I was driving in my car in October of 2011 doing something very strange – cheering for the Texas Rangers. There were two reasons for that. I’m an American League fan. Why cheer for a league that still makes pitchers hit, for crying out loud? But the real reason I was cheering for the Rangers had to do with one man who stood to the plate in the top of the 10th, about 4 and a half hours into the game.
It should have been over by then, with Texas celebrating their first World Series victory. Texas had a 3 run lead in the 8th and one of the better closers in the game, but St. Louis got one in the 8th and 2 in the 9th to tie it and send game 6 into extras. Ian Kinsler went out quickly, then Elvis Andrus singled in the top of the 10th. That brought my hero to the plate.
I’d heard of him early on, but my first real exposure to him was at the All Star Game in 2008. That was the year that Yankee Stadium was closing so that the new stadium could open. It was a down year for the good guys and not much exciting happened – except for the Home Run Derby. Wow. Josh Hamilton put on a show for the ages. He launched some balls that still haven’t landed yet.
And his testimony was so pure, so real. A bonus baby, a “natural,” who fell into drugs. No, he didn’t fall, he jumped with both feet into the Slough of Despond, going from bright prospect to homeless addict. Then Jesus stepped in and changed his life. His marriage was healed and his family restored. Suddenly, Josh Hamilton was back, a trophy of God’s grace and restoring power. What a story.
And it 2011 he reached the heights. He was the AL MVP. A groin injury slowed him in the postseason and he had not homered a single time. But he came to the plate in the top of the 10th with the game tied 7-7, and a man on first, with one out. On the first pitch he saw, he deposited the ball in the right field bleachers to put the Rangers up 9-7.
I drove along thinking it was almost too good to be true. “The Josh Hamilton Story would show him struggling to beat drugs, finding Christ who gives him the power to overcome, hitting the World Series winning home run, then would end with his teammates carrying him from the field on their shoulders. And every bit of it would be true.
Unfortunately, life seldom has such happy endings. This story does not. The Cardinals came back in the bottom of the 10th and Nelson Cruz biffed a catch on the third out, allowing the tying runs to score. David Freese won the game with a walk-off home run in the 11th and Josh Hamilton is a footnote as St. Louis went on to win game 7 and take the Series.
And it’s pretty much been like that for Josh Hamilton since then. In 2012 he battled injuries and slumps and the season ended with him missing a routine ball that ended Texas’ season. Then he signed a contract to play with the California Angels and spent the next two years struggling on the West Coast.
Then, in this offseason, it all fell apart. He’d had a couple of minor relapses over the years – a couple of drinks here or there. But this time, he confessed to relapsing into drugs. He turned himself in and submitted himself to MLB’s discipline. He then filed for divorce from his wife – wild rumors have circulated online about that, but no confirmation of anything.
Then the Angels turned on him. They were not happy about the production that they were getting from their 25 million a year superstar and saw this as an opportunity to cut their ties. They looked to nullify the contract on the basis of his drug use (baseball’s rules won’t allow this) and then they traded him back to the Rangers. Josh Hamilton will be back on the field for the Rangers next week.
And my heart is sad.
Why? Because a sinner has sinned. Because a trophy of God’s grace has been tarnished a little. Because we’ve been reminded that the story of Josh Hamilton was really the story of Jesus and that through it all, Josh was one with feet of clay. Because the enemies of the gospel, the skeptics of grace now have reason to gloat and point. Because a brother has fallen.
I don’t know what has happened. I guess I don’t need to know.
- Why can’t Josh beat the pull of this demon that keeps dragging him back? Drugs have given him nothing but pain, why does he keep going back?
And yet, my sin has never given me anything but pain and I keep going back! The only difference between Josh and me is the specifics of our sin.
- What happened to his marriage? Katie Hamilton stuck with Josh through the darkest years of his addiction. What happened here?
Rumors swirled on the internet that pinned all of this on Katie Hamilton – her desire for stardom in Hollywood and other rumors – but she flatly denies them in the strongest terms. Josh has not spoken a word. This was a story of God’s healing in a marriage that was a great inspiration, and now the relationship is broken and four girls are being raised in a broken home.
- Will the Josh Hamilton story end in triumph or tragedy?
Ultimately, it will end in glory. But his earthly story – what will be the final page? Will this be a story that ends with Josh Hamilton as a cautionary tale or a story of God’s amazing power?
Josh Hamilton has never played for a team I like. But he’s been one of my favorite players over the past few years. When he was on, he was as good as any player that has even held a bad and menaced a pitcher. But my heart is heavy not because of his baseball, but because of his life.
Oh, Lord, I don’t care if he ever hits a home run again. I want my brother to prosper! I want him to walk clean. I want him to walk in victory over drugs and alcohol, to be free. I want to see his marriage healed and his family restored. Lord God, bless this man. Heal him. Restore him. Whatever is wrong, make it right.
The Point of It All
I’m a sports fan. Frankly, I couldn’t care less about the Duggar show (not an insult to the Duggars, just not interested in the show). I may have watched an episode once a long time ago, but I don’t remember. I may get killed for this, but I’m not a huge fan of the Duck Dynasty show either. I don’t dislike them, but I’m not a big fan. Josh Hamilton – that one hit me hard. Each of us has our celebrity heroes, especially our Christian celebrity heroes.
But the tendency of American Christians is to venerate Christian celebrities to a dangerous degree. There are very few Christian celebrities who haven’t disappointed us or embarrassed us at one point or another. We ought to pray for Christians in the public realm. They face derision (paging Mr. Tebow) and persecution (Brenden Eich, etc.) and find that their every fault and failing will be exposed for the world to see. Nothing makes the press happier than to trumpet the failings of those who name the name of Christ.
1) Somehow, we’ve failed to communicate that Christians are not superior people, better than the world. We are redeemed people – sinners saved by grace and made new creations in Christ. We have to stay on message in this world, reminding people that we are not the superior, but sinners redeemed by Christ. Christ alone is superior.
2) We also need to be very careful of venerating celebrities. We criticize Catholics for their veneration of the saints, then we elevate athletes, actors and other celebrities who call themselves Christians to a pedestal from which they are almost certain to fall. The bright lights tend to show the dirt more clearly and few people are able to stand against that.
3) We need to show grace to fallen Christian heroes. Christians can be pretty harsh to those who fail. Many celebrities have turned from the church because when their failures became public they felt nothing but condemnation from the church. We can’t lower the bar and say it’s okay, but the Josh Hamiltons of the world need to feel the love of the church, our support, our prayers, not our condemnation.
4) Remember, there’s only one hero who will not disappoint. One. That’s Jesus. He is perfect. He will never let you down. If you put your faith in a politician, he will sell you out for power. If you put your faith in a preacher, you will find he has feet of clay. If you venerate a celebrity, you may find that the bright lights expose some uncomfortable stains in his character. But Jesus is perfect, the savior, the sinless Lamb who saves, rules and reigns.
And please, pray for Josh Hamilton, okay?