Roy Exum: A New Murderer’s Row

Saturday, December 15, 2012 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

General George S. Patton, a masterful expert of character and leadership when he played a pivotal role in the outcome of World War II, once said rather famously, “I don't measure a man's success by how high he climbs but how high he bounces when he hits bottom.”  That is why today’s press conference by the Los Angeles Angels in Anaheim will be the biggest moment of the year in Major League Baseball.

Josh Hamilton, an admitted drug addict who has since become one of the greatest players of our time, is expected to be named the newest member of the “Halos,” which is big-league jargon for the Angels. Hamilton, who slapped 43 home runs for 128 RBIs this season for Texas, has signed a five-year deal for $125 million and, in doing so, conjures up the possibility of a modern-day “Murderer’s Row” unlike we’ve seen in the game since the 1927 Yankees.

Back then the Yankees batted .307 as a team with Earle Combs (.357) , Mark Koenig (.285), Babe Ruth (.356, 60 home runs)), Lou Gehrig (.373, 175 RBIs), Bob Muesel (.337), and Tony Lazzeri (102 RBIs) at the top of the order. It was incredible, with four of the six in the Hall of Fame, but suddenly Angels owner Arte Moreno is building a dynasty to compete, if not rule, the cross-town Dodgers and befuddle the Angels’ nemesis, the now downcast Rangers.

The shocking acquisition of Hamilton, who was the American League MVP in 2010, will put his hefty bat fourth in a lineup that includes three-time MVP Albert Pujols and the league’s biggest sensation, Mike Trout, and the Angels fans are so giddy they are looking at the engaging Hamilton to become the team’s superstar as he underwent a physical Friday before today’s big announcement.

You see, Hamilton brings a revered humility and “humanness” to Anaheim. A first-round draft pick out of high school in 1999, Josh fell prey to alcohol and drugs early in his career and was once actually banned from baseball. He went to a well-documented nine rehab facilities before his grandmother – stubbornly refusing to give up on him – finally got his life back on track.

In the last five years he has so famously starred in the outfield for Texas he’s been in every All-Star game but – more importantly – he has famously relapsed twice with his demons. Because he has admitted failure and started back over with a firm jaw and pure heart, his appeal in Texas has been far greater than had he just been a left-handed slugger aiming for the outfield fence.

Fans in Arlington always wanted more than an autograph. They longed to hear his story of redemption, to read his book, “Beyond Belief,” and to tell him of similar miracles in the titanic struggle between mankind and substance abuse. A born-again Christian, he usually gently smiles and says, “It’s a God thing” but Josh often speaks at churches and various meetings. Hollywood is now making a full-length movie about his life.

Clearly Texas lost more than the best player on the team. Rangers executives cried out as word came that Hamilton had signed with the Angels who reached such an accord with the free agent that he signed the contract. “I never expected that he was going to tell us to the dollar what they had, and a chance to offer it. Our full expectation, the phone call was going to be before he signed, and certainly not after," said a heartsick Rangers general manager Jon Daniels. "Everybody's got to make their own calls."

Daniels had believed the Rangers were still in the hunt but sources revealed Josh had told close friends it was time to move on. "Josh has done a lot for the organization, the organization has done a lot for Josh, a lot of things that aren't public and things of that nature," Daniels said. "I'm a little disappointed how it was handled, but he had a decision to make and he made it."

Neither the Angels nor Hamilton had a comment yesterday. Under Major League rules, the Angels are forbidden to comment until the deal is approved. That didn’t keep Pujols from talking. “I was shocked, I won't lie to you,'' Pujols told USA TODAY. "We talked this afternoon. (Hamilton) is really pumped up. So am I. He's going to perform and help our organization. We're blessed and excited to have him.''

Mark Saxon, of ESPN-Los Angeles, hit the nail one the head when he wrote: “If you don't think the Angels are fixated on the Dodgers, you didn't see the way they basked in it when they finally passed them in attendance in 2010. The Angels have always had to play from behind here, and when they finally nudged in front even for a span of months, it had to feel all the sweeter.

“Now, there's this exciting slugfest going on, the Dodgers and Angels bringing baseball's spending war 3,000 miles west, from the Interstate 95 corridor of Boston and New York to the I-5 corridor between L.A. and Anaheim,” Saxon enthused.

“Everybody knows what it's about: TV money, ridiculous amounts. The Angels got theirs about a year ago, for $3 billion over 20 years from Fox. The Dodgers are in the process of hammering theirs out now and, according to some reports, they could land double what the Angels got. Moneyball was so 2002, so Bay Area. This is (real) Moneyball: old-timey Hollywood, marquees, movie stars and competing spotlights scraping the night sky.”

Ah, the hot-stove league is alive and well and now the Angels have seen Santa come early.

royexum@aol.com

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