Commentary

Josh Hamilton's motor always running

Asking oft-injured Rangers slugger to scale back style on field is asking the impossible

Updated: May 25, 2011, 12:16 AM ET
By Jim Reeves | ESPNDallas.com

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Somebody Up There definitely has a sense of humor. A smattering of the first fans to receive the Josh Hamilton figurines that were handed out at The Ballpark in Arlington on Monday night were dismayed to find that they came with an actual broken arm.

Seriously, you couldn't make this stuff up.

Josh Hamilton
Tim Heitman/US PresswireJosh Hamilton, who homered in his return, scoffs at the notion that he should be more cautious.
Exactly one day short of six weeks since he went on the disabled list with a broken right arm, Hamilton celebrated his return to the Texas Rangers' lineup by lining the second pitch he saw into lower Home Run Porch, providing the instant offense his team has so desperately lacked in his and Nelson Cruz's absence.

The Rangers welcomed both All-Stars back with fully healthy open arms Monday night. Cruz smacked a two-run homer in the sixth and Hamilton doubled and came home on a sacrifice fly in the eighth in a 4-0 win over the Chicago White Sox, meaning the two returnees had a hand in every run the Rangers scored.

You think these guys haven't been missed for the past month or so? Before Monday night, the Rangers had scored just four runs over their previous 27 innings and had scored two or less in four straight games.

Hamilton's stint on the DL was his third in three seasons and doesn't even include the fact that he was sidelined most of September with two fractured ribs. His frequent injuries -- the result of bouncing off outfield walls, diving for sinking line drives and head-first slides at the plate -- have revived speculation that his history of drug abuse may have left him as fragile as those plastic figurines fans took home Monday night.

The second half of that notion is that Hamilton must somehow change his style of play to avoid such injuries.

What those "experts" don't seem to realize is that such a philosophy would have been akin to asking Secretariat to run at half speed or Pete Rose to have been something other than "Charlie Hustle." It would have been like asking Michael Jordan to jump only half as high to save his legs.

Impossible, in other words.

You don't ask a thoroughbred to voluntarily become a plowhorse. At least not unless you're asking for a swift kick in the rear, something Hamilton occasionally seemed inclined to deal out himself when he became irritated with the line of questioning prior to Monday night's game.

"Somebody asked me, 'How much longer can you play?' And I said, 'However long God has planned already for me,' " Hamilton said. "He gave me the ability to play the game a certain way. It wouldn't be giving him glory or justification of that if I didn't do it the way I need to do it. So, I'm going to play hard."

The question is whether he can somehow balance playing hard and playing smart. That's what manager Ron Washington wants to see.

"There is a way to play smart; the playing hard part is something he already does," Washington said. "I don't want him to not do what the game asks him to do. When you ask someone to play some other way than they know how to play, then suddenly they get tentative and you can't play baseball being tentative.

"Playing smart is realizing that you really don't have a chance at a ball so don't leave your feet and dive unnecessarily. Just don't take any chances. That's the way you play smart."

[+] EnlargeNelson Cruz
AP Photo/Matt StrasenNelson Cruz joined Hamilton in homering in his return from the DL in the win over the White Sox.
It's just such a difficult thing to do in middle of a game, when snap judgments have to be made moment to moment.

"It's such a fine line because when you're in action, when you're in the midst of doing something you need to do to help the team win, you just think about doing that," Hamilton said.

The player who hesitates loses the chance to make a play that might make the difference between winning and losing. That's not how major league players learned to play the game.

"Sure, you'd like to stay in there for the rest of the year, but I can't say I will be," Hamilton said. "A play might come up where I go after it hard, like I normally do, and something might happen. I can't not play hard. Does that make sense?"

Absolutely. Washington wouldn't have it any other way, which is why he didn't give Hamilton or Cruz any pregame pep talk about being cautious out there. The best the manager could do was start Hamilton at DH instead of in the field.

Ironically, Wayne Krivsky, the man who traded Hamilton to Texas for Edinson Volquez three years ago when Krivsky was general manager of the Cincinnati Reds, was at The Ballpark on Monday night, scouting for the New York Mets. There was speculation at the time of the trade that the Reds were concerned about Hamilton's tendency for injury and worried that his drug-use history might make him more susceptible to getting hurt.

But Krivsky wasn't having any of that.

"I don't know," said Krivsky, who broke into baseball as an assistant GM in Texas in the '80s. "What do the doctors say?"

Nobody knows, but Hamilton thinks it's all hogwash and made that clear to a reporter who bounced the theory off him.

"Let me ask you a question: How many hamstrings have I pulled? How many quads have I pulled? How many muscles have I torn?" Hamilton said. "Most of the time it's breaking bones hitting the wall, and I guarantee you that yours would break just as easy.

"I've been breaking bones. I tore my abdominal muscle off my pelvic bone hitting the wall. It was kind of like a 30 mile-an-hour car crash, with no car around you. People are going to say what they want to say; people are going to think what they want to think, mostly for a story purpose."

What Hamilton won't do is change the way he plays. He'll slide feet first most of the time, but not if the only way to be safe is to go head first. If he believes he can catch the ball, the walls won't stop him from trying. It's in his genes. Let him play his game; it's why we love him so.

"[I'm just] diving into bases and just playing the game the way it should be played," he said. "Maybe I should just slack off, just hang out and let balls hit in front of me, play it nice and easy but I don't get paid to do that and the fans don't pay admission to watch me do that. And I'm not going to do that."

Instead of criticizing him for that, he should be applauded. Most of the fans seemed to understand that Monday night, welcoming him back with a standing ovation in his first at-bat.

Even the ones whose Josh Hamilton figurines came with a broken arm.

Jim Reeves, a former columnist with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, is a regular contributor to ESPNDallas.com.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

ALSO SEE

MORE MLB HEADLINES