Each MLB season there is a new diamond-stud that hits the scene and makes every scout and analyst salivate until he is swimming in a spit-pile of Ruthian respect.
I remember the legendary stories coming out of Raleigh, North Carolina around 1998 about a five-tool phenom named Josh Hamilton, who was the reincarnation of Robert Redford in "The Natural." His baseball package was as rare as the gem Taaffeite and not even the demon of drug and alcohol addiction that brought him in and out of bars and crack houses for much of the early millennium and kept him detached from baseball for almost three years could stop Hamilton from eventually becoming the dominating, MVP player he was always projected to be in 2010 with the Texas Rangers.
The zenith of Hamilton’s comeback was his awe-inspiring display of power in the 2008 Home Run Derby at the old Yankee Stadium. In the first round of the event Hamilton hit 28 home runs, breaking the single-round record of 24 set by Bobby Abreu in 2005.
That night, he not only became “the” baseball star, he was on some Kurt Cobain shit, relapsing every other year or so. The main difference is Hamilton knew the ledge. Or so we thought.
Hamilton's recent relapses with drugs and alcohol has created a contentious relationship with an Angels' squad who still owes him more than $80 million of the five-year, $125 million contract he signed in 2012. LA Owner Arte Moreno was expecting a clean and sucker drug free Hamilton and at this point, he doesn’t even want Hamilton on the team. In fact, he wants him suspended and he wants some of that gwop back.
This entire situation is proof that a person's journey is ongoing. The destination is never reached along the road of life's trials and tribulations. It's a constant battle of adulation and pain. Failure and Success. While Josh Hamilton eventually achieved superstardom on the field, he never mastered the game of life and his demons continue to mar what should have been a Hall of Fame career. Hamilton's situation is nothing new. There’s a list of players with Hall of Fame potential that fell victim to drug abuse along the way.
Players such as Doc Gooden, Doc Ellis, Steve Howe and Darryl Strawberry, just to name some prominent ones. The great Mickey Mantle came from a family of alcoholics and his prolific career was short-changed by the deadly disease.
After Hamilton, the next baseball beasts were Washington Nats Twin Hypes Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper. Strasburg stormed the pitching scene with a record rookie contract and Nolan Ryan hype, but he’s been an inconsistent dominating force since getting Tommy John Surgery in 2010. This season he’s off to a rough start having allowed a league-high 24 hits with a 4.50 ERA so far this season.
Harper's hype machine was probably the most turnt up in MLB history. His legend was cultivated by the age of video, social media and the cable TV explosion. He's been a very productive player, but he’s battled injuries and not quite exploded with the same “C-4 to ya’ door” swag as a Mike Trout. However, the future is still bright for both of these players, but they are yesterday's news.
This season's newbie phenom is Cubs rookie Kris Bryant. The 23-year-old Bryant was the No. 2 pick in the 2013 draft out of the University of San Diego and entered the season ranked as MLB’s No. 1 prospect according to both Baseball America and ESPN’s Keith Law. MLB.com and Baseball Prospectus ranked the third baseman second and fifth overall, respectively.
After tearing up Spring Training pitching and showing he was more than ready to start adding his sizzle to the rebirth of the Chicago Cubs, Bryant got his first MLB lesson on the realness of top-dollar, hype hollerin’, big business ballin’.
Due to MLB's collective bargaining agreement, players who accrue a full season of service time will be under team control for six years. A full season is defined as 172 days, though the season actually lasts a bit over 180 days. Thus, if a player is left off the 40-man roster until there are fewer than 172 days remaining in the regular season, it doesn't count and the team would have him under control for seven years. Cubs kept Bryant off the 40-man for just nine games and then bought him up so they could have him for seven years. So, in the end, not only are the Cubs saving money, but they are also ensuring that if they lose him, it will be after seven years and not six.
His highly-anticipated MLB debut was delayed until April 17th and a horde of media and baseball enthusiasts adopted the moment as their own. The crowning of another baby-faced assassin, pre-destined for greatness but totally ignorant to the mountainous challenge that MLB is –even for a veteran of multiple seasons. It's a gear shift that can leave your Lamborghini dreams spun out and smacked into a tree on the highway of shattered potential and unfair expectations.
So far, so good for Bryant. After 3 games and 10 at-bats, he is hitting .300. If he's really going to be a Hall of Fame player then that batting average has to stay at its current clip for…say…another 12-15 years. In the meantime, if hitting a Clayton Kershaw curve or Aroldis Chapman flamer is the only problem Bryant has to navigate in the upcoming seasons, then he’s going places, because life as "the chosen one" and "curse breaker" is tough.