Of C.J. Wilson, Josh Hamilton and Cabbage Soup
“How is it they live in such harmony the billions of stars – when most men can barely go a minute without declaring war in their minds about someone they know.”
St. Thomas Aquinas
The Rangers have their home opener on Friday and the Angels are the opposing team, which means Josh Hamilton and C.J. Wilson will be in the other dugout.
Wilson was a fifth round pick by the Rangers in 2001 out of Loyola Marymount who missed all of 2004 because of Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery and was rushed in 2005 to the big leagues – imagine that – by a team utterly desperate for pitching. He got off to a rocky start but in 2006 had earned himself a spot in the bullpen.
No doubt he came off as brash and cocky – although that really came later – but he was guilty in the first degree of having considerable confidence in his considerable ability as a pitcher and an overwhelming desire to have a high-profile role on the pitching staff.
By 2008 he was the Rangers closer but came down with an elbow injury that required surgery and he was back as a setup reliever in 2009. He asked for a chance to start and the Rangers gave it to him, although with no promises.
But Wilson won a spot in the rotation by knockout – just as Matt Harrison would do two years later – and in 2010-11 he won a combined 31 games. The Rangers also just happened to win two division titles and went to the World Series both times.
Wilson also had some exotic outside interests like auto racing, photography and surfing – certainly different than the usual golf, hunting and fishing – and he wasn’t shy about offering opinions – condescending or otherwise – on any subject broached by the inquisitive members of the media that he had not yet alienated. He also raised a substantial amount of money for children through his charity events.
Wilson’s post-season work wasn’t particularly dazzling although one might argue that a shutout in Game 2 of the 2010 division series against the Rays was relatively important considering the Rangers won in
five. The other games weren’t quite as good. A pitch-by-pitch or even play-by-play dissection might be revealing but let’s just say he wasn’t Colby Lewis.
Then he became a free agent and the Rangers didn’t seem particularly interested, preferring to focus on Yu Darvish instead and that certainly seems to be working out well. So Wilson signed a big contract with the Angels, who were more than eager to add him to their rotation.
Now for Hamilton.
He was a tremendous talent gone to waste, having missed almost four complete seasons because of drug and alcohol abuse. Then he pulled his life together with the help of some deeply-held religious convictions and earned reinstatement back into baseball.
The Reds were the ones who gave him a chance in the Majors but traded him after his rookie season to the Rangers for a talented young pitcher who, a sad story in itself, has not been missed.
Hamilton turned out to be a big hit in Texas, both because of his inspiring comeback and his awe-inspiring talents. Most of all he was a tremendous player and he too had something to do with the Rangers getting to two World Series, what being the AL MVP and the ALCS MVP and hitting a home run for that would have been remembered for eternity if the Rangers had been able to get three outs in the bottom of the 10th…well you know how that turned out.
Hamilton was unique in his own way but he wore the Rangers uniform and as long as he produced, all the other stuff seemed to be tolerated including the two well-known alcohol relapses.
Everybody also remembers 2012: the four-homer game, the tremendous start, the mid-season slump and the drive to the division title that came up short. He had bizarre eye problem late in the season, the dropped fly ball in Oakland and then nothing in the playoff game.
Every step of the way people kept asking him about his contract and impending free agency. Hamilton – unlike his admirably circumspect agent – couldn’t resist talking about it and nothing ever good comes from talking about money in sports.
But he did become a free agent and apparently the Rangers either didn’t try hard enough or misunderstood one of Hamilton’s many bewildering statements about the process. So he ended up in Southern California, his wife started talking about dating other people and the Rangers had to find other ways to improve the ballclub.
And now people keep asking him about Texas and the answers are once again all over the map, something about North Texas being football country – really? – and waxing poetic about true baseball fans.
Hey, what do the Rangers care when their Minor League left-handed pitchers all have better pickoff moves. That had to be a highlight of the spring in Surprise and one other place in Florida, and is quite pertinent to the discussion at hand.
See this is not about football vs. baseball but of selective memory; what is remembered about one person may be quite incongruous to what is recalled about others, and some seemingly egregious transgressions are easily wiped from collective memories and ledgers than far lesser babblings. It all falls on who gets the blame; and who slides on the Teflon and ends up in the front seat in August.
It’s all about sound bites and nonsensical quotes mattering more than home runs and wins, the pop culture obsession of style over substance, for these are the Rangers and always remember for whom the gods create, in the end they must also destroy.
Remember it was H.L. Mencken who once said that someone who upon observing that a rose smells better than a cabbage, concludes that it will also make a better soup.