First, the personal stuff: in 2001, Josh Hamilton was a 19-year-old millionaire. The Tampa Bay Devil Rays had picked him No. 1 and given him a record $3.96 million signing bonus. But then a dump truck ran a red light and smashed into a car being driven by his mother. Hamilton was the passenger and suffered a back injury that sidelined him. He started hanging out with an unsavory crowd, getting lots of tattoos. And he took his first drink.
In 2004, he was suspended by Major League Baseball for failing drug tests. He was downing a bottle of Crown Royal a day. He was so broke that he bounced a $2,000 check to a crack dealer. He made eight trips to rehab, but it wasn’t until October 6, 2005, that he got clean. That’s when his maternal grandmother, Mary Holt, with whom he was living because his wife had kicked him out, sat the boy down and talked some sense into him.
Now, the baseball stuff: after the Cincinnati Reds took a chance on him last season, Hamilton found his way to the Rangers’ center field, where he has absolutely dominated the American League. At this writing he has driven in 80 runs; the nearest player has 63. He’s tied for ninth in batting average (.312), and he’s in a three-way tie for the home run lead (19). And these aren’t balls that sneak over the fence; they land in the upper deck. Players say balls make a different sound coming off his bat, like a gunshot. Veteran scouts say he’s the best player they’ve ever seen. Rangers second baseman Ian Kinsler told Sports Illustrated, with total seriousness, “Josh Hamilton is the best baseball player to ever walk the planet."
Hamilton did his photo shoot with D Magazine not long after he’d made that Sports Illustrated cover. He’d never been so fussed over for a picture, but he suffered hairstyling and makeup with good humor. When style editor Stephanie Quadri tried to get him into a white striped shirt, he let her know that he didn’t want to look like a boat captain. Between camera flashes and modeling instructions from photographer Tadd Myers, he even answered a few questions.
What did you think of the Sports Illustrated cover?
I thought it was pretty terrible.
Because your face wasn’t on it?
Yeah. I thought, “Damn, am I that terrible looking?” And then the Rangers did the baseball card where I was swinging and my face was down. I was like, oh, man.
Hopefully you’ll be on the cover of Sports Illustrated again, but you never know. And you’ve gotta be going, “Where’s my face?”
It was a cool picture, though.
In the article, you were quoted as saying that you thought baseball was boring. How could that be possible?
Boring to watch.
You know, that wasn’t clear in the story. So you never watch a game that you’re not playing in? You don’t have any buddies that are playing, and you say, “Hey, did you see what I did last night?”
No, I wouldn’t do that. It’s like, you already know what you did last night, so why do you need to watch what you did? At the same time, ESPN is on all day in the locker room.
So even you got to see yourself go five for five against Houston.
No. Before the highlights come on, I’ll get up and leave. After a game, when I’m working out, I might catch something. But otherwise, I avoid it.
You’ve been mentioned as having the first real shot at the triple crown since 1967. I guess you’re not paying attention to those stats. You don’t know who’s ahead of you in home runs or whatever?
You’ve got two kids, right?
Two daughters and another on the way. House full of women.
What did you do to deserve that? When’s your wife due?
You have 26 tattoos that you got when you were using drugs. Barbed wire, demons—they came from a bad part of your life. What do you tell your daughters about them? They must be old enough, especially your 2-year-old, to be curious. Is that ever a problem?
I just tell them what I tell all little kids. They’re just stickers. Every morning, I put them back on.
Why haven’t you had them removed?
I went to three sessions to get them taken off. The flames on my forearms and some of the devil faces. The stuff you can see with the uniform. But it’s so much pain. It’s terrible. They say it takes five years to get rid of them, and it starts leaving scars. It’s kind of pointless.
So with another girl coming, what are you going to do with that?
I need to make some money. [His current salary is under $400,000, paltry by MLB standards.] I mean, there’s a lot of shopping involved. And then one day, there are going to be a lot of weddings. Of course, me and Momma got married at the courthouse, so 50 bucks was good.
Something tells me that’s not going to work. And right now, the Rangers don’t have you under a long-term contract, so those weddings are a concern. But that contract is going to happen, surely, right?
They’re working on it, I guess. We’ll see. Let’s talk about the Cowboys, man.
Have you met any of them yet?
I’m low-key, man. I stay low-key. I come to work, I go home.
We got your measurements for the suit from a tailor who’s making some custom suits for you, but you said the new suits were a gift from someone. Who’s helping you out?
Eddie Guardado [the Rangers pitcher].
Why did he decide you needed new suits?
I don’t know. Making good catches for him or something? No, I mean, it’s just what veterans do.
The Sports Illustrated article said you never carry more than 20 bucks in your wallet. That’s your way of avoiding temptation?
I don’t have any money on me right now. I mean, why walk around with a thousand bucks in your pocket?
Yeah, it’s also a genius way to avoid paying for anything. You know: “Hey, sorry, I can’t pick this up. You know me. That’s my policy. I don’t have any money on me.”
That’s a good point. I wish I’d thought of that.
I was thinking of adopting the same policy.
Usually, if I know I’m going out with guys, I’ll get Johnny [Narron, a Rangers special assignment coach] to give me 100 or 200 bucks, in case I do have to help pick up a check or whatever. I mean, I’m past the point now where, you know, I’m going to run off to a bar and get wasted.
You’ve known Johnny for a long time, right?
I played with his son when I was, like, 9. Then he coached me when I was 15 in a fall baseball league. So I’ve known him for a long time.
When you were at one of your lowest points, you got down to 180 pounds? And you’re 230 now? How do you put 50 back on?
Grandma’s cooking. Mashed potatoes and gravy and cornbread and pork chops and steak and chicken and squash and green beans. Country food, man.
You’ve got to pee in a cup every three days for a drug test. I assume they’re testing for steroids, too, right?
There’s a good thing about that. You’re demonstrating how many home runs a human hits, maybe 40 for the year, instead of those ridiculous, steroided high 60s.
Hey, the year’s not over yet, bro. Who said I’m human?