Monday, 19 January 2009

Whatever happened to...

Bob Hamelin. Anyone remember Bob Hamelin? I'll give you a hint. Think Joe Charboneau. Getting warmer? Bob Hamelin won the 1994 AL Rookie Of The Year while playing for the Royals. While it isn't uncommon for a former ROY to have a mediocre follow-up campaign, few flame out as fast and as spectacularly as "The Hammer" (and he couldn't have had a better nickname!)

The 1994 Royals were a great team - they ended 1994 on a 14 game win streak that was only stopped by the player's strike that ended up canceling the entire postseason including the World Series. They were four games out of first place and gaining momentum. Besides the AL ROY in Hamelin, they also had the AL Cy Young Award winner David Cone anchoring their pitching staff and a fantastic infield (Gaetti, Gagne, Lind, and Joyner around the bases). It was the last time I ever looked at the Royals as a legitimate contender.

I liked all the players on that team, but none more than their 26 year old rookie phenom Bob Hamelin. I kind of viewed him as a modern incarnation of Babe Ruth - the same chunky build, the same swing, both left-handed. He looked more beer-league than major league and he wore glasses.

I saw him play several times and remember a game sometime in July of 2004. I don't remember the opponent, but I remember the game going into the bottom of the 9th or 10th inning tied 3-3. Bob Hamelin was the first to bat and sent a pitch sky high down the right foul-line. Looking up I was blinded by the setting sun and couldn't track the ball, but then I heard a resounding "gong" as the ball struck the foul pole and the game was over. I was sunburnt and deliriously happy and I have a hard time remembering a more dramatic ending to a game that I actually attended. (I can think of a few Jacob's field thrillers, but that is another story)

So after that meteoric rise, Bob Hamelin was gone from the Royals by 1996 and out of baseball entirely 2 years later. Injuries played a role, and perhaps his inability to stay in shape, but I still have never entirely gotten over the what might have been.

I lost track of him soon after he left the Royals, and saw that he played halfway decent for the Tigers for a year in 1997, but then nothing...

So the internet being what it is, I started to do a bit of searching. It turns out I entirely missed the story of how he left baseball. It certainly adds a bit of flair to his enigmatic career. From the LA Times

"On a warm spring night in Toledo, Ohio, while playing baseball for a team called the Mud Hens, Hamelin, the 1994 American League rookie of the year for the Kansas City Royals, hit an infield groundout, jogged off the field, kicked a bat and told his manager, Gene Roof, "I'm done."

After that game Monday night, Hamelin drove to Kansas City where his wife, Marie, and 1-year-old son, Jackson, live in the home Hamelin bought after he had been rookie of the year.

Hamelin's father, Robert (Hamelin), who lives in Irvine, where the Hamelins moved from Morristown, N.J., when Bob (Hamelin) was 12, where he became a fine football player and star baseball player at Irvine High and went on to play baseball for Santa Ana College and UCLA, says he had no idea that his son would make such a dramatic exit from the game he had loved and played for 26 years, until Bob called home on Monday night and said, 'Dad, I quit.'"

I don't have the rest of the story, since it is archived, but if anyone has, as Paul Harvey would say, "the rest of the story" I would love to read it...

The latest Hamelin news come from an interview he did in 2007.

Six questions with former Royal Bob Hamelin
Posted by
Daily Dose - Sports

It’s been 13 years since “The Hammer,” Bob Hamelin, captivated Kansas City Royals fans with a magical summer. A year after the retirement of Hall of Famer George Brett, Hamelin stepped into the lineup and emerged as one of the top sluggers in the A.L.

Hamelin won the Rookie of the Year Award that season, but he was never the same after the strike in 1994. He had a decent season with Detroit in 1997 and played his last MLB game Sept. 27, 1998, with Milwaukee. Daily Dose tracked The Hammer down in North Carolina:

What are you up to these days?

I’m working as a scout for the Washington Nationals. I work the areas of North Carolina, South Carolina and Kentucky. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do. I had a manufacturing business until a few years ago, then I went to a school for scouts, applied for some jobs and was fortunate enough to get this one.

So, you just couldn’t stay away from the game?

Baseball has always been my passion, and it’s something I’ve always wanted to be involved in. When I left the game, I needed to stay away for a while. But eventually I wanted to get back into it. I thought about coaching until this came up. The traveling is difficult, being away from my boys, but I’ve been surprised how much I enjoy it.

You retired abruptly. What’s the story behind that?

It was 1999, and I was playing for Toledo (Detroit’s AAA team). I grounded out, walked into the dugout and said enough was enough. That was it. I told them to put somebody else in and left. Even if I was going to get called up at the end of the year, I wasn’t looking forward to playing for the Tigers at all. They weren’t very good that season. When I realized I wasn’t even looking forward to the callup, I knew it was time to step away.

What was 1994 like for you, winning the Rookie of the Year?

It really was a special, fun time. Kansas City is a great baseball town, and the fans really supported that team. It’s too bad the strike hit because I think we had a good chance of making the playoffs. That was a good ballclub, and things were just working out for me.

You struggled after that season. What went wrong?

If I could tell you that, I might still be playing. I’m not sure. I know people say the weight was an issue, but I really never felt like it was. I was a hitter. And when I couldn’t hit, that was it. I had a good year with Detroit a few years later, but it’s not like I was going to help anybody defensively or stealing bases.

You hit a lot of big home runs in a relatively short time. Where did you get that flair for the dramatic?

It’s natural to be more focused in a situation like that, but I also was lucky to have those chances and to do something with them. I always enjoyed hitting in the big games in big moments.


Age: 39
Family: Sons Jackson, 9, and Sam, 6
Claim to fame: Won 1994 Rookie of the Year Award after hitting .282 with 24 home runs and 65 RBIs
Memorable hit: “I remember a homer I hit against Chicago in 1994 during our 14-game winning streak. I think it came in extra innings (it was a three-run bomb in the 12th inning of a 6-4 KC win).”

I find it interesting that Bob Hamelin's oldest son has the same name as George Brett's oldest son (who was named after one of his rivals, Reggie Jackson).

What does this have to with baseball cards? Nothing, just random musing, but that is part of what is so great about sports and baseball in particular. Though the players are just human, the stories surrounding them seem to soar larger than life and allow you for a moment to take flight with them and escape some of the mundanity of life...

And as much as I like Topps cards, I will have to admit that Upper Deck actually did a better rookie card for Bob Hamelin all the way back in 1990.

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