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It seems like just yesterday that Johnny Damon was patrolling the outfield at Fenway Park in a Red Sox uniform, slamming into anything, and everything, face-first while attempting to catch any ball coming his way. We loved watching him make ridiculous catches and knew he would set the right tone for the game as our lead-off guy. We loved his hits, his heart, and most definitely, we loved his hair.
The fact that he resembled one of our favorite biblical characters would lead many to believe he was a prophet, sent here to end that dreaded 86-year World Championship drought that plagued Red Sox Nation. He was our savior, delivering a game-clinching grand slam in Game 7 of the 2004 ALCS in one of the greatest comebacks in sports history. I’ll admit, I still have my “What Would Johnny Do?” t-shirt tucked away somewhere in my house, but have not once worn it since that ill-fated day: December 20, 2005.
The day our Johnny became their Johnny. The day he traded in his pretty locks and facial hair for pinstripes. The day we branded Damon with the Scarlet “T” for traitor. When the Sox refused to offer Damon a contract over three years, he seized his opportunity for a four-year, $52-million deal with the Yankees. We were in shock, and revolted by the fact that Damon had turned over to the dark side.
The amount of booing that went on anytime Damon set foot in Fenway wearing a Yankees uniform is a great representation of how much we actually loved him. We wouldn’t waste our valuable time and vocal chords on a player that we didn’t value so much. He was a key member of the 2004 dream team, and we wanted him to love Boston as much as we loved him.
But the past is in the past. Red Sox Nation would eventually move on. No. 18 would eventually end up on Daisuke Matsuzaka’s back and the Sox would go on to win another World Series without the help of Damon.
Yes, the River Damon is flowing freely underneath Red Sox Nation Bridge.
On Friday, the Sox will open a three-game series in Detroit and we will get our first look at Damon in a Tigers uniform.
Damon, who used to be a heavy hitter for the two most recognizable teams in baseball, is now out-shined by a rejuvenated Miguel Cabrera and skilled former Yankee farmhand Austin Jackson, who are sporting the top two batting averages in the American League, respectively. Johnny’s average is just shy of .300, and he’s only notched twp home runs and 15 RBI. With 20 strikeouts, his bat seems to be a bit slower.
Still, I think Detroit is a good fit for him. Even with age being the biggest factor, he is still one of the most productive players on the team. With Jim Leyland, Damon is playing for a manager that values veteran leadership.
If he had stayed with the Yankees, there’s no doubt in my mind he would see significantly less playing time. Four or five years ago, Damon might have been able to compete with Nick Swisher and Brett Gardner, but not now. Both Swisher and Gardner are batting over .300 and they both have the speed and athleticism needed for the expansive Yankee Stadium outfield. The Yankees absolutely made the right decision in letting him go.
For now. But what happens when the leaves turn colors and the post-season arrives? Who can forget Damon’s clutch heroics in last year’s Fall Classic? The base running play in the pivotal Game 5 was the offensive version of Jeter’s miracle play at the plate against Oakland in the 2001 playoffs. Anyone seen Jason Giambi lately?
Damon has the unique ability to ignore pressure. He was having an abysmal season in 2004, until Games 6 and 7. Are Swisher and Gardner capable of the same? We’ll see.
Some wonder whether Theo should have made a play for Damon this past off-season. Before the season started, before I even knew who Darnell McDonald was, I would have said yes, but my mind has since changed. I was nervous how our outfield would pan out this year after losing Jason Bay, but I have to say, I’m pleasantly surprised.
Even in the absence of Jacoby Ellsbury, our best outfielder, Jeremy Hermida and McDonald prove to be pulling their weight. While McDonald is only sporting a .230 average, he seems to be able to get those clutch hits at the right time.
What will happen when McDonald has been around the league once? Teams will surely adjust to him. There is a reason that he has been a career minor-leaguer. On the other hand, Hermida seems to be approaching the expectations that came with being a first-round pick a few years back.
Whether or not Damon will get another year out of the Tigers remains to be seen. But if not, perhaps he’ll consider bringing the shaggy Johnny back and pursue a career as a Geico caveman.