He was already on the way to a bummer of a 2009 season when he needed an emergency appendectomy in August. Hart won his arbitration hearing against the Brewers in December, but his win raised the ire of fans, who weren't quite sure that Hart deserved a $4.8 million salary. When he slumped through Spring Training to the tune of a .172 batting average, Hart was left out of the Brewers' Opening Day lineup in favor of newcomer Jim Edmonds.
Then came one final bit of ignominy. The team left Hart off the All-Star ballot in favor of Edmonds. The snub stung, Hart admits.
Except there he was on Monday, not only an All-Star for the second time, but a member of the starting lineup. Hart was named on Sunday as a replacement for injured Braves rookie Jason Heyward and will start Tuesday's Midsummer Classic in right field, batting eighth. Along with left fielder Ryan Braun, the Brewers have a pair of All-Star starters for the first time since 1983.
"I was mad," Hart said. "I was mad at myself. I was mad at everyone involved. But I didn't get mad to where I wanted to quit, I got mad to the point I wanted to prove everybody wrong. I had a chip on my shoulder. I felt like I was going to prove everybody wrong."
Mission accomplished. Hart batted .288 in the first half with 21 home runs, one off the league lead, and was tied for tops in the NL with 65 RBIs.
The hot start earned Hart a spot on the All-Star team via the players' ballot. Since he was the leading vote-getter, the honor of replacing Heyward was Hart's.
"It's unbelievable," Braun said of his All-Star teammate. "It's a testament to his perseverance and his character. He dealt with a lot of negativity. It seemed like the team lost faith in him, and he's more than overcome it.
"He's certainly deserving of being an All-Star. I think, overall, he's been our best player in the first half, and I'm proud of him. What he's done, that's not an easy thing to do."
Braun has talked his friend through tough times. These days, their conversations are often about Hart's latest distraction, the trade rumors that have begun to swirl around him. It's no surprise that Hart is drawing interest; he is under team control for one more season in 2011 before reaching free agency, and is a more affordable option than first baseman Prince Fielder, who is in the same contractual boat.
Hart, Milwaukee's 11th-round Draft pick in 2000, wants to stay. Braun wants to see him continue to prove that he deserves his spot in the starting lineup.
"When you have a whole organization to prove wrong, it's very motivating," Braun said. "But he did it the right way. He didn't sulk, he didn't pout. He wasn't happy about it, but he just went to work."
Brewers general manager Doug Melvin said he took no offense to Hart's candid comments on the day he was named an All-Star, when the player said he was "hurt" by the team's decision to leave him off the All-Star ballot. Edmonds got the nod instead.
Melvin explained that decision.
"We switched at the last minute. It wasn't anything against Corey. We put Jim Edmonds on thinking there was a chance that if Edmonds went out and had a big year, he might get one more All-Star opportunity," Melvin said. "And it's not like we're taking an All-Star bonus away from [Hart]. When you go to arbitration, your [contract] doesn't have any award bonuses."
Melvin said his relationship with Hart is strong. He's as happy as anybody to see the player produce.
"Here was a kid who was an 11th-round pick and proved everyone wrong, and he continues to prove he can go play," Melvin said. "He had an off year last year and went out and proved to us that he is better than what last year was. That's the tough thing about evaluating talent, guys can bounce back. He's having a fantastic year, and it's through hard work and dedication and commitment."
That's true, too, of the Brewers' other All-Stars. Braun is in the NL's starting lineup for the third consecutive year despite beginning July in a nasty slump. But he snapped an 0-for-19 slump with two hits on Friday, including a walk-off single, then homered Saturday and Sunday to finish the first half strong.
Braun lives near Los Angeles, and decided to stay at a hotel near Anaheim Stadium to avoid a long commute. Perhaps his big weekend with the Brewers made his trip home for the All-Star Game all the more enjoyable. Perhaps not.
"I would have enjoyed this either way," Braun said. "I've really gotten to the point where I try not to let what's going on on the field affect me [elsewhere]. That's crucial to enjoying life, because baseball is built around failure and negativity."
Brewers right-hander Yovani Gallardo has known some negativity of late. He was named to his first All-Star team hours before suffering a strained rib cage in a start against the Cardinals. Gallardo was placed on the disabled list and is ineligible to pitch Tuesday night.
Is the experience bittersweet?
"Not at all," Gallardo said. "I think it's more sweet than bitter. I really wanted to pitch, but there are things you can't control in baseball and one of those is injuries."
Gallardo will be watching his Brewers teammates as they try to snap the American League's 13-year All-Star unbeaten streak. Then it's back to work on Thursday, when Hart will probably find some trade rumors waiting for him.
"I hope to stay," Hart said. "Even if things don't work out this year, you feel like if we keep our guys together, we could be a good team. I hope they see that. It's going to be interesting, right?"
With Hart, it usually is.