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Race and Baseball: The Stories of Josh Hamilton and Darryl Strawberry

I’m sure most of us have heard of the story of Josh Hamilton, the former number one draft pick of the then-Tampa Bay Devil Rays who, following a car wreck, spiraled into a world of alcoholism and drug abuse; who was suspended multiple times by both the Rays and Major League Baseball; and who, after the Cincinnati Reds took a chance on him last year, is now destroying American League (and Houston Astro) pitching as a centerfielder for the Texas Rangers.

But Bomani Jones, a sports talk host in North Carolina, raised an interesting question the other day: Would everyone love Hamilton’s story if he weren’t white and Christian?

You can listen to Jones talk with Hamilton’s father here, but while I think Jones makes a good point, I’ve got to ask:

Does anyone remember Darryl Strawberry? Former number one draft pick of the New York Mets who was quite the stud with the bat and whose career spiraled into drug and alcohol addiction. And how many chances did Strawberry get? How many times did George Steinbrenner bring him back to the New York Yankees? And how often were we told of the brave story of Strawberry, the man who sunk to the lowest depths to climb back up to the Yankees – especially after he was diagnosed with cancer? And how many times did Strawberry fall off of the wagon yet come back to the Yankees where the inspiration story was repeated again and again?

Oh, and for those who don’t know, Darryl Strawberry is an African-American. So that kind of blows the white guy Christian thing out of the water, I think.

Darryl Strawberry was a hell of a talent. It’s really a shame his career never worked out, and that he could never keep his demons under control. And I think he’s a good story for the kids, too. And for while, he was every bit the inspirational story as Josh Hamilton is. I’m not saying Hamilton’s going to relapse, and I hope he don’t because he’s really a fun player to watch. But to answer Bomani Jones, Josh Hamilton isn’t receiving any special treatment that I can see. The media are treating him with the same awe and respect that they gave to Darryl Strawberry.

And for Hamilton’s sake, let’s just hope the comparisons with Strawberry end there. – John Royal

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