 2011 season may have been an anomaly on the opposite side of the spectrum and the true Hamilton is a guy that hits .290/.360/.540 with 30 HR and 100 RBI in any given year.
His Hall of Fame resume going into 2012 wasn't just weak, it would have been a joke to bring it up. I mean, you can't get into the Hall based on 589 games, that's only 117.8 games per season and for only five seasons. It's not about what voters may think about his habits off of the field before he re-started his career, Hamilton didn't have anything close to a Hall of Fame resume. Even with the four All-Star games, the MVP, the two Silver Sluggers, and the two trips to the World Series.
That was all true and that was all true up until we got almost two months deep into the season and Josh Hamilton is playing like not even he knows what his happening. You can't get into the Hall based on a few nice credentials and awards (there are two-time MVPs not in the Hall) but how close would Hamilton be if he continues to have this season and reaches heights that haven't been thought as reachable for years?
As of today, this is Hamilton's 2012 season:
39 games, 172 PA, 149 AB, .389/.442/.785, 18 HR, 47 RBI, 5 2B, 4 SB, 17 BB/34 K, 219 OPS+, .396 ISO, .506 wOBA, 3.4 fWAR.
Forget about the fruitless effort of trying to pace out his season numbers, you can probably already tell how ridiculous they are. Hamilton is almost hitting a home run every other game and he has more RBI than games played. His wOBA is almost as high as Albert Pujols OPS.
Now let's settle down and think of a realistic finish, if Hamilton stays healthy. ZiPS updated simulation has Hamilton finishing with a .330/.385/.612 line, 40 HR, 123 RBI and that's the heart of the matter. If Hamilton finishes with this line, he'll have a chance at the Triple Crown. Lot's depends on other factors but as of now, he leads the AL in all of those categories.
There's two scenarios: Hamilton doesn't win the Triple Crown, but wins the MVP or Hamilton does win the Triple Crown and wins the MVP. Considering that the Rangers are going to win the AL WEST by at least 10 games and possibly have the best record in baseball, there's no way that Hamilton doesn't win an AL MVP if he puts up numbers like that. And it's still possible that he does win the Triple Crown with numbers like that just like it's possible that he'll actually put up better numbers than that.
Let's go best case scenario: Hamilton wins Triple Crown and MVP. And even better, the Rangers go to the World Series, win their first championship, Hamilton is World Series MVP.
(Remember that this is absolute best case scenario for Hamilton, and for me as a Mariners fan, it's not the best case scenario at all, but I have to look at this objectively.)
Now look at Hamilton's resume: A two-time MVP, five-time All-Star, Three World Series, One Championship, World Series MVP, three Silver Sluggers, and maybe the title of best hitter in the game for a significant stretch of time. Oh, and of course, the first player to lead the league in average, home runs, and RBI since Carl Yastrzemski in 1967.
The only two hitters to hit for the Triple Crown and not be in the Hall of Fame are Paul Hines and Tip O'Neill and they did it before 1890. Cobb, Lajoie, Hornsby, Foxx, Gehrig, Teddy Ballgame, Mantle, and Frank Robinson. These are just a handful of the few to hit for the Triple Crown. It's about as exclusive as you're going to get. More men have been President of the United States than have hit for the Triple Crown.
(I wrote this on Monday and Hamilton went 0-for-4 with 2 Ks but the King of baseball was on the mound, to be fair.)
Every little step in Josh Hamilton's life in baseball has been somewhat extraordinary. It's amazing to be the number one overall pick, its amazing to be the number one prospect in baseball, it's amazing to then throw it all away when you get a drug addiction after showing so much promise, it's amazing to actually come back from that to play baseball at all on any level, it's amazing that he became a very good player to having one of the best seasons ever and now in 2012 he's started off doing it again.
At a certain point in regards to one player, you almost stop being amazed. It's like, "Oh yeah, that's Hamilton. He'll keep blowing your mind to the point where the mind can't take it anymore and almost has to downplay every new great accomplishment."
So, would it be amazing if Hamilton can come all the way full circle and make a case for the Hall of Fame, after all?
Let me give you THIS scenario and I'm only asking you to vote for THIS scenario:
If Hamilton wins the MVP, the Triple Crown, the World Series, and the World Series MVP this season... what would it take for him to make it into the Hall of Fame?