It's the game off the field that Hamilton needs to work on. He may be a natural on the diamond, but he handles baseball's public relations game with the savviness of a silverback gorilla.
Hamilton's latest remarks are just the most recent example of his questionable media skills. He had some things to get off his chest about Texas Rangers fans and the Dallas-Fort Worth area in an interview with Gina Miller of the DFW CBS television station, and he took the occasion as an excuse to break out his all too familiar two-face act.
"There are true baseball fans in Texas, but it's not a true baseball town," said Hamilton, via ESPNDallas.com. He added that Dallas has "always been a football town."
In and of themselves, these are harmless statements. The Rangers may have finished behind only the Philadelphia Phillies and New York Yankees in attendance in 2012, but there's no denying that Dallas is a football town first and a baseball town second. That's not an insult. That's the truth.
The real insult came when Hamilton spoke more specifically about the fans themselves.
"They're supportive," said Hamilton about Rangers fans, "but they also got a little spoiled at the same time pretty quickly."
He added: "You think about three to four years ago (before two straight World Series appearances in 2010 and 2011). It's like, come on man, are you happier there again?"
Calling Dallas a football town? That's telling it like it is.
Saying Rangers fans are spoiled? That's downright condescending.
And that's Hamilton for you. Ballplayers who are really good at the PR game always know where the line between acceptable honesty and too much honesty is located, but Hamilton has always displayed a complete lack of understanding that such a line even exists.
Hamilton's bigger problem is that it's easy to mistake his ignorance for arrogance. That's something much worse than ignorance, not to mention much harder for fans to forgive.
It's even harder for fans to forgive arrogance, be it real or just apparent, if a player has a history of it. And once again, that's Hamilton.
It was just about a year ago, for example, that he was telling Richard Durrett of ESPNDallas.com that he didn't feel he needed to make the Rangers a hometown discount in contract negotiations:
The Rangers have done a lot for me, but I've got a question for y'all: Have I done a lot for the Rangers? I think I've given them everything I've had. I don't think anybody can say I haven't. When it comes down to it, people don't understand, fans don't understand, this is a business, this is an entertainment business.
Hamilton followed this up by saying: "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. But I'm not going to sit here and say that I owe the Rangers. I don't feel like I owe the Rangers."
Hamilton wasn't out of line in saying that he didn't owe the Rangers a hometown discount. Such sentiments aren't all that rare in today's game, and they can be forgiven by people who totally understand that baseball is a business.
But by playing the "I've given them everything" card, Hamilton downplayed the sacrifices the Rangers made for him over the years.
Those sacrifices weren't insignificant. The Rangers traded one of their top prospects (Edinson Volquez) to the Cincinnati Reds to get Hamilton in the first place, and they made special arrangements—such as keeping Johnny Narron, Hamilton's handler, on staff—in order to accommodate him. They also stuck with him through not one, but two relapses in his ongoing recovery from drug and alcohol addiction.
Hamilton made things worse by involving the fans in the discussion, as he accused them of being blissfully ignorant one minute and professed his love for them the next. Just like with his latest comment about them being spoiled, Hamilton was being condescending towards Rangers fans.
It was the same old story after the Rangers were defeated by the Baltimore Orioles in the American League Wild Card game. Hamilton struck out twice and grounded into a double play in that game, and was booed loudly by the home crowd.
"Personally, myself, it never would matter how high I was -- if I went to a sporting event, I would never boo somebody or I would never yell obscenities at somebody," said Hamilton, via ESPNDallas.com. "That's just me."
The message to the fans: I'm holier than thou. That one always goes over well.
Hamilton further insulted Rangers fans by casually telling the press that the fans who were booing during the loss were essentially whining over spilled milk:
You hate to have it happen possibly the last game ever here, but at the same time, it's one of those things. I gave it my all every time I went out there. Hopefully, (fans) appreciated it more than they didn't. I think they do. It's one of those things, hey, we didn't get a win, but you can't win them all.
One second, he was telling everyone how much he cared. The next, he was trotting out the old "you can't win 'em all" cliche, which made him sound decidedly like a man who actually couldn't care less about what had just happened.
Such is the Hamilton two-face act. Its roots go deep, and that may make fixing it pretty tough.
Now, the Angels obviously care more about making sure Hamilton stays productive on the field, as well they should. But they should also care about getting his microphone skills up to speed, as they don't want Hamilton stirring up any unnecessary controversies.
That's something his two-face act has the power to do, and goodness knows he won't be facing any fewer microphones in Southern California than he was in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Thanks to all the big spending that's gone on in SoCal recently, it's become a baseball hot spot that's under both a local and a national microscope. And because Hamilton is a beneficiary of the big spending, his words are going to be subject to more scrutiny than ever before.
The Angels should propose two different solutions for Hamilton's microphone problems. One is to have him tighten up his brain-to-mouth filter and never say anything of any substance. The other is to have him finally ditch his two-face act by learning how to control the arrogant demon inside of him.
For the first solution, Hamilton could just take to speaking only in cliches. He already knows how to use cliches, to be sure, but he needs to take after other ballplayers and not let anything else slip out. A handful of players are pretty good at generating quotes, but most of them are dull robots who churn out nothing but filler.
Even superstars like Hamilton can avoid giving reporters headline material. A good example would be Derek Jeter, who ESPN's Rick Reilly recently called the greatest question dodger in history. Jeter has always had an understanding that his words have the power to do damage, but he has rarely let them do any damage at all.
The more complicated solution for Hamilton's two-face act would be for him to learn how to tell people what they want to hear, which would work against whatever instinct he has that urges him to be condescending. He needs to choose his words more carefully, especially when the going gets tough.
He can look to one of his own teammates for guidance. When Albert Pujols was getting booed early in the 2012 season, he didn't make like Hamilton and play the "holier than thou" or "you can't win 'em all" cards.
Pujols told USA Today:
If I could boo myself, I'd boo myself, too. But I know better than to just get myself down. My message to the fans is that they have a reason. They have a reason to boo. I'm not performing the way that I can. But just the way that I'm patient, they need to be patient in knowing that I'm going to be here for 10 years.
In the industry, they call this "accountability." Whereas Hamilton wagged his finger at fans for booing him last season, Pujols told fans that he sympathized with the boos while also assuring them that things would get better.
Whether he adopts a much tighter brain-to-mouth filter or makes an effort to learn how to tell people what they want to hear, simply making a change will require Hamilton to put things in perspective. He needs to realize just how much weight his words carry, and he also needs to realize that the media is not going to protect him or make excuses for him.
If Hamilton is going to maintain a positive public image, he needs to be responsive to any and all suggestions made by the Angels about how he handles himself in front of a microphone. The idea would be to make people want to root for him not just with his play on the field, but with his words as well.
Since everyone knows all about the personal hell he went through before becoming a star in the major leagues, I believe that everyone truly wants to root for Hamilton. But if he doesn't shape up his media skills, rooting for him is going to be a lot tougher than it should be.
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