Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Chris Berman: Why God Invented the Mute Button


While I feel somewhat sorry for Justin Morneau -- the guy who actually won the Home Run Derby at Yankee Stadium Monday night -- there's no denying how fantastic a story the event's runner-up, Josh Hamilton, was.

Morneau had by all rights a solid night -- 17 home runs in the first two rounds before belting five in the final. It was a night normally reserved for exclusive celebration, the night where baseball can applaud a guy who normally doesn't get much praise (which, sadly, is how it goes when one plays in Minnesota). And considering the game's biggest names passed up the chance to participate, whether it be because of injuries or selfish reasons, Morneau on most Home Run Derby nights would be king.

But Hamilton belted 28 dingers -- in the first round. That in and of itself is remarkable (and yes, a record), but what makes Hamilton's feat -- a feat that had 50,000 Yankee faithful standing and chanting his name -- so remarkable is the journey the player had to take to get to the All-Star Game.

Hamilton's journey has been well-documented, but it deserves to be repeated: the No. 1 overall pick by Tampa Bay in 1999, Hamilton was the second coming, the guy who was supposed to turn the then-Devil Rays around. But a $4 million signing bonus -- and plenty of free time due to injuries -- led Hamilton down a destructive path, one that included alcohol, cocaine and heroin.

Three years without baseball, and Hamilton returned last year to have a nice half-season with Cincinnati. But it wasn't until the Reds traded him to the Texas Rangers in the offseason that Hamilton's career really took off. A league-best 95 RBI at the break to go along with 21 homers; Hamilton is one of the reasons the Rangers are four games over .500 right now, and even though Texas has virtually no shot at the postseason, the story more than makes up for it.

What matters isn't that Hamilton drank so predigiously. Nor does it matter that he shot up on heroin and nearly destroyed his entire life, let alone his baseball career. The tattoos on his arms don't mean nearly as much as what they represent today. They're a reminder, both of where Hamilton has been and how far he's come since hitting rock-bottom.

We love the redemptive tale. The hero who makes mistakes, owns up to them and gets back on the path to righteousness. While guys like Roger Clemens duck and lie about their own drug use, Hamilton freely discussed his. And I'm sure in doing so, he gave a recovering addict or an addict's loved one the strength to keep fighting.

And that means more than any 500-foot bomb ever will.

Farve From Over

I've tried my best to avoid the Brett Favre situation -- mostly because I couldn't really figure out where I stood on it -- but after hearing his comments Monday night during his interview with Fox News' Greta Van Susteren, I can't help myself.

"OK, you guys have a different path, fine," Favre said in the interview. "What does that mean for me? So that means either you give me my helmet, welcome (me) back, or release me, or attempt to trade me. We all know that's a possibility, but way-out-there possibility. And he says, 'Well, playing here is not an option, but we can't envision you playing with another team, you know, either.' And I thought, so basically, I'm not playing for anyone if I choose to come back."

If what Favre says is true -- and really, what's out there to convince us he's not? -- then this has become an even bigger mess than anyone anticipated. I suppose on some level I don't blame the Packers for not wanting to release Favre, only to see him sign with a Minnesota or a Chicago and come back to bite them.

But bring Favre back as a backup? Seriously?

So GM Ted Thompson is okay with Favre on the sideline, holding a clipboard while Aaron Rodgers steps onto the Frozen Tundra for the first time? Thompson is okay with the fans booing and chanting Favre's name the first time Rodgers throws a pick? Because you know that's what would happen on the off-chance Favre would accept being a backup.

I'm all for moving on as a franchise; when Favre retired, the Packers had virtually no other choice. But you have to, if you're the Packers, drop everything you're doing and give that starting job back the moment Favre says he wants back in. There is no way to tell the most beloved quarterback in Green Bay history no.

At the very least, grant the man his release. To say you won't release him because you want to protect his legacy is so beyond rediculous. Did playing those two years in Kansas City taint Joe Montana's legacy? Hardly, so why would suiting up for Baltimore or Minnesota do the same to Favre?

I realize Thompson wanted to get Rodgers on the field, see what his first draft pick with the Packers can do, and that's fine. But to outright shun the almighty Brett Favre (just a hint of sarcasm here), to run him out of town like he never did anything for the organization, just months after he was within one game of the Super Bowl?

Ted Thompson must've gone to the Peter Angelos School of Sports Management, that's the only thing I can figure.

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