Major League Baseball is chock full of fun, meme-able characters that everybody loves to mock — but loves to root for even more. Take Bartolo Colon. He’d always been a solid player (even earned a couple of All-Star appearances in his final years), but was never one of the dominant arms in the game. Even in his Cy Young season in 2005, Colon posted just a 3.48 ERA. Yet Colon still became one of the most popular pitchers in the league just because of his appearance and demeanor. Colon embraced his unathletic figure and the moniker “Big Sexy” and became the most likable baseball player of the 2010s.
When Colon retired after the 2018 season, MLB had a void. There was no longer a player who was genuinely beloved by all fans and who became must-see TV every time he stepped on the field. Some fans tried to force the role on Minnesota’s Willians Astudillo. La Tortuga definitely looked a lot like Bartolo Colon. He even had some pitching appearances and just seemed to enjoy playing the game. However, as Astudillo continued his baseball career, that Colon-esque vibe started to fade away because we’d basically seen it all before. Astudillo was (and still is) a fun player to watch, but that schtick had been done… just better. Astudillo was like the sequel to a movie that didn’t need one — like Blues Brothers 2000.
I think I finally understand why that didn’t work out. MLB fans never wanted to replace Colon. There can only be one Big Sexy. We wanted a new style of player, and I think we’ve found our guy.
Billy Hamilton was someone who faced a lot of hype when he entered the league in 2013. Hamilton was supposed to reinvent baseball with blazing speed and the ability to get on base often enough to make game-changing use of it. It didn’t pan out that way. Despite finishing second in NL Rookie of the Year voting in 2014, Hamilton never lived up to the expectations thrust upon him. He was still fun to watch, and his interactions with great defensive catchers like Yadier Molina while on the basepaths always had me on my toes, but Hamilton could never reach base often enough to turn his speed into a legitimate weapon. He also was never a serious threat at the plate, and thus he was forced into the life of an MLB journeyman — bouncing around from team to team for years.
This most recent offseason, Hamilton stumbled into a Minor League contract with the Chicago White Sox. No one thought anything of it — just another town he’d eventually be pushed out of. Hamilton worked his way onto the ChiSox opening day roster and promptly got hurt after just six appearances. When he returned, Hamilton went 0-for-11 and was basically limited to a pinch-running or defensive specialist role. However, something was brewing… We just couldn’t see it. Hamilton was starting to turn things around. He recorded two multi-hit performances in his next five games. Still nothing insane, but it was just a taste of what was to come. After returning to his pinch-running and defensive roles for the next few weeks, Hamilton returned with fiery ferocity on May 29 and hit his first home run as a member of the White Sox. It put his team up 1-0. That was just a fluke though, right? Hamilton couldn’t do it again… he did do it again the next day. Since that first homer in the fourth inning against the Orioles, Hamilton has recorded an extra-base hit in every game he’s started.
I don’t want to cheer for the White Sox. Tony La Russa is the most unlikable guy in baseball right now. But I couldn’t help but turn on MLB.TV and flip to tune into the White Sox-Indians game last night. I just wanted to see Hamilton play. I wanted to watch Hamilton become the player he was always supposed to be. This is a guy who is hitting at the bottom of the lineup. That’s where the most forgettable players are supposed to be. That’s supposed to be the time in the lineup when you use the bathroom or go make yourself a snack, but I was glued to my laptop screen.
I totally forgot about how La Russa said it was OK to throw at one of his players. I totally forgot about how Yermin Mercedes has been hitting .166 since being called out for hitting that 3-0 homer. I didn’t care about any of that. Just like when Colon was on the mound for the Mets or A’s in the final stretch of his career, I never cared about the score or the circumstances (or really anybody else on either team). I only cared about watching an exciting player enjoy the game of baseball.
Hamilton has accredited a lot of his recent success to White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson. Anderson is known for carrying himself with a lot of confidence, so it makes sense that someone like Anderson would be very helpful to a hitter who’s struggled as mightily as Hamilton has throughout his career. Hamilton was a career .241 hitter coming into 2021. Anderson hit .240 a year prior to winning the batting title in 2019. It was a match made in heaven, and it has only been bolstered by the fact that the White Sox have one of the best records in the American League. I don’t expect Hamilton to continue his recent power surge. But his pop over the last few games reminded me of how fun it can be to root for a singular player — someone who’d been cast aside and labeled as a lifetime role player.
You could see the joy in Hamilton’s eyes as he blazed around the bases after hitting a ball out beyond the left field fence. Hamilton’s little league inside-the-park home run just a few days later was arguably the most fun play of the season aside from Will Craig refusing to step on first base. I want nothing more than to see Billy Hamilton succeed right now, and you can bet I’ll be tuning in to every White Sox game for the rest of the season to watch him play.