The Top 25 Baseball Stories of 2015 — #12: Josh Hamilton has a relapse and winds up back in Texas

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We’re a few short days away from 2016 so it’s a good time to look back at the top 25 baseball stories of 2015. Some of them took place on the field, some of them off the field and some of them were creatures of social media, fan chatter and the like. No matter where the story broke, however, these were the stories baseball fans were talking about most this past year.

Josh Hamilton signed a big contract with the Angels prior to the 2013 season. In his two tours of duty with the club, however, he wasn’t worth the money, hitting .255/.316/.426 in two seasons in Anaheim. At the end of 2014 he was hurt and in early February he underwent shoulder surgery. It seemed that, in 2015, the Angels and Josh Hamilton were in for more of the same not-so-great news.

Oh, if it were only that simple.

In late February, it was reported that Hamilton had been summoned to New York City to meet with Major League Baseball officials concerning a “disciplinary issue.” There was immediate speculation that it probably had something to do with Hamilton’s well-documented battle with drug addiction. Sadly, that was the case. Hamilton self-reported a relapse from over the winter involving alcohol and cocaine.

While the immediate questions surrounded whether or not Hamilton would be disciplined under Major League Baseball’s substance abuse policy, he ultimately faced no discipline from the league. The Angels, however, launched an all-out assault on their outfielder, almost certainly leaking the fact of Hamilton’s drug relapse and the disciplinary hearing against him to the media in contravention of MLB’s rules and offering multiple public comments about Hamilton, most of them negative, suggesting that Hamilton had little or no value as a player. In their words and their actions — they barred him from the Angels’ spring training facility and removed his name from his locker — they made it clear that, in their eyes, Hamilton was the sort of person they didn’t want near their club, let alone on it. All of this was exactly what an addict’s presumed support system SHOULD NOT be doing under such circumstances.

As all of that was happening, Hamilton was doing his best to get back into baseball shape. And, according to sources close to Hamilton, he was fully recovered from his shoulder problems and ready for action even while the Angels were painting him as the most damaged of goods. It was clear by late March that the relationship between Hamilton and the Angels would never be repaired. By late April the Angels agreed to trade Hamilton back to this old team, the Texas Rangers, for almost nothing. And they picked up most of his salary as well. Funny how trashing your player for two months eliminates all of your negotiating leverage.

Hamilton’s return to Texas wasn’t the stuff of fairytales. While he returned to maintaining his sobriety, he remained a fragile ballplayer, battling numerous injuries which limited him to 50 games on the year. His overall line — .253/.291/.441 — was the worst of his nine-year major league career.

Still, the regular season ended on a bit of a bright note for Hamilton. On October 1, Hamilton and the Rangers played the Angels in the season’s 159th game. That night Hamilton made a fantastic over-the-shoulder catch in the second inning to save at least one run and maybe several more. At the plate he hit a double in the second inning and later knocked in a run with a sacrifice fly as the Rangers won 5-3. That win clinched a playoff spot for Texas.

The Angels? They finished one game out of the Wild Card and were forced to watch Hamilton and the Rangers in the playoffs on TV.