Josh Hamilton: expecting boos in his return to Texas, will certainly get them

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UPDATE: Hamilton came up to boos, but nothing incredible. Then Hamilton struck out on four pitches and the crowd exploded with cheers, way louder than the boos.  I assume that this drama is over.  That is, unless Hamilton himself adds to it.  Which it seems like he’s doing. Here’s what he had to say after the game:

“I’m glad I could help create spirit and fire in this town. This was louder than any playoff game that I’ve ever been to.”

This is getting good.

12:30 PM: If there is anyone who doesn’t think that Josh Hamilton is going to be booed — and booed lustily — when he comes to bat in today’s Angles-Rangers game they’re crazy. It may be the most ferocious booing we’ve heard for a player since Barry Bonds retired. Or since J.D. Drew made his first trip to Philadelphia. What we have here is the perfect storm of booing: a fan base that hates the player and a player who doesn’t seem to care a lick about that.  It’s actually kinda glorious if you think about it. The closest baseball will ever come to professional wrestling.

For those unaware of the back story, Josh Hamilton spent five season playing for the Texas Rangers. In those five season he played in 647 games, hit 142 home runs, drove in 506 and posted a batting average of .305. He also collected an MVP award and was the best hitter on a Rangers team which made it to two straight World Series. Then, this offseason, he hit free agency and signed with the division rival Los Angeles Angels for five years and $125 million.

That was business, though. Lots of players have left the Rangers via free agency and have not drawn the ire of fans. Indeed, given his age, injury history, his history with substance and his reported contract demands, most folks didn’t think Hamilton would stay in Texas anyway. The front office certainly didn’t make a push to keep him.  Between that and all of the good times he brought to Rangers fans, you’d think there would be enough to sustain at least some affection between Hamilton and the fan base despite his now playing for a rival. But no, there’s none.

The love affair was clearly over before Hamilton left town, actually. Rangers fans began booing Hamilton late last year as he struggled mightily down the stretch. A stretch in which the Rangers blew a five game division lead with nine games left to play. In the final, division-losing game to the Athletics, Hamilton dropped a routine fly ball which contributed to the collapse. Including the Rangers’ wild card loss to the Orioles, Hamilton struck out 20 times in his last 46 at-bats. Four strikeouts came in the wild card game. Warranted or not, Rangers fans equated Hamilton’s poor play with a poor attitude and believe Hamilton quit on his team.

That alone would likely lead to boos upon his return today, but he really set everyone off back in February when he told a Dallas radio station that Dallas was not a baseball town:

“Texas, especially Dallas, has always been a football town. They’re supportive, but they also got a little spoiled at the same time, pretty quickly. You think about three to four years ago. It’s like, come on man, are you happier there again?”

Thing is, Hamilton is probably right about that. The Cowboys will always be king in Dallas and Rangers fans, like a lot of fans of teams who experience sustained success, probably have gotten a bit spoiled. But being technically right and saying the right thing are not the same thing, and the blowback Hamilton has received since making those statements has been pretty significant.  But Hamilton is not backing down either. Indeed, just this morning he said this to Bob Nightengale of USA Today:

“The truth is the truth. And that was the truth. I don’t regret anything I said … If they booed me when I played there why wouldn’t they boo me now?”

They will boo him now. With extreme gusto.  And, while it may be a bit uncomfortable for Hamilton, it’ll definitely add spice to an Angels-Rangers rivalry that is already a whole heck of a lot of fun.

Evan Longoria: “I just kind of feel sorry for the Rays fan base.”

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The Rays were busy over the weekend, trading starter Jake Odorizzi to the Twins, designating All-Star outfielder Corey Dickerson for assignment, and then picking up C.J. Cron in a deal with the Angels. The Rays saved about $4 million — Odorizzi’s $6.3 million less Cron’s $2.3 million salary — and picked up a prospect. They’re still on the hook for Dickerson’s $5.95 million salary until they can find a trade partner, which seems likely.

Those are some head-scratching moves if you’re a Rays fan or a member of the Rays. Dickerson hit .282/.325/.490 with 27 home runs, 62 RBI, and 84 runs scored in 629 plate appearances last season, part of which resulted in his first trip to the All-Star Game. Designating him for assignment is strictly a financial move, assuming he can be traded. The Rays are currently operating with a payroll below $70 million. This comes just a week and a half after Rays ownership proposed the public footing most of the bill for the club’s new stadium. And the Rays had traded third baseman Evan Longoria — then the face of the franchise — to the Giants earlier this offseason.

Longoria expressed sympathy for Rays fans for having to put up with this. Via Andrew Baggarly, Longoria said of the curious Dickerson move, “I just kind of feel sorry for the Rays fan base. … I’m not going to take too many shots but it’s pretty obvious that guy is a valuable player and didn’t deserve to be DFAd. Corey was our best player last year.”

Longoria isn’t quite on the money there. By WAR, Dickerson ranked fifth among position players on the team, according to Baseball Reference. FanGraphs is also in agreement. Still, it’s indisputable that Dickerson, who turns 29 years old this May, more than pulled his weight. The Rays do not have a surfeit of starting outfielders, so it wasn’t like they were making room for other capable players. Mallex Smith, who put up a .684 OPS in 282 PA last year, is slated to start in left field at the moment. Designating Dickerson for assignment, as well as trading Longoria and Odorizzi, were simply cost-cutting decisions.

The Rays’ M.O. has been part of the problem leading to the current stagnant free agent market (sans Eric Hosmer‘s eight-year deal on Saturday). Teams like the Rays, Phillies, Reds, and Tigers have been explicitly putting out non-competitive teams in order to facilitate a rebuilding process. Longoria is right to express sympathy for Rays fans, who see their favorite team worsening a roster that went 80-82 last year. The Rays haven’t finished at .500 or above since 2013 and doesn’t figure to halt the streak this year.