Jul 16, 2008

Josh and the Toe

The summer of 1999 saw the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, now just the Rays, sign two of the best prospects ever to cross their board. Both have had the tag "best to ever play the game" attached to them at one point or another, but where they came from and where they wound up are as different as night and day.

The first player was drafted out of high school and given a $4 million signing bonus. He was a tremendous pitcher who often reached the mid-high 90's on the radar guy. He also played the outfield as well as just about any high schooler in the country. And at bat the kid was Babe Ruth. His name was Josh Hamilton, and by now just about all of America knows his story. Incredible prospect who suffered a bad car accident with his parents. While he and they were recovering, he began to hang out in tattoo parlors in some pretty bad neighborhoods. He was introduced to the world of alcohol, cocaine, heroin and finally crack. He wasted away to a skinny 170 pounds and wound up spending 4 years away from the game while enduring several attempts at rehabilitation.

Monday night he became a baseball hero in New York the likes of which having been seen in a long, long time. 28 home runs in the first round...and it seemed as if the night would never end as he hit bomb after bomb after bomb. Tuesday night he was the starting center fielder for the AL in the very last All-Star game ever to be played at Yankee Stadium. He is also the favorite thus far for MVP of the league, setting the pace with 95 RBI so far. His story of faith, recovery and redemption is something right out of Hollywood.

The second player wasn't drafted. He didn't even attend high school as he had dropped out in the 7th grade because he had trouble keeping up with the workload. He grew up in a single-parent household. No mother and a father who worked around the clock. Some people in his town admitted that he was probably "slow". After a scout from the Devil Rays happened upon one of his games...in the middle of a sugar cane field...he was signed to a $30,000 bonus and a minor league contract. The scout saw an 18 year-old kid who hit 95 on the radar gun with a devastating curveball. But that was the least of his talents. He was a switch-hitter who launched pitch after pitch over the outfield walls. A once in a lifetime kind of talent.

His name was Greg "Toe" Nash and his path toward stardom has been sidetracked to a jail cell. At one point in a one-year period he was arrested six times for a variety of offenses. The last was an arrest for statutory rape. The 15 year-old girl later admitted to consensual sex with the budding star and two of his buddies, but the men also stole some items from the girl's house. She made up the story of the rape to explain the robbery. That was the end of his career with Tampa Bay.

The Cincinnati Reds decided to give him a try and signed him to a minor league contract in 2002. He never got to play for him as he was arrested soon after on charges of domestic violence and violation of his parole. He was finally given a five-year sentence which, I believe, he is still serving today. He is due to get out of jail the year he turns 29.

I don't know if any of the myths surrounding the Toe are true. There are some who say that it was all exaggerated. I don't care. I want the myths to be true even if the dream never came true. It's sad to think that we will never know. But the idea of walking into a sugar cane field or a corn field or an inner-city blacktop and finding the real-life Roy Hobbs is irresistible. A boy with a cannon for an arm and lightning in his bat.


Slyde said...

when you make sports posts like this, which i know nothing about, it makes me feel very inadequate as a man.

please stop.

Seals said...

I love the Toe Nash story too.

The scout who found him in the sugar cane field went looking for him. He remembered seeing him as a dominating little leaguer and wondered what ever happened to him.

It's amazing the scout found him. It's amazing the guy was an unknown phenom. It's amazing the guy is too stupid to take advantage of any of his talent.

It's a great story, but it could have been so much more.

Still, I wonder if he's hitting balls over barbed-wire fences right now. I can't help it.

Verdant Earl said...

Slyde - you are inadequate as a man.

ajooja - Yeah, I left out the part about the scout asking around for a kid named Toe and then being directed to the sugar cane field. I read another story about him that said most of what was written about him was bullshit. That his had more baby fat than lean, athletic muscle. That his 400+ foot bombs were more like 300+ foot bombs. I'd rather believe it was all true. Even if he squandered it. Some guys stories are too good to be true. Check out Lefty O'Doul on Wiki one of these days. He was a pitcher back in the 20's who developed some arm problems. He went back to the minors and worked on his hitting for 5 years! He came back and posted the 4th best career batting average of all-time in a shortened career.

Bruce Johnson said...

I kept reading looking for the refernces to saucy ladies in bikinis or mixed drinks but there weren't any!!! This is just about baseball? What gives?

limpy99 said...

I wish I could blame drugs and alcohol for my failures as a baseball player, but the truth is, I just sort of suck.

Verdant Earl said...

Lotus - that time of year, I guess. If I wrote about baseball as much as I thought about baseball then this would be a blog entirely dedicated to baseball.

Limpy - That's okay. I blame drugs and alcohol for your failures as a baseball player. Glad to help.

Seals said...

Yeah, it's kind of like a lot of those Negro League stories.

Cool Papa Bell was so fast he could turn off the lights and be under the covers before the room went dark. :)

I heard he once hit a line drive up the middle that whacked him on the head sliding into second base! :D