I’ve been a die-hard sports fan ever since I was in the third grade back in 2001. I cannot think of a more fascinating athlete that has put on a jersey for the Mavericks, Cowboys, Stars, FC Dallas or Rangers in the time I’ve been a fan than Joshua Holt Hamilton. Not the straight and narrow Dirk Nowitzki or any of the somewhat faceless Dallas Cowboys, it’s Josh Hamilton. A baseball player who had more talent than nearly any player he ever went against. The type of hitter who was capable of putting up monstrous numbers. A defensive player who was never afraid to give up his body to make a highlight-worthy play. Unfortunately, also a man who had a never ending parade of off the field issues that led to his body crumbling long before his potential said it should have.
When Hamilton arrived in Texas via trade back in 2008, he was a disgraced former number one overall draft pick who had missed over three seasons of baseball due to drug and alcohol addiction. After having a solid season with the Cincinnati Reds in 2007, the Texas Rangers had big expectations for Hamilton to be a game-changing bat in the middle of their lineup in a new era under second year manager Ron Washington. Josh Hamilton did not disappoint at all in the 2008 season. In his first full major league season, “Hambone” hit .304 with 32 home runs and an outlandish 130 runs batted in. If you take a look at his splits for the 2008 season, his first half was incredible with 19 home runs and 80 runs batted in through the month of June. I would be surprised if any 2018 Rangers reach that many runs batted in for their entire season this year.
Unsurprisingly with those type of numbers, Hamilton was named an American League All-Star and invited to participate in the Home Run Derby. After battling multiple addictions that had almost made him lose everything, the then 27-year-old North Carolina boy had battled back and was living out his baseball dream by taking part in the Home Run Derby in what was the final year of the historic first version of Yankee Stadium in New York. That legendary Derby performance is somehow now ten years old and fellow Rangers writer Garrett Jones and I (Dylan Duell) decided to share our memories of the incredible night in the Bronx that should never be forgotten.
Garrett: There was something romantic about Josh Hamilton’s performance in the 2008 Home Run Derby; seeing him launch balls 500 feet into the New York night. That was my first year as a baseball fan; and it stood out to see him doing this all at Yankee Stadium in its final year.
Honestly, it was a testament to his whole career. Josh was a true shooting star; shining brightly one minute, and gone the next.
Even with the 2010 American League MVP Award, or with his contributions to a pair of AL pennant-winning teams, perhaps Hamilton’s performance at the 2008 derby is what baseball fans will remember the most about his enigmatic career.
How familiar were you with Hamilton’s story prior to the Derby and what does it add to the moment?
Dylan: If you followed the Rangers at all at that point, Josh Hamilton was the main event for the organization. His incredibly successful first half of the season put a national spotlight on him and all Texas baseball fans became well aware of the troubling past of their new star.
It definitely adds an emotional and zesty element to a big time performance on the national stage at Yankee Stadium. There have been other comparable Derby performances like Bobby Abreu’s 24 first round homers in Detroit at the Derby in 2005, but hardly anyone, besides Bobby’s parents, really remembers that. Hamilton’s 28 first round homers at Yankee Stadium after battling addictions? Unforgettable.
Garrett: Watching the team that summer, I think I speak for Rangers fans when I say we knew and were growing to love Hamilton and his story at that point in the season. But nationally, I think his home run derby performance was the culmination of the summer of Josh. His stat line was incredible at that point, and his All-Star selection really validated that, and brought his story into public light. Still, with the Rangers being often overlooked in the national eye, it was really cool to see him burst onto the national scene like that.
A lot of iconic sports moments leave you remembering where you saw them and the people who saw it with you. What about for this event?
Dylan: Like so many iconic sports moments of my youth, I watched this at home with my little brother. I was 15 at the time, so no sports bar for me, but I can only imagine what soaking this in might have been like. When you’re without a drivers license, you soak in sports moments on your parent’s couch with your dad snoring next to you by 8:30. Then laughing at him doing so with his mouth slightly ajar with your sibling by your side.
Garrett: I remember being glued to the TV at home watching him go to work. My brother was in and out of the room, but it would’ve taken a bulldozer to get me out of the living room. It was can’t-miss stuff. I specifically recall hearing a family member a few days after say “I don’t even watch baseball, but I was losing my mind in excitement watching him.”
What was the best part about his performance?
Dylan: There were a ton of heart-warming elements to the moment. Whether it be Hamilton overcoming his addictions to get to this stage, or his high school batting practice pitcher Clay Counsil coming to the Big Apple to share this moment with Josh. The best part about the night to me is remembering how many times Josh would just stop and smile. He’d look around and laugh probably because he didn’t know what else to do. Considering all the non-magical moments at the tail end of his career, it’s great to have this memory of him smiling and genuinely enjoying playing the game.
Garrett: I think the best part was as Rangers fans, we all loved seeing All-Star teammates Milton Bradley, Ian Kinsler, Michael Young draped over Hamilton’s shoulders, giddy with excitement over what they were watching unfold. It was special to have all four of those guys there as part of the All-Star Game, but it was even better to see their chemistry on display and how much they truly cared about Hamilton and his performance.
Hamilton would eventually lose in the finals to then Minnesota Twins first baseman Justin Morneau. Does him ultimately losing the competition take anything away from the legend of this performance?
Garrett: After 28 bombs in all in the first round, I remember being shocked that he didn’t end up winning. Justin Morneau put on a clinic in the final round, and a combination of nerves and fatigue probably got the best of Josh. I was legitimately upset that he didn’t pull it off; that kind of performance will really engage the viewer. It doesn’t tarnish the legacy of it in my opinion; it would’ve just made for a true story-book performance if he pulled it off.
Dylan: Much like the Slam Dunk Contest at the NBA’s All-Star Weekend, the derby isn’t really won by who hoists the trophy at the end of the night, it’s won by who has the moment/performance that people will still remember years to come. I literally remember nothing about Justin Morneau’s performance this night besides the image of him holding up the trophy. Josh’s countless 500 foot bombs are like pulling off some impossible dunk that sends Twitter into a frenzy and gets a score of a 50 from the judges.
Where does this moment rank in your favorite Texas Rangers memories?
Garrett: It’s a top-four memory for me, behind the spectacle (not the results) of the 2010 and 2011 World Series, and Hamilton’s four-homer game in May 2012. It’s the greatest single “game” performance from a Ranger other than that quad-dinger showing in Baltimore, and the fact that it was on a national stage in New York really validated the whole thing for me personally.
Dylan: Pre-postseason success starting in 2010? This is definitely number one for me. Once you start to factor in great postseason moments like Cliff Lee’s shutdown performance in the winner-take-all game five of the 2010 ALDS for the Rangers’ first ever playoff series win or Neftali Feliz striking out Alex freaking Rodriguez to send the Rangers to their first ever World Series in that same postseason, regular season or exhibition types of things like this begin to slip. However, this is a no doubt top ten Ranger memory and no matter what else happened with Josh Hamilton later, this will be my everlasting memory of him.
Ten years have passed since Hamilton sent dozens of balls deep into the New York City sky in front of millions of viewers. He would go on to have multiple tense exits, comebacks, etc. He only played nine overall seasons, but his impact on anyone who ever saw him play the game day in and day out will stick with them forever. It’s hard to come up with another player who simply could put on the type of show that Josh could on any given day.
To put it in terms of other sports, if he played basketball, he was the type of player you knew was capable of dropping 60 points on any given night. If he were a running back, a 250 yard rushing day could probably become fairly routine. Unfortunately, if his head wasn’t right, he could foul out early in the 4th quarter of an enormous game. Or he wouldn’t even be able to play at all because of his many nagging injuries.
Warts and all, Josh Hamilton is a player the DFW sports fan will never forget. Among his myriad of accomplishments and feats, this one night ten years ago might be the one he remembers most fondly. It was fitting that he chose the Fall Out Boy anthem “Centuries” as his walk-up song after coming back to the Rangers in 2015. The lyrics of the chorus speak the truth for DFW’s relationship with Hamilton:
“Some legends are told,
Some turn to dust or to gold.
You will remember me,
Remember me for centuries.”
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