The Rangers did everything in their power during the offseason to make sure Josh Hamilton made it through the 2011 season without major injury.
There's only so much they can control, however, and one ill-fated slide undid all that work and left them without their best player for a big chunk of the first two months. You'd think that their response to that injury would be nothing less than smothering Hamilton in bubble wrap before every game.
Amusing as that sight might be, it isn't going to happen. Hamilton wasted no time whatsoever getting back to his old tricks in his second game back from the disabled list.
Well, like everyone else on Tuesday night, he wasted a fair amount of time. Once the game got going again, though, Hamilton made it clear that he won't be changing the way he plays because of his injury.
In the eighth inning, Hamilton slid headfirst into first base to beat out an infield hit and then went on to repeat the slide into second to pick up a steal. When a pitch then got away, Hamilton took off for third and finished off his trifecta with another headfirst dive.
After the game, Hamilton wasn't thrilled about answering questions about his wild trip around the diamond.
"If I stop doing that, then I won't be true to myself as a baseball player or true to my teammates or the fans that watch me play the game. I just don't get why you keep harping on it. Just expect it out of me. If I get hurt, we’ll continue to do this thing. It’s ridiculous. I can’t worry about that. I never think about it."
Actually, if he gets hurt he'll just blame it on the third base coach. It is only ridiculous to ask such questions of Hamilton when things work out for the best.
It is very easy for Hamilton to play the hustle card, but that doesn't mean you just shrug your shoulders and wait for one of them to get dislocated on a slide. It is never the right decision to slide into first base as you are risking injury to get to the base slower than you would by running. It doesn't matter that Hamilton believes otherwise, it's a question of physics and the Rangers (and every other team) should make a big issue out of players who threaten the health of the team to be seen as a guy who hustles.
That might seem like a hard thing to do, but wouldn't the team make a stink about a player who believed it was better to field hard hit grounders with his bare hand than his glove? Even if it worked out for him, a team would make it stop because you don't risk your investment for absolutely no reason. Believing something isn't a good enough reason to do anything when faced with facts that show otherwise.
The slide into third was a nifty one and Hamilton would almost certainly have been out if he went into the base any other way. The question there is whether or not the risk of out or injury was worth the reward of advancing on a ball that wasn't far from the catcher with two outs in the inning. Hamilton would be running on contact which means that almost any hit would have scored him from second base, which means that the slide might have been good but the overall decision-making is awful.
Instincts are a tough thing to overcome in baseball and in life, something that Hamilton has already learned the hard way. He did learn, though, and that knowledge helped him get his baseball career back.
If he wants it to last as long as possible with as much success as possible, harnessing his instincts on the field would be an awfully good idea.