'Everybody loved him:' Friends, colleagues mourn Hamilton
By Richard Justice
Darryl Hamilton's laughter and smile will be forever burned into the hearts and minds of those who knew him best. He was one of those rare people who never seemed to have a bad day.
"Everybody loved him," said Phil Garner, one of Hamilton's former managers.
Indeed, that's likely to be Hamilton's enduring legacy. He engaged all people, whether they covered teams or washed uniforms or bought tickets. He liked -- and respected -- everyone.
Hamilton seemed to understand that he was blessed to have had a 13-year playing career. In that simple way, he never strayed far from his Louisiana roots.
Garner's thoughts came in bits and pieces as he attempted to sort out the stunning news of Hamilton's death in an apparent murder-suicide on Sunday in a Houston suburb. Hamilton, 50, was shot multiple times, according to police reports.
Hamilton played for five teams during his career, but remained around the game when he retired in 2001. He worked for Major League Baseball as a senior specialist for on-field operations and handled a wide assortment of roles in broadcasting, including studio analysis work for MLB Network.
Hamilton was also involved in several community efforts, including the Astros Urban Youth Academy. He said that kind of work was both a joy and a duty.
Hamilton admitted that he missed playing, that he especially missed being part of a team. But he approached each new job with enthusiasm and energy. At each stop, he touched people with his outgoing nature and his sense of humor.
"He was a good man, a good teammate," Garner said. "He was one of those guys people gravitated to."
Garner met Hamilton in 1992 after Garner took over as manager of the Milwaukee Brewers, where Hamilton played for parts of seven seasons from 1988-95. They were there together for four, but in the small, connected world that is baseball, they became extended members of the same family and remained in touch through the years.
Both made their homes in the Houston suburbs, and they bumped into one another at golf tournaments, television appearances and the like.
"As a player, [Hamilton] was just one of those guys that sort of made things work in the clubhouse," Garner said.
Teammates kidded Hamilton about his deep voice, predicting he had a career in television and radio once his playing career ended.
"And that laugh," Garner said. "You knew it was his."
As Garner spoke, he paused a few times to gather himself.
Hamilton did indeed have that career in broadcasting, and he developed a new set of relationships. His recent Twitter feed offered a collage of random thoughts, from complimenting Max Scherzer on his no-hitter to praising Carlos Correa for homering "oppo taco."
(He credited one of his sons for that phrase, which means "opposite field.")
Hamilton took selfies of himself and his sons at Astros games, praised Houston's weather (with a photo of his outdoor grill) and congratulated a player, Grant Borne, from his alma mater, Nicholls State, for being selected in the 2015 Draft.
Those tweets offer a portrait of a man who found joy in the simplest things. That's exactly what the people around Hamilton saw, too.
"He seemed like such a happy guy," said former Rockies general manager Dan O'Dowd, who worked with Hamilton as an MLB Network analyst. "It's so shocking."
When Steve Phillips was general manager of the Mets, he acquired Hamilton for the 1999 stretch run and credits him with helping the team make the postseason.
Phillips believed Hamilton could boost the Mets with his play in center field and his bat. But there was something else about Hamilton that appealed to Phillips.
"The thing you always heard about Darryl was that he was the consummate professional," Phillips said. "And that's exactly what he was."
Successful teams are composed of an assortment of different parts. Hamilton's role was that of a guy who contributed whatever was asked of him and put his ego aside.
"You knew he would show up every day prepared to play," Phillips said. "He had as solid and as consistent a temperament as any player you'll ever meet. What a great teammate. Such a good guy."
Like Garner, Phillips maintained a relationship with Hamilton long after the two were no longer part of the same organization. For a stretch, they worked as part of the Angels' broadcast team.
"He was the same guy he'd been as a player," Phillips said. "Very consistent. If he was having a bad day, you wouldn't know it. He was the kind of guy our fans in New York appreciated, because the effort was always there. With Darryl, there was never any question about that."
Phillips is among many in the baseball world and beyond mourning Hamilton's death. They know they may never be able to completely understand why it happened. But part of Hamilton will live on in their hearts. That's how it is with the good guys.
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.