In August 2007, an article by John Perrotto revealed the strange story of Pirates prospect Clayton Hamilton (it appears that Perrotto’s article has been since removed, so here is a link to Pat Lackey’s take on the issue). In 2006, Hamilton was diagnosed with an oblique injury. He spent time on the disabled list, rested over the offseason, attempted to return to the mound in 2008, and finally had some tests done in Bradenton. At that point, Hamilton discovered he had been playing with broken ribs.
From Perrotto’s article:
“For the past year, I kept wondering if I didn’t have something more wrong with me than a strained muscle,” Hamilton said by phone from Bradenton earlier this week. “It just didn’t seem right that the injury never went away. Sometimes, it would hurt worse than at other times but there was always that lingering pain.
“Finally, once they sent me to Bradenton about three weeks ago, I asked the Pirates if they could run some more tests.”
Those tests revealed the fracture.
“Unless you were 90 or older, there was no way you couldn’t look at the X-ray and tell that the rib was broken,” Hamilton said. “It was plain as day.”
Hamilton became one of many symbols of ineptitude for the Pirates organization, particularly regarding the treatment of injuries. From Pat Meares’ hand to Jason Kendall’s thumb to J.R. House’s shoulder to Hamilton’s ribs, the team’s history with injury treatment was less than ideal.
However, Hamilton joined Kevin Goldstein and Jason Parks on the Baseball Prospectus Up and In podcast last week. The three chatted for almost an hour, starting with Hamilton’s time at Penn State. He was drafted by the Pirates, but did not sign. The next year, he was selected by the San Diego Padres as a senior and signed for $1000. He spent a couple years in the Padres’ system and was dealt to the Pirates for Bobby Hill. At that point, Hamilton began discussing the infamous injury. Except he never mentioned the broken rib. Apparently, things were a bit more serious.
I went over to probably the biggest hospital in Pittsburgh right downtown, and saw another specialist. And he said, “Yeah these are pretty uncommon, but you have…” And I don’t even remember the exact name. But the bottom line was I had two tumors growing in my 10th and 11th rib on the left side of my rib cage.
So, at the end of the day, I had a partial rib resection of my 10th and 11th ribs on my left side, and that was the problem all along.
The tumors were not cancerous, and Hamilton was selected shortly after by the Texas Rangers in the minor league portion of the Rule 5 draft. Trying to piece together the timeline, it seems that the final diagnosis probably came after Perrotto’s article was written. It sounds like he had to see several different doctors and specialists before the issue was finally discovered.
Hamilton was released by the Rangers on the final day of spring training, and it seemed that his baseball career was over. However, that is when the story gets interesting. Hamilton went to Las Vegas to play in the World Series of Poker, where he was contacted by the Yokohama BayStars of the Japanese professional league. The team asked him to play competitively somewhere, so they could see him in game action. After a failed attempt to join the Washington Wild Things of the Frontier League (due to age/experience restrictions), he latched on with a Pittsburgh Federation League team called the St. Johns Saints. He estimated that he threw 15 regular season innings, racked up about 40 strikeouts, and allowed one infield single. When the Fed League season ended, he re-signed with the Rangers, who were desperate for bodies on the Double-A pitching staff. He is now pitching for the BayStars in Japan. It is an excellent interview, and I would encourage you to give it a listen if you have a spare hour.