“Classic” Scratchbomb: Down with Dope, Up with Hype!

joshhamilton.jpg Hey, it’s the All Star Break! Celebrate with this piece from 2008, wherein  I recount how ESPN tried to turn Josh Hamilton’s very good performance at the Home Run Derby into The Greatest Story Ever Told. Smell the goodness after the jump. (Original post here.)

During Monday night’s Home Run Derby, Josh Hamilton hit some of the most impressive moon shots ever clubbed within the confines of the House that Ruth Built. And as we all know, anything accomplished at Yankee Stadium is at least 10 times more important than anything accomplished anywhere else.

The only things bigger than the home runs Hamilton hit were the lengths to which the ESPN talking heads went to praise him. You see, Josh Hamilton’s a recovering heroin addict–perhaps you heard about it when you weren’t too busy not living under a rock for the last year.

Granted, Derek Jeter wasn’t taking part in the Derby, so ESPN had to find someone else to verbally fellate. But their unblinking love of Hamilton–a man they couldn’t pick out of a lineup before the night began–was so embarrassing, it was approaching near Favre-ian levels.

Rick Reilly, the finest sports commentator 1987 had to offer, was particularly cringe-worthy in what I believe was his first on-air ESPN gig. He kept credulously repeating a dream Hamilton said he had, in which he was interviewed at Yankee Stadium after a home run derby. How amazing that he had that dream! How prescient! How [consults thesaurus] portentous, even!

To Reilly, this dream–which Hamilton totally undeniably had, and couldn’t have made up
on the spot, and couldn’t have been the product of a drug-addled memory–was evidence of FATE! Reilly loves tales of fate and redemption almost as much as he loves cocktail napkin-level jokes about golf and 20-year-old pop culture references.

Hamilton credits his new-found Christian faith with saving his life. So Reilly was moved to say, “It’s a bad night to be an atheist!” Pack it up, secular humanists, you’re finished! Sure, God could concentrate on ending war, disease, and human suffering, but He decided to save one drug addict and made him hit baseballs really far.

(And as Fire Joe Morgan pointed out, I guess God would also be responsible for Hamilton hitting only 3 homers in the last round and losing out to Justin Morneau, wouldn’t He? ESPN will have to take it up with God for ruining one of the best sports stories of the last week or so.)

Reilly also commented on the lack of non-white participants in the Derby, which surprised me. I’ll admit, bringing up the topic was almost brave, since race matters are almost never broached on a sports telecast (unless it’s a sport patting itself on the back for how un-racist it is).

This would have been a salient point to consider, had it come out of virtually anyone else’s mouth. Reilly’s clumsy punchline–“It’s like a Kiwanis Club out there!”–was more suited for the Catskills than the NAACP. Deep down, Reilly might actually care about racial representation in sport, but everything else takes a back seat to him trying to make yet another outdated, unfunny joke.

The collected commentators–Reilly, professional hair helmet Steve Phillips, professional Hall of Famer Joe Morgan, and professional bullhorn/jackoff Chris Berman–marveled at
Josh Hamilton’s ability to hit baseballs after spending so many years away from the game vein-mining. More than one of them said that this was the hardest part of coming back from addiction.

Sure, there’s the gut-wrenching junk sickness. There’s the agonizing, days-long pain of withdrawal. There’s the eerie difficulty of relearning how to do ordinary, everyday tasks. But that can’t compare to hitting a batting practice fastball!

And oh, Joe Morgan. We can always count on your to bring the crazy. Did you actually compare Josh Hamilton missing time due to drug addiction to Ted Williams missing time in the prime of his career? Ted Williams missed playing time because of military service. In two different wars. As a fighter pilot. A FIGHTER PILOT.

Do you know what the life expectancy of a fighter pilot was in World War II? Catch-22 should give you a good idea. Once you set foot in those planes, you might as well get your tombstone chiseled right then to save time. But Ted Williams served as a fighter pilot in World War II and Korea and lived to tell about it and came back to the majors and still hit 500 home runs.

But yeah, that’s totally the same as missing time because you were strung out on smack.

It’s great that Josh Hamilton kicked drugs–for Josh Hamilton and his family. That doesn’t make him a hero to you, me, or anyone else in America who’s not related to him. Are we supposed to hand out medals for everyone who stops self-destructive behavior? Hey, here’s your trophy for not drinking bleach!

I don’t want to diminish how difficult it is to kick a chemical dependency (even if ESPN’s over-the-top man-love makes me want to punch holes in Hamilton’s story). But as hard as that is, it’s the absolute least you can do as a functioning member of society. It reminds me Chris Rock’s joke about men who brag that they take care of their family: you’re supposed to take care of your family. You might as well brag about remembering to eat.

But worst of all, the ESPN personalities kept talking about how this event was “historic” and would be remembered forever. Now, Hamilton hit himself some majestic taters, but remembered forever? Not even ESPN will remember them next week, when they’re on to the latest chapter of the Bret Favre Saga, or A-Rod Hearts Madonna, or whichever NFL star gets arrested next.

And as if this wasn’t enough, now tonight, during the actual game, we get to hear Joe Buck and Tim McCarver. *shudder*