How a Braves, Josh Hamilton deal pays off

Josh Hamilton in happier times, with the 2000 Charleston RiverDogs. Wade Spees/Staff

Josh Hamilton was at his baseball happiest at The Joe, as a 19-year-old kid with a $3,960,000 million signing bonus living at Folly Beach and batting .302 with the 2000 Charleston RiverDogs.

Greenville was a critical part of Hamilton’s rehabilitation from a drug and alcohol battle that cost him three full seasons. Richard Davis, owner of Charleston’s Trademark Properties, put Hamilton to work as a project manager moving Shoeless Joe Jackson’s boyhood home to a museum site aside Greenville’s new Fluor Field in 2006.

When Hamilton returned to South Carolina in 2010, it was as an All-Star outfielder preparing to lead the Texas Rangers into the first of two straight World Series. The Rangers played a March exhibition game against Coastal Carolina in Myrtle Beach, and the little kid came out in the Raleigh native.

“It’s been a long time since I had Bojangles,” Hamilton said that day. “When we got here last night, that’s all I could think about. So I woke up and first thing this morning went to Bojangles. I loved every minute of it.”

Sadly, 192 home runs into a made-for-Hollywood comeback, Josh Hamilton hit a relapse bump threatening to overturn his already abbreviated career. Addicts, we keep learning the hard way, aren’t reliable.

CBSSports.com and the New York Daily News reported a February binge involved cocaine and drinking. Los Angeles Angels owner Arte Moreno, on the hook for the three years left on Hamilton’s guaranteed five-year, $125 million contract, is looking for ways to void the deal. The players’ union won’t let that happen, but things might get ugly when Hamilton returns from a shoulder injury in May.

It’s a mess, though something that is salvageable with a trade — ideally to the Atlanta Braves.

There is still hope for a good-hearted man with less baseball wear than you expect at 33. The healing must start with a drastic change of scenery.

Texas makes sense. As Dallas Morning News columnist Tim Colishaw points out, Rangers fans likely would forgive any hard feelings.

The Astros, perhaps. Hamilton is in Houston rehabbing his shoulder, staying sober and itching for live pitching.

The Dodgers and Phillies, with their own salary problems to trade, reportedly are interested.

The Braves are a better fit, contrary to the organization’s payroll-slashing youth movement.

For Atlanta, Hamilton should come at minimum risk and great value. Surely, a bitter Moreno will wise up and offer to pay most of Hamilton’s salary to get him as far away from Anaheim as possible.

Hamilton is an excellent clubhouse guy who eagerly works with young players. MLB Network Radio analyst Jim Duquette said Wednesday that Michael Moye, Hamilton’s agent, has told teams interested in the five-time All-Star that he is willing to insert protective clauses into a revised contract for the right deal (Moye, by the way, is based in Atlanta).

For Hamilton, Atlanta is the perfect fit.

It gets him closer to his family in Raleigh, his friends in both Carolinas and Bojangles.

Anything but the Angels.

Moreno has a bad case of buyer’s remorse. Angels pitcher C.J. Wilson correctly pointed out that Hamilton’s 2014 production (.263, 10 homers in an injury-riddled season) might have something to do with that.

“If Josh was hitting .300 with 35 home runs a year, what’s the situation?” Wilson told Orange County Register reporter Pedro Moura last week.

Not surprisingly for almost everyone who knows Hamilton, Orange County was not a good cultural fit. The former Katie Chadwick, daughter of Christian motivational speaker and North Carolina home builder Michael Dean Chadwick, brought much-needed stability as Hamilton’s wife and has been through a lot. But her brief association earlier this year with cable television’s trashy “The Real Housewives of Orange County” seemed like an odd choice.

Hamilton isn’t talking these days. His last Twitter message was delivered pre-relapse, on Jan. 29: “For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form — Colossians 2:9.”

The Josh Hamilton tale was supposed to be one of baseball’s great feel-good stories. It was unfolding that way, homer by homer, complete with World Series drama.

We should have known better.

Atlanta, Texas or Houston might help, and Hamilton probably will help a new team.

The real concern is what happens when the baseball spotlight fades. Hamilton, it seems, thrives on progress and it’s probably not coincidental that his latest relapse happened during an injury rehab. Of course, he can eventually go into coaching. That might work with one-day-at-a-time TLC.

But unlike his current contract, there are no guarantees.

Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff