Josh Hamilton's story has been told and retold numerous times over the last few years.
The Texas Rangers star outfielder has endured countless peaks and valleys in his well-chronicled rise and fall as a one-time uber-prospect turned casualty of drug abuse and addiction.
His subsequent recovery and return to baseball's highest level represents one of sports' greatest tales of redemption.
However, this time that's not what the story is about.
On Tuesday, Hamilton was honored by the voting members of the BBWAA as the American League's Most Valuable Player, capping what was his personal best season and the most successful year in Texas Rangers franchise history.
Winning the award by a landslide, Hamilton was named first on 22 of the 28 possible ballots, easily beating out Detroit's Miguel Cabrera for the coveted honor. Following Cabrera, New York's Robinson Cano took third, while Toronto's Jose Bautista finished fourth. Only Cabrera and Bautista also earned first place votes, with five and one respectively.
In leading the Rangers to the first World Series appearance in the franchise's 50th year of existence, Hamilton finally ascended to the heights that many had long predicted for him.
As a former No. 1 draft pick for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, the now 29-year-old Hamilton is in the midst of reclaiming the baseball greatness that he once nearly threw away as a result of his severe personal issues. With Hamilton now fully focused on his God and baseball, we are finally witnessing what the left-handed slugging outfielder is capable of.
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Not only is he a powerful slugger with tremendous athleticism and a great glove, we also discovered in 2010 that Hamilton is capable of hitting for a high average, evidenced by the first batting title of his career. His .359 batting average easily outdistanced the competition, beating second-place Miguel Cabrera by a staggering 31 points.
He was especially destructive against right-handed pitchers, hitting an astounding .401 with a tremendous 1.163 OPS against them. However, he was no slouch against left-handers, as he hit a respectable .271 with a .789 OPS against southpaws.
Along with leading the league in batting average, Hamilton also led all AL hitters in slugging percentage at .633 and OPS at 1.044. He finished second to Cabrera in both on-base percentage at .411 and OPS+ at 175.
Though his 32 home runs and 100 RBI were both well off the league leads, those counting stats suffered significantly due to the 29 games he missed. He still placed fifth in home runs and 11th in RBI, however. It is refreshing to witness the further evolution of the thought process regarding voters' reliance on once traditional statistics.
Josh's clutch statistics might prove to be his most impressive, however. With runners in scoring position, he hit .369 with a 1.069 OPS. In the same situations with two outs, he was even better, hitting .379 with a 1.099 OPS. During situations deemed "late and close," Hamilton hit .383 with a 1.013 OPS. Clearly he was at his best when his team needed him most, the mark of a true MVP.
Not only was he highly valuable with his bat, but Hamilton performed extremely well in the outfield as well. Splitting time between both left field and center, he helped give the Rangers one of the best defensive outfields in the game in 2010. According to FanGraphs' defensive UZR statistic, Hamilton was the sixth highest-rated outfielder with a 7.9 UZR. His rifle of an arm earned him nine assists, good for the fourth-best total in the AL.
Hamilton's critics may point out that of the Rangers' last 30 games of the season, he only played in five of them, spending most of the last five weeks of the season disabled with broken ribs. It is true that no other MVP has played so few games after September 1, often one of the most crucial stretches of the season.
The specifics of the situation should be examined a little closer though to truly gain an understanding of what occurred. When Hamilton was injured on August 31, the Rangers possessed an 8.5-game lead in the AL West. With such a significant lead with only a month to play, the Rangers didn't feel pressed to rush their star back into the lineup.
Beyond that point in the season, their lead never dropped below seven games, so the team preferred to let Hamilton rest and heal as much as possible rather than force him to play what would ultimately be meaningless regular season games.
It could be reasonably assumed that if the team needed him in a pressure-packed division race, Josh Hamilton could have played through the pain in order to keep his potent bat in the Texas lineup. Of course, we'll never know this for sure, but it is a fairly reasonable assumption.
Though it is not relevant in the MVP discussion, Hamilton was once against dominant in the ALCS, earning the series MVP award and propelling Texas into the World Series against San Francisco. His .350 batting average, seven RBI and 1.536 OPS were significantly responsible for Texas' severe dismantling of the Yankees.
Though he disappeared in the World Series, Hamilton was one of the prime reasons that the Rangers were able to progress so deeply, and he will be one of the major factors in their belief that they may soon return to the Fall Classic.
With the 2010 AL MVP now in his trophy cabinet, Hamilton can look forward to chasing an even bigger prize: a World Series championship. If his health can cooperate, we should expect to seem Josh Hamilton's name among the top players vying for the award for at least the next several seasons. His talent and renewed dedication to the game he loves should make him a worthy candidate for years to come.