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.

Angels’ Andrelton Simmons opts out of final 5 games

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ANAHEIM, Calif. — Shortstop Andrelton Simmons has opted out of the remainder of the Los Angeles Angels’ season.

The Angels announced the four-time Gold Glove-winning shortstop’s decision Tuesday before they faced the San Diego Padres.

Los Angeles (24-31) is still technically in the playoff race with five games left in the regular season, and Simmons clearly caught the Angels by surprise, although the club said it respected his decision.

The 31-year-old Simmons, who can be a free agent this winter, is finishing his fifth year with the Angels. After spraining his ankle in late July and missing 22 games, Simmons is currently batting .297 with 10 RBIs while playing his usual stellar defense, albeit with four errors in 30 games.

“At this time, I feel this is the best decision for me and my family,” Simmons said in a statement. “We don’t know what the future holds, but we would like to sincerely thank the Angels organization and Angels fans for welcoming and making us feel at home.”

Manager Joe Maddon acknowledged he was caught by surprise when general manager Billy Eppler told him about Simmons’ decision Monday night after Simmons went 1 for 4 with an RBI single in the Angels’ home finale. Maddon texted Simmons, but hadn’t heard back by Tuesday afternoon.

“I’ve really enjoyed this guy a lot,” Maddon said. “I’m a big fan. This guy is a good baseball player, and I’ve enjoyed the conversations, too. It’s just unfortunate. He’s really a big part of what we’re doing right now.”

Simmons is a favorite of Angels fans for his defensive wizardry, and owner Arte Moreno has described Simmons as perhaps his favorite player to watch on the roster. Simmons has batted .281 with 36 homers and 281 RBIs during his five seasons with Los Angeles, and he won the Gold Glove in 2017 and 2018.

“He’s a thinking kind of a player, and I’ve enjoyed him a lot,” Maddon said.

Simmons will be a free agent this winter, and the Angels have an obvious replacement for him in David Fletcher, who has a .374 on-base percentage while regularly hitting leadoff for the Angels during his breakout major league season. Fletcher has been playing second base since Simmons’ return from injury.

But the Angels haven’t publicly closed the door on Simmons’ return, and he could be given a qualifying offer. Maddon has repeatedly said he would like Simmons to return in 2021 if possible.

The Angels haven’t had a winning season during Simmons’ five years in Anaheim, although Simmons said last week he wasn’t discouraged by the lack of team success. Simmons played his first four major league seasons in Atlanta, and he hasn’t appeared in the postseason since 2013.

Simmons also said he hadn’t been involved in any recent contract talks with the Angels, but he had enjoyed playing for the club. When asked if he wanted to return to the Halos, Simmons said he would have to “plead the fifth.”