As we all learned last year with the Red Sox, late-season collapse doesnt always bring out the best in people. In fact, you can be pretty much guarantee it will bring out the very worst.
In the aftermath of baseball disaster, youll see people lie, gossip, scapegoat and cram the entire world under a bus. Youll see them leak rumors about pill-popping and marital unrest. Youll see owners slip and fall on their yachts. Youll see Armageddon-like chaos that makes you question the shelf life of society. Like, holy crap, if a baseball team can make people this crazy, what happens when theres a real problem?
Then again, Bostons most definitely the extreme. And thats a massive understatement. Like saying that Olivia Munns cute, or Steve Jobs was bright. They say that everythings bigger in Texas, but even native-son Josh Beckett will admit that when it comes to celebrating baseball disaster nobody does it bigger than Boston. Im not sure thats something were proud of, but its something that we can never deny.
However, in 2012, the Red Sox werent quite good enough to collapse. Sure, they were just as pathetic in September, but falling from 15 games to 24 games back in the Wild Card doesnt leave the same sting as going from first place in the AL East to six straight weeks of everyone screaming about beer and fried chicken. So, with the Sox out of commission, the rights to this years biggest collapse were up for grabs
And the Texas Rangers not without some competition from the White Sox and Dodgers grabbed the torch.
Ron Washingtons crew came about as close as you can to going to wire-to-wire in the AL West this season. They led the division by 5.5 games on May 1, by 4.5 on June 1, by 5.5 on July 1, by four on August 1 and three games on September 1. But none of that matters as much as the fact that on September 24, the Rangers led the West by FIVE games with NINE to play. Thats a magic number of five.
They finished 2-7; the As finished 8-1.
With the division lost, Texas was relegated to the new-and-improved one-game-playoff, where they hosted Baltimore and were shut down by Joe Saunders. Just like that, the collapse was complete, the season was over commence total meltdown!
Or something like that.
Its no surprise that the good people of Texas have been slightly more laid back in the aftermath of their own disaster. Sure, people are angry. The fans want change! But in terms of honest to goodness scandal, the Rangers have been no match for the mighty Sox.
Although yesterday morning, things finally started to pick up, after Rangers president Nolan Ryan was asked a question (on ESPN Dallas radio) about Josh Hamilton.
As you know, Hamilton was the best player in baseball over the first two months of this season, before falling off a cliff. He hit .259 after the All-Star Break (while striking out once every 3.05 at bats) and was a major source of the Rangers struggles.
Hamilton has attributed the slump (at least in some part) to a side effect of trying to kick an addiction to smokeless tobacco. "Professionally, it's been plate discipline," he said in August. "Personally, it's been being obedient to the Lord in quitting chewing tobacco."
Anyway, heres Ryan:
(Hamiltons) timing on quitting smokeless tobacco couldnt have been worse. You wouldve liked to have thought that if he was going to do that that he wouldve done it in the offseason or waited until this offseason to do it. So the drastic effect that it had on him and the year that he was having up to that point in time that he did quit, youd have liked that he wouldve taken a different approach to that. So those issues caused unrest, and its unfortunate that it happened and the timing was such as it was.
As you can imagine, the medias reaction to Ryans comments has been predictably scathing. Hes been accused of being insensitive, of caring more about wins and loss than a players well being, of not understanding the consequences of tobacco use and of undermining Major League Baseball initiative to remove dipping from the game altogether.
First, as someone who recently quit "dip" after more than 10 years in the game, let me just say that I 100 percent believe that quitting had a negative effect on Hamiltons performance. I was a wreck after I quit, especially when I was forced to do something that I previously associated with dipping. Driving, writing, playing golf. It was impossible without a dip in my mouth. It's all I could think about. And I'm sure that Hamilton had this kind of connection with dip and baseball. It definitely affected him. Every time he jogged to the outfield, and every time he stepped in the batter's box.
And for that reason, I understand why Ryan's pissed. After all, this is more than just a game. This is a business. When the Rangers fall short like they did this year, people lose jobs; players get traded and entire families get uprooted; a ton of money goes by the wayside. And when your former MVP and third-highest paid player suddenly falls apart because he can't wait two months to quit dipping or worse, didn't quit a few months earlier you have every right to be angry. Especially when, morality aside, most players in Hamilton's position would have held off on the tobacco rehab in favor of stepping it up down the stretch. Right or wrong, they just would have.
But here's where we remember what, in the heat of this Rangers collapse, Nolan Ryan most definitely forgot Josh Hamilton is not most players.
I know we live in a world when no one is supposed to be considered different, but Hamilton is different. He's experienced things that 99 of the league couldn't fathom. He looks at things and deals with issues in a very particular way. After Ryan's comments, most criticisms were directed toward his perceived ignorance about the long term effects of tobacco use, and that's fine. But if you ask me, I'd guess that Hamilton's devotion to overcoming his addiction had very little to do with cancer. I mean, I'm sure it played a role, but with Hamilton it's about more than that. It's about keeping clean, and basically, staying alive.
And that's where Ryan missed. Hamilton's been so spectacular since making it to the big leagues, that I think it's sometimes easier to forget everything he went through before that. What a ridiculous struggle it must be to keep himself falling back into that hole. That Josh Hamilton is great story, but the story isn't over.
And it will be interesting to see what happens next for Hamilton. With the way last season ended, it's seems unlikely that he'll re-sign in Texas. That makes him 31-years-old, and coming off a three season stretch where he's averaged 33 homers and 107 RBI a year. This is when former MVPs like him make a killing. But honestly, who's ready to break the bank on Josh Hamilton?
I think we can rule out the Red Sox.
After all, while the Rangers may have claimed the 2012 award for "Baseball's biggest collapse," the Sox are still reeling from their 2011 title. They need to invest in a high-priced risk like I need to start dipping again; this is no time for them to take chances. But someone out there will. Whether it's in Chicago, Atlanta, Milwaukee or wherever, Hamilton will get another chance in another city, and keep fighting to ensure that this story has a happy ending.
And regardless of where he's playing, we all hope it does.