"What he's doing is incredible. Hot, man, is when you hit .350 for a month, .350 for a week—not .450 with, like, 10 home runs in a week. I can't do that. I have abilities—but not like that."
--Adrian Beltre, veteran major leaguer, discussing Josh Hamilton's hot start at the beginning of the 2012 season.
Peak Performance Out of the Box
To start the 2012 major league baseball season, Josh Hamilton, outfielder of the Texas Ranger hit .402 with 18 home runs and 41 RBIs in his first 31 games, the best start by a hitter since the Athletics' Jimmie Foxx in 1932.
During a torrid seven days in May, Hamilton hit .467 with nine homers, 43 total bases and 18 RBIs including a record-tying four home runs in one game. By June, Hamilton had cooled down but was still was hitting .354 and leading the majors in homers (21), RBIs (57), OPS (1.138), total bases (142) and slugging percentage (.728).
Unprecedented Talent but What About Discipline
"Josh has more talent, Barry Bonds had more discipline. I don't think Josh would ever get to the discipline that Barry finally got to, but I've never seen a talent like him. He can run, field, throw, hit, hit with power. Barry had all that, but as Barry got older his speed disappeared. The arm disappeared. Hamilton has it all. He just never knew what work ethic was. He never knew how to work. It was all talent."
--Ron Washington, Texas Rangers manager, discussing Hamilton's talent and potential for more.
It was obvious to all who saw him, Hamilton loved to perform and loved the adulation and the glory of the big hits. But, he didn't work hard enough at this craft. He didn't like to study the game.
Work Ethic and Mastery
"He didn't love baseball. He loved to hit," says Roy Silver, who runs the Winning Inning baseball academy, that Hamilton attended. "He loved to dive for balls. The third fungo I hit him, he dove for it and got up and pumped his fist and cheered for himself. But he wouldn't go upstairs and watch baseball. He would go upstairs and watch cartoons or play a video game."
During spring training in 2009, Gary Pettis, the Rangers' assistant coach, made Hamilton his main project. With so little time spent in the minor leagues, and a tendency to avoid opportunities to learn and study, Hamilton only was willing to learn by doing. Pettis helped him to value such things as: how to study tendencies, how to stay in the game defensively even when his bat goes quiet—in essence, how to be a professional.
"It's been a process," Pettis says. "Josh is 100 percent better today than he was when we acquired him. Especially mentally, he understands how this game is played."
At the halfway point in the 2012 season, Hamilton is considered by many to be the MVP of the American League, if not major league baseball. He is batting .308 with 27 homeruns and 75 RBIs.
What Does the Future Hold?
Can Josh Hamilton sustain it? An admitted crack addict and alcoholic, he has fallen off the wagon multiple times. Does he have what it takes to maintain this type of performance day-in, day-out, season after season?
One clue about his growing maturity came in Hamilton's decision to skip the 2012 Home Run Derby during the All-Star Game festivities this week.
"Why mess up a good thing?" Hamilton said in explaining his reasons for skipping this year's Derby. "I've got nothing to prove. It's fun. I would like to do it, but you've got to think about the whole season and the club."
"No, it didn't hurt in 2008, but it takes one swing [to injure himself]," Hamilton noted. "You've got to be smart about it. I understand that I play major league baseball, but I work for the Texas Rangers. I understand that they need me healthy, and I want to be healthy."
Smart and mature.
Excerpts from sportsillustrated.cnn.com (June 11, 2012) and espn.dallas.com (July 10, 2012).