Josh Hamilton is one of the feel-good stories of the 2008 season. The Texas Rangers outfielder has rebounded from a lengthy battle with drug addiction to become one of the top hitters in the major leagues.
Hamilton entered yesterday leading the majors with 49 RBIs. He went 5 for 5 on Friday night with two home runs, five RBIs and 13 total bases in a win over Houston.
"He's incredible," Rangers outfielder David Murphy told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. "I think it's not a stretch to say he's one of the best players in baseball."
It hasn't been an easy road for Hamilton, who will turn 27 on Wednesday. The No. 1 overall pick of the 1999 draft, taken by Tampa Bay out of high school in Cary, N.C., Hamilton tried drugs for the first time in 2001 and eventually lost 31/2 years from his career while he dealt with the problem.
He returned from his last baseball-imposed suspension in June 2006. The Rangers acquired him from Cincinnati during the last off-season, and he has put up good numbers for them.
But the best number for Hamilton is 30: the number of months he has been drug-free.
They used to call him Rockin' Leo Mazzone, always seen in the Atlanta Braves dugout rocking back and forth in his seat while manager Bobby Cox yelled sweet nothings to the home-plate umpire.
The former Braves and Orioles pitching coach, the guy who worked with likely Hall of Famers Tom Glavine, John Smoltz and Greg Maddux, desperately wishes those days would return.
Mazzone left Atlanta after the 2005 season to join his best friend, Sam Perlozzo, the new manager in Baltimore. But after Perlozzo was fired, the Orioles gave Mazzone the ax last October with one season remaining on a three-year, $1.5 million contract.
Though he is making guaranteed money, tending to his garden at his Roswell, Ga., home, Mazzone said he is "dying to get back into baseball."
"I've let it be known to general managers in the big leagues that money is not an issue," Mazzone told the Associated Press. "I'm ready to bounce whenever somebody calls. I'll have my bags packed in 10 minutes."
The Toronto Blue Jays brought up 25-year-old lefthander David Purcey to face the Phillies, and sent him back to the minors yesterday after he gave up five hits, four walks and eight runs to the home team.
In 71/3 innings covering two starts, Purcey walked 11 batters. But he said manager John Gibbons encouraged him after Friday's game.
"You have a good arm," Purcey, speaking in the Toronto Star, said Gibbons told him. "Go back down to triple A and work on repeating like you have been doing. Just don't worry about it.
"It was encouraging to hear him say those things."
Cover your eyes, children.
The New York Daily News reported yesterday that Yankees first baseman Jason Giambi, he of the .181 batting average, often wears a gold thong under his uniform pants when trying to snap out of a slump.
"I was blown away," Yankees broadcaster and former pitcher David Cone said. "You've got to be pretty confident in yourself to let that one out."
The newspaper also reported that a few of Giambi's teammates, including Derek Jeter and Johnny Damon, have tried wearing the thong, too.