I was listening to Les Levine and Ken Carman talking to Richard Skinner, a radio personality from Cincinnati, on the topic of Tom Hamilton and his reaction to Nick Swisher getting buzzed by Reds relief pitcher Aroldis Chapman. I also read the post at Cleveland Frowns yesterday as well as most of the comments there. I’m sure most Indians fans have seen the clip by this point, but when Nick Swisher saw a 100 mile-per-hour fastball barely miss the brim of his helmet, Tom Hamilton became about as incensed as I’ve ever heard him.
It was Hamilton’s opinion that Aroldis Chapman had intentionally thrown at the head of Nick Swisher. He was as understandably energized by the play as anyone who was watching it. Just a guess, but Hamilton would probably re-write exactly what he said if he had the chance. To his credit, Richard Skinner didn’t overreact talking to Levine and Carman and said that he told his Cincy-based audience yesterday afternoon to put themselves in Indians fans’ shoes. What if Chris Perez had thrown those same two pitches at Joey Votto?
It’s so very simple, but it’s also perfect. Try and understand what an otherwise good man was caught up in when he said something that might have you questioning him. But for whatever reason rather than having that response to a situation, some portion of the population would prefer to engage in some kind of witchhunt to try and define everyone by their worst moments and have them extrapolated to the furthest negative degree. After thinking about it and discussing it on Twitter, my conclusion is just to wonder why Tom Hamilton’s enormous, well-documented track record doesn’t count for something.
Make no mistake: I’m not saying that it is the job of Indians fans to support bad behavior. We’ve all played with fire in that realm. I tried to support Albert Belle at various points in my life whether he was running over a second baseman, or attempting to run down some Halloween vandals in his SUV. I also believe I was at the debut game for John Rocker as a Cleveland Indian and stood and applauded as he aggressively sprinted to the mound. I’ve used questionable judgment to try to be protective of people, but Tom Hamilton is far different.
Consider this: If Tom Hamilton talks about baseball on the radio for the average two hours and 45 minutes that it takes to play a baseball game and does so for 162 games, that’s 445.5 hours of play-by-play per season. Yes, I know he sometimes misses games, and I know he doesn’t call every inning of every game. Tom Hamilton joined the Tribe in 1990 so he’s been doing this job for over 20 years. Point being that even if Tom Hamilton has five minutes of somewhat questionable commentary every single season, he’s not doing too bad.1
For the purposes of this conversation let’s all agree that Tom Hamilton might have misstepped slightly when he spoke of Nick Swisher smoking a ball back up the middle—”off the pitcher’s temple”—as some kind of justice for a guy intentionally throwing at a batter’s head. One might defend Hamilton because one act is intentional and the other is not. Also suggesting a ball up the middle would be justice isn’t technically wishing for it either. Still, I think we can all agree the safer bet is leaving that bullet in the chamber rather than firing it out in a heated moment.
Also, for the purposes of this conversation, let’s also agree that it was a mistake to mention that Aroldis Chapman might get away with throwing at people’s heads if he was playing the game in Cuba. Having listened to Tom Hamilton for as long as I have I’m willing to bet that he was referring to a different league of baseball with different cultural values. Similar can be said for Japan, which allows for only a certain number of non-Japanese players, or “gaijin,” on a given roster. I’m willing to bet this is what he meant as opposed to somehow invoking Cubans as being inferior people.
In the end, Hamilton’s mistakes were leaving these negative interpretations open to suggestion when he was emotionally caught up in the moment. As to the suggestion that it would be justice to have a ball come back up the middle and hit Chapman, Hamilton briefly addressed it saying, “I’m not going to go over this. That sure wasn’t the intent to mean it that way.” And as a guy who has listened to hours and hours of Tom Hamilton that’s good enough for me. He’s earned it.
Being caught up in the moment is exactly what everyone wants a broadcaster to do, by the way. So there’s the rub. Knowing what we know about Tom Hamilton and his history, he deserves support and the benefit of the doubt. He has enough of a track record that if this is determined to be his worst moment then he shouldn’t be defined by it. If Cleveland fans who know Hamilton better than anyone else don’t defend him, who will? And if you can’t stand up for the quality of a guy like Tom Hamilton, then who can you support?
Of course if the “questionable” commentary is of a certain inflammatory level there is no defense, but I don’t think what Hamilton said was anywhere near the Howard Cosell variety. [↩]