My Sportsman: Josh Hamilton
This has nothing to do with substances once ingested, injected and snorted. Nor with bizarre and disfiguring tattoos acquired in a stupor produced by those substances. Nor, even, with Josh Hamilton's recovery from his years-long addiction to those substances, a recovery so tenuous that he still cannot carry with him large bills, even though he is now a millionaire several times over, because he knows that even his 6-4, 240-pound body might still be unable to resist the gravitational pull of those substances.
No, Hamilton is not my nominee for Sportsman of the Year based, in any measure, on anything he did prior to the flipping of the calendar's page to 2010. He is my nominee in spite of what he used to do. He is my nominee because, in 2010, he was not only the most dominant player in Major League Baseball, but, arguably, the most singularly dominant player in any sport that is currently widely played.
At 29, he led the majors in batting average (.359) and in slugging percentage (.633) and in on-base-plus-slugging percentage (1.044), but in practice his dominance exceeded even those statistics. He was such a force in the American League Championship Series that the Yankees decided that they would rather intentionally put him on base in order to face Vladimir Guerrero, who has himself been intentionally walked more than all but three other players in baseball history, and who drove in more runs this year than all but five others. Yankees manager Joe Girardi had his pitchers intentionally walk Hamilton five times in the six-game ALCS, but still Hamilton found enough at-bats to hit four home runs, and to drive in seven runs, and to win the series' MVP award as he led his long-moribund franchise to its first World Series appearance. In that series, a national audience discovered what Rangers fans, and Girardi too, already knew: That on the list of batters who can beat you by themselves, there is Hamilton, and then there is Albert Pujols, and then everybody else.
With Hamilton, there always exists the sense that his greatness might be ephemeral. That he might go out one night with a thick wallet in the back pocket of his jeans and never return. That the all-or-nothing style with which he has lived his life -- off the field, formerly, and on it, currently -- might preclude him from establishing a sustained career. He thrilled the baseball world by hitting 18 -- 18! -- more home runs than he needed to escape the first two rounds of the 2008 Home Run Derby at Yankee Stadium, but had little left for the final, and lost to Justin Morneau, even though no one remembers that fact. He persists in throwing his body into outfield walls and into the centerfield turf, in order to ensure that no catchable drive ends up uncaught, even though he knows -- and his team has told him -- that sometimes allowing a single, or a triple, is worth it, if it means that he'll be able to keep striding to the plate.
He missed most of September after he crashed into a wall and broke two ribs, and he is injury-prone. Doctors have suggested that the trauma through which he put his body in his early 20s might have left him unusually fragile, might have scarred his internal anatomy in a way similar to that of his skin, which still bears those 26 tattoos that he won't remove, as a reminder of what he used to be, and might easily be again.
Still, this nomination is not about Josh Hamilton's past, and it is not about his future. It is solely about his present. And in 2010, Hamilton was baseball's best player and would make for an eminently worthy Sportsman of the Year.