EXCLUSIVE: Josh Hamilton’s rise from the depths of an addiction to crack to become the American League’s most feared slugger is dramatic enough to have been scripted. Sure enough, Hamilton has entrusted his rights to producer Basil Iwanyk and Thunder Road Pictures to be shopped for a feature that will be written and directed by Casey Affleck. Iwanyk has partnered with Kevin Walsh and The Walsh Company on the film, which he and Affleck will pitch to the town shortly.
The best way to describe Hamilton’s journey is to liken him to Roy Hobbs of The Natural, because Hamilton fits that description. The difference: Hamilton’s fall from grace was self-inflicted. A bonafide prodigy who was throwing a 96 mph fast ball by age 15, Hamilton was the first player chosen in the 1999 Major League Baseball draft, signing with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays for a record $4 million. His parents stuck close to their son, until the three were broadsided by another car. His mother was badly hurt and his parents went home to North Carolina. That left Hamilton, who hurt his back in the accident, on his own for the first time in his life. He didn’t handle it well. Beer led to the first line of cocaine, and by the time he came off the disabled list and tore his quadriceps muscle to end his season, he was hopelessly hooked. The following season, he got to the point he hid coke in his uniform during minor league games and when the team found out and sent him to the Betty Ford clinic to straighten out, he went home. There, he met his future wife Katie, but his problems got worse and he failed drug tests and got suspended multiple times, until he was finally kicked out of baseball altogether.
He married Katie, but blew his bonus money on crack and even pawned his wife’s wedding ring. She threw him out and wouldn’t let him get near their newborn daughter. His parents had had enough by this time, too. With no place to go, he ended up with his grandmother, who caught him smoking crack and forced him to try to straighten himself out. Sent to Florida for another rehab, he walked into a local training facility and got a job cleaning toilets and caring for the field. He asked if he could throw a few pitches one day, and shocked bystanders by dialing up a 95 mph fastball.
It made him face his fall, from top pick and married father to a homeless cleaner of toilets, and the fact that he’d squandered his natural gifts. He bought into recovery, quit drugs, reconciled with a wife who hadn’t quit on him, and embraced religion. Eventually, he petitioned baseball’s commissioner for one more chance, and was granted a tryout. Hamilton was selected in the 2006 Rule 5 Draft by the Chicago Cubs, who immediately traded him to the Cincinnati Reds. After the 2007 season, he was traded to the Rangers. Hamilton has become a power hitting machine, crushing 35 home runs in the 2008 Home Run Derby, an unprecedented display of power with a swing that looked effortless. This season, Hamilton is putting up Triple Crown-caliber numbers this season. He has slipped occasionally with alcohol, but has taken a long road back to redemption by reclaiming his outsized talent and regained the trust of his family. If he continues to put up monster numbers, he’ll realize potential that eluded similarly talented jocks like Dwight Gooden and Daryl Strawberry, who weren’t able to overcome their demons until too late.
Thunder Road’s Kent Kubena will executive produce. Hamilton and his wife Katie will co-produce along with Hamilton’s business manager Steve Reed.
“I truly think this guy’ story is one of the most inspiring stories I’ve ever read,” Iwanyk said. “It’s also tailor-made for a movie: it has the mythic quality of The Natural, the faith-based angle of The Blind Side, and faith is a major part of our story, and the romance of Walk the Line. Casey has totally captured those elements in his take for the movie. It is an extraordinary odyssey that took him from the depths of drug addiction, estrangement from his family, and suspension from baseball to a spectacular rebirth of his life, faith, marriage and major league career.”
Iwanyk’s based at Warner Bros (where he’s shooting the Jeff Bridges-starrer The Seventh Son) and that studio will get first shot before he and Affleck take it out to the town. Affleck, who directed the parody documentary I’m Still Here with his brother in law Joaquin Phoenix, won’t star in this film. The WME-repped Affleck just wrapped Out of the Furnace opposite Christian Bale and starts Ain’t Them Bodies Saints with Rooney Mara in July.