2012 AL Wild Card Game: Is Chorus of Boos the End of Josh Hamilton in Texas?
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On Friday night in Arlington, the Orioles exacted their revenge in the American League Wild Card Game.
They limited the Texas Rangers' star slugger to zero hits in four at-bats, punching him out twice. Hamilton saw a grand total of eight pitches, and the only damage he did came on a double-play ball in the first inning that allowed Texas' only run of the ballgame to score.
The Rangers lost 5-1, thus ending their season.
For the Rangers, it was exactly the kind of game that became way too common for them down the stretch. Flat. Dull. Soulless, even.
Likewise, it was exactly the kind of performance that became far too common for Hamilton toward the end. The only word that comes to mind is "punchless."
And man, I'll be damned if it doesn't feel like Hamilton's latest punchless performance will prove to be his last in a Rangers uniform. It feels like we just witnessed his days in Texas come to an unceremonious end.
If we did, I suspect we'll remember the soundtrack. Like 2001: A Space Odyssey and classical music, we may forever recall all the boos that reverberated throughout Rangers Ballpark in Arlington every time Hamilton took center stage on Friday night.
Jon Morosi of FoxSports.com felt safe in asking the question on everyone's mind by the sixth inning:
Josh Hamilton: four pitches, three swings, three outs … and boos. Is this goodbye?— Jon Morosi (@jonmorosi) October 6, 2012
It was strange to hear the boos. Depressing, even, knowing all that Hamilton has been through and all he has done for the Rangers. After helping the franchise earn two American League pennants and unprecedented buzz, Hamilton suddenly found himself the target of 47,000 boo birds.
It was also strange to hear the boos because as harsh as they seemed, they were also kind of well-deserved.
Hamilton last homered on Sept. 24, helping the Rangers to a 5-4 victory over the Oakland A's that stretched their lead in the AL West to a full five games with nine games left to play.
Hamilton proceeded to go 10-for-39 the rest of the way with no homers, four RBI and 17 strikeouts. He put the finishing touches on a true roller-coaster season by going 1-for-5 with three strikeouts and a huge error in Texas' 12-5 defeat in Oakland on Thursday that cost it the AL West.
The Rangers' collapse at the end was not all Hamilton's fault, obviously, but a lot of blame can certainly be placed on him for Thursday's debacle. Not even the most steadfast Hamilton apologist can deny that.
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All could have been forgiven if Hamilton had led the Rangers to a victory over the Orioles. Alas, it became apparent by the middle innings that he was not going to do that, and the fans decided to make Hamilton a target for their frustration.
You could hear the boos, but what you were really hearing was a question for Mr. Hamilton: "Is this it? Is this all you have?"
Apparently, yes. Whatever fuel Hamilton was running on early in the season ran dry in the middle of May and never really came back. He was hitting .402/.455/.866 with 18 home runs and 44 RBI on May 13, and he finished the season by hitting .251/.325/.492 and then laying an egg in Friday's do-or-die game.
It's clear enough that Rangers fans are tired of Hamilton's disappearing-reappearing act. The question now becomes if the Rangers themselves are tired of it too. Tired enough, even, to say thanks but no thanks as soon as Hamilton invites them to the negotiating table in the coming weeks.
If they have any brains, that's exactly what they'll do.
The Rangers have a lot of money to spend these days, and a winning tradition to maintain, but signing Hamilton would eat up a lot of their considerable resources.
There would be no guarantee that he'd give them the goods to continue their winning tradition. Not after what just happened in the final weeks of the 2012 season.
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Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com wrote back in August that Hamilton is going to cost $100 million. One executive said he could get as much as $25 or $28 million per year, which would put him in Alex Rodriguez and Albert Pujols territory.
That typically is the going rate for a guy who can hit 40 homers and drive in 125-plus runs in a season. But not this kind of guy. Hamilton's case is different.
The Rangers have known this all along. They knew that they were dealing with a player with a troublesome history off the field and questionable health on the field. Then this particular player slowly devolved into a liability when the club needed him to be at his best more than ever before.
The Rangers could invite Hamilton back, but only if it's at their price. And after what just happened, it's hard to imagine their price being anything close to $25 million or even $20 million per year. They'll want him for less, maybe even for as low as $15 or $16 million per year.
If so, Hamilton will walk. No ifs, ands or buts about it. We are, after all, talking about a guy who said just a few months ago that he doesn't owe the Rangers anything.
"I love Texas. I love my fans. I love fans of the Rangers. I love the organization. I love my teammates. I love everything about it," he said in February, via Richard Durrett of ESPNDallas.com. "But I'm not going to sit here and say that I owe the Rangers. I don't feel like I owe the Rangers."
Has Josh Hamilton played his last game with the Rangers?
Maybe he was right, but that's a door that swings both ways. The situation may have been different before, but the Rangers certainly don't owe Hamilton anything now. His final numbers say he had a remarkable season, but it was nowhere near as remarkable as it should have been.
There's a place for Hamilton out there. More than one, in fact. He will find a new employer if he chooses to leave Texas, and this new employer will pay him well.
And it feels inevitable that this will happen. The Rangers faithful made it clear on Friday night that Hamilton is not as welcome in Texas as he once was, and Nolan Ryan and the club's decision-makers have too many reasons to feel the same way.
Wherever Hamilton ends up, one thing will be for sure: When 2013 comes, he'll have much to prove. He's no stranger to redemption, but he'll be after redemption of another kind next season.
Note: Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com.
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