ON JOSH AND THE ANGELS

BY: Richard W. Humphrey

Josh Hamilton made his return to Arlington as a member of the Angels last weekend, and he was as much of the story as the games themselves. He was booed loudly on Friday, boos that turned to sarcastic cheers when he struck out in his first at bat and looked ugly doing it. After the game, Josh was obviously surprised at the crowd reaction. He even went so far as to say the crowd noise was louder than any playoff game in which he had participated. A stretch to say the least.

Unfortunately, the fans’ anger spilled over to Josh’s wife and kids, who were seated in the stands Friday. Security was called. It was a deplorable incident for sure that doesn’t speak well for Ranger fans. Josh relocated them into a suite for Saturday’s and Sunday’s games, which is where they should have been Friday.

The booing continued over the weekend. Josh was terrible at the plate, getting just three hits in 13 at bats. He suffered the indignity of having Albert Pujols intentionally walked three times to get Josh to the plate in Saturday’s game. He struck out twice and filed out softly in those three at bats making the Rangers’ strategy look good. All three hits came on Sunday, and Josh’s batting average stood at .160 when he left town. As this weekend approached, Josh had struck out 13 times in nine games.

It was naive on Josh’s part to fail to anticipate the fans’ reaction. He was booed in his last 2012 Ranger game, the season ending loss to Baltimore in the Wild Card play-in game, Hamilton was 0-4 that night, including two strike outs and hitting into a double play. He saw exactly eight pitches on the evening, the bare minimum for four at bats with two strikeouts. He further angered fans with derogatory comments about Dallas and Ranger fans, saying in an interview with Gina Miller on channel 11 that Dallas was not a baseball town.

As the series approached, Josh was more complimentary of the Rangers and his five years in the area. During the player introductions prior to Friday’s opener, he politely clapped for his former teammates as they were introduced and traded a salute with Ron Washington. All the niceness was gone after Friday’s game. He angrily said he wasn’t taking back anything he said about Dallas not being a baseball town.

During Josh’s five years in Texas, the Rangers worked diligently to create an environment in which Josh could overcome his past substance abuse problems to succeed on the field. Succeed he did, as he made five All-Star teams, won an American League MVP Award, and twice played in the World Series. With the severity of those abuse problems, it always made more sense for Josh to remain with the Rangers and the environment they created that allowed him to succeed on the field. He was the one that chose to take more money and play elsewhere. The season is less than two weeks old, surly not enough games played to make any strong judgements. At this point though, Josh’s choice to become an Angel is looking bad for him, as he struggles to meet the expectations that come with a nine digit guaranteed contract.

Josh however is not the only Angel player that is struggling. They have won just two of nine games to start the season and are looking up in the standings at the woeful Houston Astros. Last Tuesday’s home opener, which the Angels lost, did not sell out. Southern California fans have picked up where Ranger fans left off – they are already booing Angel players.

It’s a team that is already in trouble. The pitching staff was questionable for beginners with probably the fourth best rotation in the division when the season began. Now Jerod Weaver is out for at least a month and probably longer with an injury. The bullpen has been awful. In a move that looks like a push of the panic button, manager Mike Scioscia called a team meeting this week, and the team responded with another loss. Half the starting infield, Albert Callaspo and Eric Aybar are nursing injuries that could lead to stints on the disabled list. With a heart of the batting order that includes Josh, Pujols, Mike Trout and Mark Trumbo, this team will score a lot of runs; but they led the Majors in runs scored last year and didn’t make the playoffs.

Owner Arte Moreno gets high marks for creating an outstanding fan experience at the ballpark at a reasonable price. His team has ruled the division for the early part of the 21st century until the upstart Rangers finally put together a farm system that spits out Major League players like sunflower seeds. He has to be disappointed in his team on the field after committing more than $450 million to three free agents the past two winters.

A year ago, he hired Jerry DiPoto as his new general manager. DiPoto immediately sought to take back power and influence from Scioscia, which had grown with his on the field success. There was speculation late last season that one or even both would be ousted after 2012′s disappointment. Moreno put that speculation to rest when he proclaimed that both would return this season. Now they are clashing, and the clashes are taking their toll on the field. It’s a regrettable situation for the Angels, but one that Moreno chose. He like Josh will have to live with the consequences of his decision.

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