1999 Topps Traded Chrome Josh Hamilton
Anytime you make a list there are always moving parts. If I had made this list two years ago Hamilton would have been higher than 38. If I revisit this list in a few years, I would expect him not to appear. However, there is still a chance that the on-field portion of Hamilton's career will recover which in turn would help recreate enthusiasm around his cards again. His cards have already taken a nose dive and recovered once before.
First, Hamilton was the first overall draft pick in MLB's amateur draft in 1999 out of Athens High School in Raleigh. There was a tremendous amount of lore surrounding Hamilton's high school accomplishments, athletic ability, and potential ceiling as a Major League player which drove the price and popularity of his cards sky high when they were first released in the fall of that year. Hamilton's career was derailed and got back on-track a few later. I am not going to rehash the whole thing, but Hamilton did write a book about the ordeal. I'd get it from the library.
Hamilton's cards have been generally uber popular since his return to professional baseball in 2007 with the Cincinnati Reds then later with the Texas Rangers. His performance on the field at times matched the expectations that fans had for Hamilton coming into the Majors from the draft. The height of Hamilton pandaemonium came after the 2008 All-Star Game Home Run Derby. Video isn't the best, but you get the idea...
Everything Hamilton on cardboard with a likeness of Hamilton was gold for a few years. Autographs and relics were easy to sell and trade and were highly desired by a broad sweep of collectors. Rookie cards were very popular and the population of cards that were submitted for grading, always a good sign of a popular rookie card, were staggering. If I rated just the height of Hamilton's collect-ability he might make the Top 10 on this list.
and then Hamilton signed with the Angels. It's been a complete disaster. With the disaster has come a slide in Hamilton cards. There are still avid Hamilton collectors out there and people still track down his cards, but it's definitely not the same as before.
On The Field Impact-
Hamilton won the American League MVP in 2010 and led the Texas Rangers to their only World Series appearances in 2010 and 2011. Hamilton struggled mightily in the two playoff runs the Rangers made to the World Series which brought a hefty amount of criticism from Rangers fans. I have always viewed Hamilton as an incredibly streaky player, who at his best, is capable of carrying a team single-handedly with incredible production. When Hamilton is off, he's off.
For example, during his MVP season is 2010 Hamilton started out the year in fine fashion crafting a .265/.351/.494 line in April and a .294/.322/.505 line in May. Good, not MVP, but good. Then the second half of the season his monthly lines were:
Hamilton then missed most of September, which means he one the MVP and lead the league in batting, slugging, and OPS playing one month less than everyone else. Pretty streaky, but then there's the playoff line which include these eye poppers:
Pretty rough right there, but that's the story of Hamilton's career. He looks like a Hall of Famer for a few games and then looks like he should be in AAA.
Perspective. I'll give my explanation first on my Hamilton card. For most people Josh Hamilton is a guy with tons of tattoos who has been a good player in the Major Leagues for the past five or six years. He overcame a lot to get to where he is and there are plenty of people who rehash the whole be sympathetic to Josh Hamilton line when his name comes up.
Honestly, I try to tune out the Josh Hamilton. He plays on a team I really do not like and I am not really into him as a player. However, I do find Hamilton an intriguing figure and I do have a nice stash of his cards in my collection.
For me, as a resident of the Raleigh-Durham metropolitan area, Hamilton is one of those great local legends. Everyone played against, coached, coached against, saw him hit a 500 foot home run in elementary school, or throw a no-hitter while throwing 95. He's the Paul Bunyun of central North Carolina. Obviously some of what you hear about Hamilton around Raleigh is completely false. Some is true.
So, for the reasons listed above, I choose to remember Hamilton as a high school kid from Raleigh who has played baseball against every person from Raleigh around 30 and been coached by, or coached against by every little league instructor too old to have played against Hamilton. I go with the 2001 Topps Stadium Club card.
2001 Topps Stadium Club Josh Hamilton
Many of Hamilton's early cards were posed. In fact, they are basically the same picture that appears on his rookie card shown at the top of this post. This card is an actual action shot of Hamilton and I like that he has the old Rays gear. I know a lot of Tampa fans hate these jerseys, but we all start out somewhere.