Thursday, November 25, 2010

Rangers' Josh Hamilton wins AL MVP, but that's not what defines him

By Gil LeBreton
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
November 23, 2010

Texas Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton shakes hands with Dominique Cushenberry, 9, on Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2010, in Arlington, Texas. Hamilton was at the ballpark to give away food for Thanksgiving to the needy. He was named the American League's Most Valuable Player earlier Tuesday. (AP)

ARLINGTON -- His baseball talents distinguish him, but Josh Hamilton's own humility is what defines him.

Sadly, we live in cynical times. We revel in the fallen star, not the abiding saint.

We live in cynical times. A national magazine does a cover story on him during his breakout 2008 season, and calls him "the unbelievable Josh Hamilton."

Reporters interview him, and then roll their eyes when Hamilton begins with a testimony to his Christian faith.

But the Rangers' Hamilton soldiers on, scaling walls and fending off his demons one day at a time.

Most valuable player? How about most valuable husband, father, teammate, and inspiration to a community?

Awards don't define him, Hamilton contended Tuesday.

"I talked about it after the Home Run Derby, after making that last out and not winning the thing," Hamilton said of his 2008 performance at the All-Star Game.

"It's not about the awards. It's not about the accolades. It's about how I glorify Him in everything I do."

He was talking about his faith again.

To write anything in depth about Josh Hamilton these days and to omit his frequent references to his Lord is to ignore the soul and substance of the man.

"I've talked before about being in this position and sharing my faith with people, how that's the most important thing to me," he said.

"Baseball is something I do, but it's not who I am."

He won it in a landslide, as it turned out. Of the 28 ballots cast by baseball writers in each American League city, Hamilton was named first on 22 of them.

A landslide, despite an anxiously slow start and despite missing nearly all of the season's final month.

Hamilton does that to people. He swats outside pitches into left field and drives in the go-ahead run. He clouts homers deep into the Arlington night.

He runs like a deer. He crashes into walls. He anchors, the numbers say, the best-hitting lineup in baseball.

And one day soon, Hamilton is going to be very expensive.

Officially, his contract remains under franchise control. Most baseball 29-year-olds have reached their initial free-agent years. Hamilton, alas, spent his first seasons in substance rehab.

What it means is that the Rangers have no previous contracts to compare before they soon push a pile of money across the table to Hamilton.

The chart can't account for a 29-year-old with a cannon arm and now a Most Valuable Player award, with a near-tragic stretch in his past and daily prayers in his future.

Free agent pitcher Cliff Lee remains the Rangers' No. 1 priority in this off-season. But once general manager Jon Daniels finishes filling the holes in the club, his attentions should rightfully shift to Hamilton.

Ideally, the Rangers likely will be looking to sign Hamilton this winter to a multiyear deal that, in effect, buys out his remaining arbitration-eligible years as well as his first few free agency seasons.

First things first. Hamilton signed a one-year, $3.25 million contract before the 2010 season. Even without free agency, the league's most valuable player is going to be due a sizeable raise.

The Phillies' Ryan Howard and the Twins' Justin Morneau both parlayed MVP seasons into premium raises. Morneau's deal was for six years and $80 million. Howard's initial post-MVP contract was for three years, $54 million.

Both, however, were younger than Hamilton, who may get only one chance at free agency. The Rangers likely will have to pay a premium for Hamilton to relinquish that.

"I stay out of it," Hamilton said Tuesday, insisting that his agent will do his bidding. "I'm just going to enjoy the off-season, the holidays, and whatever happens, happens.

"I'm just excited about the fact that the better I do, the more opportunities I'll have to help a lot more people."

The four priorities in his life remain the same, Hamilton said.

"God first, humility second, family third, sobriety and then baseball," he said.

That doesn't mean that money isn't important to Hamilton.

"You have to live," he said.

There are people to help, Hamilton repeated. Mouths to feed. Thanksgiving turkeys to give away. Sanctuaries to build.

Most valuable player. Most valuable provider.

He'll be worth it.

Gil LeBreton, 817-390-7697

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