MLB.com Columnist

Richard Justice

Justice: Hamilton happy to be back 'home' in Texas

Justice: Hamilton happy to be back 'home' in Texas

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Josh Hamilton was asked if he understands why Rangers fans might be upset with him. After all, they'd been invested in him in a way that fans normally aren't invested in a player.

"They've always known I speak the truth," Hamilton said. "Even when they talk to me, and I spend time with them, I don't sugarcoat it for them. I don't think they would have liked me as much if I had. People can see through that.

"I'm not going to take back anything I said. I don't say things to hurt people intentionally. I can't expect to please everybody and make everybody like me. That's never happened."

Still, his leaving the Rangers to sign a five-year, $125 million contract with the Angels stung many fans, especially when he slammed them by saying, "It's not a true baseball town."

The Rangers averaged almost 3 million fans over his last three seasons with Texas, including a club-record 3.46 million in 2012. That season ended badly, though, with Hamilton playing poorly and the Rangers losing the American League West after leading by five games with nine to play.

Still, it wasn't just about baseball. He wasn't just the guy who led the Rangers to two AL pennants during his five years with the club. That's the basic stuff. He was a great player, but there are going to be other great players in years ahead.

He was the guy who seemed vulnerable, the guy who battled some of the same demons of addiction that have affected millions of families. To these people he was way more than a player.

Hamilton saw it when fans would ask for his autograph. Many didn't really want the autograph as much as they wanted to share their story, to tell him that his fight had inspired either them or someone close to them.

He became, arguably, one of the most popular players the Rangers ever had, perhaps second to Nolan Ryan, perhaps not. But to Dallas-Fort Worth he will never been seen as just a ballplayer, so his signing with the Angels was painful, then his slam of the fans cut deep.

When the Angels arrived in Arlington for the three-game series beginning on Friday, Hamilton was on center stage. And without being asked, he attempted to explain his comments.

"This whole 'football town' thing has been an absolute nightmare," he said. "I really didn't think about this until this morning. One of my first memories of [the] 2008 season was Friday nights [when] we'd have about 20,000 people. And then September hit, and we had about 10,000.

"I'll never forget it. [I asked] Marlon Byrd, 'What's going on? Where's everybody at?' He said, 'High school football started.' I was like, 'Oh, OK.' But it was cool to see in 2008, 2009, it got better. In 2010 it got even better. And by the end of the season in 2010, it was 50,000.

"So it was fun to be part of. I'm glad I could be a part of helping the fan base grow. I'm excited to be back."

He knows he'll be booed, and he's OK with that. He knows, too, that the Rangers began negotiations with him hoping to sign him to no more than three years. When the Angels stepped up, he bolted.

"You know what? I'm not setting out to prove anybody wrong or anything like that," he said. "I'm going to play the game like I always have -- hard. Give it what I have. They booed me at times when I was here. I don't expect anything less, especially playing with the Angels. It is what it is. Once the umpire says, 'Play ball,' it's going to be on."

When asked if he gets why fans might be particularly upset, he said, "Oh man. It's hard for me to do that. For me, I have good memories. Memories in general, nobody can take away from me. About fans. About the organization. About the time here we had. And the growing process. As a fan, honestly, I think about probably the best five years in the organization's history. Or four years. That's what I think about.

"There was some heartache at times. But that's sports. It's one of those things where you appreciate everything they did for you. Hopefully, they appreciate everything you did for them."

Hamilton's legacy is impressive. He made the AL All-Star team five straight years as the Rangers became one of the best franchises in baseball. There were AL pennants in 2010 and 2011, and a streak of three straight playoff appearances.

Hamilton was voted the AL Most Valuable Player in 2010, and in five seasons, averaged 28 home runs and 101 RBIs. He had some terrible slumps along the way, but the bottom line was always good.

"Texas is home," he said. "I've always said it is. It's always going to be. It's good to be back home."

Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.