JEFF PEARLMAN

Coming October 2022: "The Last Folk Hero: The Life and Myth of Bo Jackson"

If you don’t love Josh Hamilton already …

… read this.

There are jerks in major league baseball, there are good guys in major league baseball—and there’s Josh Hamilton. The best of the best.

Many people probably look at his drug history and think, “What a waste.”

I don’t. I look at his drug history; look at where it’s led him, and think, “What a friggin’ blessing.” We often cliche ourselves into saying, “It’s the experiences in our lives that make us who we are … blah, blah, blah,” but it’s really true. The car accidents, the physical problems, the failed class, the arrest, the drug problems—overcoming obstacles; surviving the seemingly unsurvivable—that’s what makes us who we are. I love sunny days as much as the next guy. But when I think about the experiences that have contributed to my essence (for good or bad), they’re usually negative. Getting my ass kicked by John Degl (who, for the record, I’m quite certain is a great guy now) in ninth grade. Failing to get into my dream college. Seeing my dead grandmother on her bed. Nearly getting fired by The Tennessean for being an arrogant, mistake-prone moron. Getting dumped by my girlfriend. The struggles of different friends and relatives—the cancer scare of my college roommate; my good pal’s father dying young. All those things—those jarringly painful things—fortify our innards and allow us to survive.

And so, I believe, it is with Josh Hamilton. Had he never had the drug problems, there’s a good chance he’s another arrogant, clueless professional athlete, rich and praised, but relatively soulless. Me? I’ll take the Joshua Holt Hamilton I know and respect.

The one with the scars.

* UPDATE (Four hours after the initial post on Hamilton): I’m sitting in a New York City cafe, writing, watching the Home Run Contest on a nearby TV. I’ve never cared about the contest—it’s a gimmick, and I’ve long found Chris Berman’s nonstop Back! Back! Back! Back! bellowing mind-numbingly annoying. But watching Hamilton’s performance, after what he’s been through, well, it’s something I’ll never forget. I still remember 1999, when Dan Jennings, then with the Devil Rays, told me Hamilton had the most talent he’d seen since Alex Rodriguez—if not more. Tonight, America saw it.