JEFF PEARLMAN

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

Josh Hamilton

Remember when you were a kid, and you took ownership of athletes? Meaning you sort of adopted certain players as your own, almost as if they were relatives. In baseball, mine were Ken Griffey, Sr. and Garry Templeton. In football, Freeman McNeil and John Jefferson. In basketball, Pearl Washington and John Sundvold.

I’m not a kid anymore. And neither are you. But, in 2010, I sorta feel as if Josh Hamilton is my guy. Just a little.

Back in 1999, when I was still a cub at Sports Illustrated, the magazine asked me to profile this kid from North Carolina who was about to be the No. 1 pick in baseball’s June draft. He was a skinny guy with a warm disposition and soft voice. I sat with him and his mother inside an office at the high school gym. They were both delightful, and I couldn’t wait to one day say, “I knew Josh Hamilton when …”

I knew Josh Hamilton when.

He just homered against the Yankees tonight, giving Texas a 2-0 lead. What he has overcome—addiction, addiction, addiction—is absolutely amazing and, as far as I’m concerned, the best comeback story I’ve ever seen in any genre of sports or theatre or music or politics. He was all but dead, and nobody—n-o-b-o-d-y—thought they’d ever see him again. I remember, in 2003, asked Chuck LeMar, the Rays’ GM at the time, about his club’s talented young outfielders. He mentioned Carl Crawford and Rocco Baldelli and Joey Gathright—but no Hamilton. Again, he was dead.

Now, he’s the A.L. MVP.

Amazing.