April 14, 2011

Is Josh Hamilton Injury Prone

Josh Hamilton was in the clubhouse with his Texas teammates, trying to stay hopeful a day after finding out he could miss two months with a broken arm.

"Obviously, I'd like to be out there playing with them, but it'll be fun to watch them the next few weeks," Hamilton said. "I'll work hard and do what I need to do to get back as soon as I can."

He was emerging from a three-year battle with drug addiction, and just as he was about to begin his major league career, he spoke of one of his biggest fears, that the abuse he inflicted upon his body for all those years would come back to haunt him on the baseball field, making him feel like a 35-year-old in what was then a 25-year old’s body, and leaving him susceptible to injury.

So after four years, that fear seems prescient. Now in his 5th season, Hamilton 29, has developed a reputation for being injury prone. He has played more than 135 games only once (2008), and once the Texas Rangers make the formal move of placing Hamilton on the 15-day disabled list, after he suffered a non-displaced fracture of his humerus bone on Tuesday, that will make five trips to the DL in just over four years.

But on further inspection, Hamilton, the reigning American League MVP, seems more a victim of bad luck and overaggressiveness than a victim of his past indulgences. His problem isn’t so much that his body is fragile; it’s that he can’t bring himself to tone down his all-out style of play. He missed nearly all of last September after crashing into the wall and bruising his ribs. And Tuesday’s injury which is expected to sideline him for six to eight weeks was suffered when, at the prompting of his third-base coach, Hamilton dashed for home and made an ill advised headfirst slide into the plate.

When you’re 6 foot 4 and weigh 240 pounds, you shouldn’t try to play like someone half a foot shorter and 50 pounds lighter. Although Hamilton was the prototypical “five-tool” player, some of his tools, namely his power, are far more valuable than others, namely his speed. Whatever he might gain for the Rangers by making a running catch near the wall, or by barreling into home plate head-first, isn’t worth the danger of being lost to his team for weeks or months at a time.

“The combination of size and athleticism,” Rangers GM Jon Daniels told reporters in a conference call Tuesday night, “does put him at risk.”

The headfirst slide, in particular, ought to be outlawed by forward-thinking teams. The list of players who have suffered significant injuries on that play in recent years includes Derek Jeter, Chase Utley, Nyjer Morgan and just one day before Hamilton’s injur, Rafael Furcal.

Hamilton’s latest injury carries heavy consequences both for himself and the Rangers — who hold the best record in baseball, but who now must live without their best player for up to two months. As for Hamilton, as he nears 30, and with a contract that expires after the 2012 season, he might be a candidate for a lucrative, long-term extension except the Rangers, with justification, must have serious questions about his durability.

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