One of the big stories for the Texas Rangers in the spring of 2008 was the addition of centerfielder Josh Hamilton. Acquired from the Cincinnati Reds in a controversial deal involving highly-touted young righthander Edinson Volquez, one of the heralded "DVD" trio of young pitchers who were supposed to lead the Rangers to greatness, the deal drew a great amount of criticism from the D/FW media, who wondered why a team that always seemed to have plenty of hitting but never had any pitching was giving away one of its best arms for a hitter.
And not just any hitter. Hamilton, the #1 overall draft pick in 1999, was basically out of baseball from 2003 through 2005, and had just 100 minor league plate appearances in 2006 and 2007, as he battled drug addiction. The Cincinnati Reds had taken a flyer on him in the Rule 5 draft, and had been rewarded with a 922 OPS in 298 at bats, but there was a sense among many that the Reds were selling high. Hamilton was damaged goods, and even if he many praised Cincy for getting a high upside major league ready arm for Hamilton before injuries or an inevitable relapse knocked him back out of the game.
When Hamilton arrived for spring training, he knew the drill. He was going to have to get up in front of the media and answer questions, talk about his drug addiction, talk about the years he wasted and the abuse he put his body through, knowing that in the minds of his audience there was that unspoken question: "If you fell off the wagon before, how do we know you won't do it again?" Hamilton had to know that the media, the fans, and even his teammates would be skeptical of his story, his professions of faith, and his assurance that he was on the straight and narrow.
And at that press conference, there was a small gesture...one that was unexpected, and seemingly minor, but that Hamilton spoke later about having appreciated, and which seemed to symbolize this new Rangers team.
Michael Young, Ian Kinsler, and Hank Blalock, three of the veteran leaders of the club, showed up at the press conference and stood in the back. Not to judge, not to question, but to show their support for their new teammate.
It was a far cry from the situation in Cincinnati, where some of the veterans looked upon Hamilton negatively, and where there were whispers that the Hamilton trade was motivated in part by the Reds' desire to placate Ken Griffey, Jr. There were those who suggested that Griffey wanted Hamilton, and the attention he drew to himself (and away from Junior), gone.
The Rangers vets seemed to be telling Hamilton, you're one of us, and we've got your back.
That 2008 team got off to a terrible start, and there was talk that new president Nolan Ryan might let second year manager Ron Washington go. But Washington maintained the support of his players, who were vocal in backing their manager. The Rangers players similarly rallied around Hamilton two years ago, after the news broke that he had had a relapse, and last spring, when it was revealed that Ron Washington had failed a drug test in 2009.
In the second half of 2008, the Texas Rangers started winning ballgames, and still haven't stopped. They appeared in the World Series last year, and one of the stories from the playoffs that the national media hit on was what a tightknit group of players the Rangers were, what a good group Texas had, a group of guys who liked playing baseball together and looked out for each other.
That, of course, wasn't news to those of us who had been following this team for a while.