Monday, November 22, 2010

AL MVP Award: A Chance at Redemption

Tomorrow afternoon, Josh Hamilton will be awarded the American League MVP award.  I’m not even going to preface that statement with the terms “likely” or “probably”.  He is going to win the award.  It’s a guarantee.  Hamilton put together a fantastic season that was unrivaled by his American League peers.  If that wasn’t enough, Hamilton’s of story of redemption is enough to break nearly any tie.  The only question that remains in my mind is whether or not he wins the award unanimously.  I think he probably does, but I’m not going to make any guarantees on that.  The BBWAA if filled with voters that seem to have no rhyme or reason for voting in the manner in which they do.  (See Dejan Kovacevic of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette who left Jason Heyward off of his ballot in favor of two undeserving Pirates rookies.)

Statistically, Hamilton had few peers.  He finished first in the AL in batting average (.359), SLG (.633), wOBA (.447), OPS (1.044), wRAA (57.6), and WAR (8.0); second in OBP (.411); fifth in home runs (32); eleventh in runs scored (95); and twelfth in RBI (100) and doubles (40).  To top it off, he played above average defense in both center and left (7.9 UZR, +7 DRS) and was a positive asset on the bases (worth +3.0 runs on the EQBRR scale).  Hamilton was at his most impressive from June 1st through September 4th (when he got injured) hitting .410/.461/.717 with 27 doubles, 22 home runs, and 70 RBI.  During his torrid stretch, the Rangers went 48-34 (.585 winning percentage), thereby increasing the Rangers division lead by eight games over the Oakland Athletics.  Hamilton was the engine that drove the Rangers, and he drove it back to the playoffs for the first time since 1999. 

While Hamilton’s on-field performance was the most important factor in winning the MVP award, it won’t likely be the most talked about reason.  As pretty much everyone knows, Hamilton has suffered through a great deal of adversity over the years.  Tampa Bay had high hopes for Hamilton after drafting him with the overall number one pick in 1999.  Through his first two professional seasons, he developed exactly as they’d hoped showing an ability to hit for power and average, while playing above average outfield defense.  In 2001, Hamilton was involved in a serious car accident, which caused him to miss most of the season.  Around the same time, he started abusing drugs and alcohol.  While Hamilton played generally played well 2002, he suffered from lingering issues that caused him to miss significant action.  The next four seasons were a constant struggle.  His behavior was erratic, and he shuffled in and out of rehab.  In 2006, Hamilton successfully completed rehab, and returned to baseball late in the season. 

While Hamilton’s return to baseball was initially successful, many in baseball openly questioned whether he would ever be able to reach the potential he once showed.  Tampa Bay, tired of waiting for him to develop, left him off of the 40 man roster, and exposed him to the Rule V draft.  The Chicago Cubs selected him with the third pick in the draft, and promptly traded him to the Cincinnati Reds for cash.  Being forced to keep Hamilton in the majors for the entire season (or else risk being forced to send Hamilton back to Tampa) the Reds gave him a job as their utility outfielder.  Hamilton started the season very strong, and within a couple of weeks had seized the starting CF job.  Exhibiting many of the skills he flashed during his early seasons in the minors, Hamilton had completed his improbable comeback.  His story doesn’t end there.  Prior to the 2008 season, Hamilton was traded to the Texas Rangers for starting pitcher Edinson Volquez.  After an insanely hot start to the season, Hamilton was selected to his first All-Star team, and was asked to participate in the Home Run Derby.  At the Home Run Derby, he put on an unbelievable show by breaking records for home runs hit.  While he didn’t end up winning the Derby, he certainly put a cap on his unbelievable comeback. 

I’m not one to enjoy human interest pieces.  In fact, when ESPN plays those pieces on Sportscenter or E60, I usually change the channel as fast as I can.  Hamilton’s a little different.  He’s a guy that hit rock bottom, and somehow found the will to scratch and claw his way back.  I have a lot of respect for someone that can do that.  This MVP award is not only a validation of his tremendous season, but his new lease on life.  He deserves it.  He’s been through hell and back.  

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