American society is starved for heroes. We immortalize individuals in the spotlight, placing overwhelming expectations on them. Texas Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton’s ongoing struggle with substance abuse captivated the nation while he was at the height of his career in 2008. Just one year later, though, America’s infatuation with Hamilton seems to be waning.
Hamilton captured the imagination of the nation putting up MVP-like statistics in 2008. He hit 32 home runs and drove in 130 runs while compiling a .302 batting average. The pinnacle of Hamilton’s season came in July when he wowed the crowd at old Yankee Stadium with a home run derby that would have made Mickey Mantle proud.
Hamilton’s story was particularly inspiring in light of his well-documented battle with substance abuse. From the No. 1 draft pick in 1999, Hamilton fell to such a low point that he was out of baseball for three seasons. But, Americans love the underdog and soaked up the legend of Josh Hamilton, cheering for him on and off the field. Over the last year, things have changed.
While the Rangers have improved since last year, Hamilton has not. The Rangers have compiled their best overall record in ten years, but Hamilton has struggled at the plate. He has only ten home runs, and has had several stints on the disabled list, causing him to miss 56 games this season.
To make matters worse, photos showing a shirtless Hamilton, intoxicated, and posing with scantily clad women at an Arizona bar surfaced this summer.
At first glance, Hamilton’s legacy may appear tarnished, but nothing could be farther from the truth.
Hamilton handled the controversy with a resolve far more impressive than his baseball comeback. He owned up to his mistake. He admitted he had fallen off the wagon. Baseball’s Superman had acknowledged his humanity. All too often, professional athletes and celebrities refuse to acknowledge their mistakes. Hamilton’s actions showed a level of maturity that is rarely imitated.
Josh Hamilton may never overcome his addictions; he is human after all. He may never be enshrined in the Hall of Fame. He may never capture our attention like he did at the home run derby that summer night in New York. These accomplishments aren’t what make Hamilton a hero, anyway. His resiliency and determination to win his fight are what should make him an inspiration. His struggle will prove to be far more difficult to face than any major league fastball, yet a victory will be far sweeter than any home run.