Josh Hamilton Back on Top for Surging Rangers

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Josh Hamilton Back on Top for Surging Rangers Few would have believed it possible just four years ago, but Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton is on top.

He?s on top of American League stats sheets for 2010. After socking a ground-rule double on Wednesday night, the Texas Rangers' left fielder extended his hitting streak to 23 straight games, which raised his average to .343, best among qualified AL hitters. He also owns the No. 1 spot in the AL in slugging percentage (.613) and RBIs (58) and is third with 18 home runs.

His team is on top thanks to his dominance, as the upstart Rangers entered Thursday tied with the Yankees for an AL-best .610 winning percentage.

He even started on top. Hamilton was drafted first overall by the Tampa Bay Rays in 1999 and was on the fast track to be the expansion team?s first homegrown star. He impressed enough at Single-A Charleston that Baseball America named him the No. 1 prospect in the minor leagues as the 2001 season was approaching.

Josh Hamilton was on top, and everyone was looking up at him. Everyone wanted to be Josh Hamilton and wanted to do what he was able to in the batter?s box.

But in 2007, no one had even heard from Josh Hamilton.

The stud prospect came tumbling down the mountain after a car accident prior to the 2001 campaign jostled everything in Hamilton?s life. He and his parents recovered fully from the injuries they sustained, but Hamilton had a drug and alcohol habit that he couldn?t kick. His addiction demoted him back down to Single-A from Double-A Orlando, and his downward spiral continued from there.

An injury-shortened 2002 season reintroduced Hamilton to drugs, and soon he was trading batting practice for rehab visits. Hamilton couldn?t clean himself up. In 2003, he was suspended multiple times for drug violations, and by 2004, he was done with baseball altogether. The guy who started out on top had hit rock bottom. He didn?t play baseball for three years, and everyone labeled the once-promising Hamilton a complete bust.

Then, his last chance at the majors came in 2006. He managed to convince the Rays organization that he was rejuvenated. That he was done with all of the drugs and alcohol. That he was there to remind them why he was chosen before everybody else in 1999. By the end of the 2006 season, he played in 15 games for Single-A Hudson Valley, rediscovering the path to the big leagues that he veered off five years earlier. 

Left off Tampa Bay?s 40-man roster, Hamilton entered the Rule 5 draft and was selected by the Cubs but was then immediately bounced to the Reds. He was "the biggest name in the Rule 5 in years," Baseball America wrote. Once again, Hamilton was back on top, as a member of the Cincinnati Reds.

He tore up spring training, batting .403 and winning a spot on the Opening Day roster. He played in 90 games for the Reds, turning in a .292 average with 19 homers and 47 RBIs. Not too bad for a predicted fourth outfielder and occasional pinch hitter.

Cincinnati sent him to Texas, where Hamilton locked up an outfield spot and became the slugging sensation that pitchers know him as today. The All-Star sent 32 baseballs out of the park in 2008 and belted 130 RBIs while hitting .304. Then Hamilton?s steady climb was nearly derailed after he suffered an abdominal tear in early June of the 2009 season. Surgery followed, and an estimated four-to-six-week rehab cost him 73 games.

But this time, Hamilton didn?t turn to booze or drugs. He didn?t plunge back into an abyss.

Now, he?s back on top.

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