#10: Josh Hamilton
“Addiction is a humbling experience. Getting it under control is even more humbling. I got better for one reason: I surrendered.”
When the Texas Rangers celebrated their Game 5 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays in the MLB playoffs this past October, the usual celebratory shenanigans began. Clubhouse lockers were covered in plastic, and players sported their victory goggles.
Josh Hamilton couldn’t help but feel a little nervous. He’s one of the best players in baseball, but he’s also an addict in recovery. Being doused in champagne might not be the best thing for his sobriety.
But he didn’t need to worry: out of respect, his teammates were popping ginger ale instead.
Ten days later, after the Rangers beat the New York Yankees to advance to the World Series, Hamilton met with a small group of reporters outside the door that led to the Rangers’ clubhouse.
This time, there was at least some celebratory champagne. The odor wafted out of locker room and into to the area where Hamilton was fielding questions from the assembled reporters.
In the middle of one response, Hamilton suddenly paused. “Uh oh. I smell champagne,” he said, smiling cautiously, before continuing.
The scene was an example of the daily challenges Hamilton faces. Every day, in a world filled with alcohol consumption and promotion, he fights to stay sober.
It’s hard to believe that the number-one overall pick in the 1999 Major League Baseball draft is only five years removed from his crack- and alcohol-fueled descent into the darkest throes of addiction, when he blew most of his $4 million signing bonus and was suspended indefinitely from the game.
It made Hamilton’s stone-sober 2007 Major League debut an impressive feat in and of itself. But he went on to smash 28 home in the first round of the 2008 Home Run Derby, setting the single-round record. Then, this past season, he led the Rangers to their first ever World Series berth. While the Rangers failed to best the San Francisco Giants, losing in five games, Hamilton learned shortly after his season ended that he had been named the American League’s Most Valuable Player.
A comeback? Josh Hamilton’s ascent was nothing short of remarkable.
Nonetheless, there have been bumps in the road. In 2009, he endured the embarrassment of having photos of him in a bar (allegedly drunk, definitely shirtless) splashed across the Internet. The slip-up acted as a reminder that, for Hamilton, the battle is far from over. Behind the muscles, tattoos, and gaudy power numbers is an addict in recovery, still vulnerable and prone to mistakes.
But while Hamilton continues to battle with sobriety—and will have to do so for the rest of his life—his MVP performance this past season acts as a singular, defining display of his otherworldly potential; it’s a testament to the power of his own faith, a reminder of his athletic gifts, and a tribute to the inner strength that can exist not just in a burly slugger, but in all of us.
The Top 10 Good Men of 2010
10) Josh Hamilton
7) Mick Foley
5) Barack Obama
3) Dan Savage