What Would Johnny Damon Do?
Johnny Damon has long been a fixture atop the Red Sox lineup. He has logged 1006 of 1407 games played atop the lineup (through 5/2/05). In these 1006 games, he has a .288 AVG/.352 OBP/.435 SLG line, and a career line of .287/.351/.431. As a Red Sox, he has enjoyed besting these career numbers, checking in at .292/.363/.444 while logging the most at-bats of any Red Sox since 2002, when Damon joined the Red Sox. He’s gotten up to bat 1958 times and gotten a hit 572 and walked 216 times. He has come around to score 362 times. Using simple math, because that’s all I can safely do, this means that out of these 1958 times, he’s gotten on-base 40% of the time (pretty staggering when you think about it) as a Sox [EDIT: this sentence up to now is incorrect, check the comments!], and has come around to score 46% of the time he’s gotten on base, both an indicator of how valuable Damon is to the club by getting on base and how vaunted the Sox offense is. (Scoring runs as a pinch-runner, while I do not have statistics for, is probably enough to be negligible in this figuring.)
He also seems to be a Red Sox at heart. He speaks of leaving the game before signing with the New York Yankees, hated Red Sox rivals. He also speaks of leaving the game, period, if he doesn’t get what he wants. A two- or three-year contract is not in Damon’s interests. “I’d like to finish my career here. I’m not sure [the Red Sox will] let me do it, if they offer me two or three years. I want at least four or five.”
Considering the Red Sox have an organizational philosophy on not signing anyone for more than three years (Keith Foulke being the only exception) and that Damon would be 36 when such a contract ends, he’s not likely to recieve that – not from anyone, except possibly the Yankees, However, he’s not interested in the Yankees.
“There’s no way I can go play for the Yankees, but I know they are going to come after me hard. It’s definitely not the most important thing to go out there for the top dollar, which the Yankees are going to offer me. It’s not what I need.”
Whether or not Johnny Damon re-signs with the Red Sox or not, he’s already made an impact on the Red Sox fortunes, both on the field and off. Damon’s not afraid to speak to the media to take pressure off the other players, and he’s not afraid to say what he thinks – even if it reflects onto Damon as an egotistical being. He also keeps the clubhouse loose and free, ready to play. As he constantly says, the Red Sox are idiots. While I am getting pretty tired of the line, he does not mean idiots as in dumb. He means it in that they just don’t worry, go out, and play ‘see ball, hit ball’. In addition, “Idiot” is the name of his autobiography.
When I picked this book up, I thought I was in for a lot of “Me Tarzan! Ball Jane!” and just a pretty shallow book overall, one of these books you just churn out to make a profit and has little substance inside it. However, I was very impressed with the book, and I thought it really gave a look into a player’s life. He doesn’t detail wild escapades as much as Jim Bouton did, but it really helped me look at the game from a player’s perspective. We all talk about how disgusting it is that players make $10 million per year, but you have to factor in what their lives are like. They have to train all year long to be the best they can be while dealing with the media and celebrity status. They go out there 162 (or more) times a night during the regular season, in front of thousands of people, playing (or throwing) through injuries that causes their body to break down, and having to compete with a 90-mph whirling ball.
Granted, I would play for relative peanuts, but I think after a year, or even a month of experiencing the demand these players go through, my tune would change. So this book really helped me finally grasp what it is about to be a player. Damon also had quite a bit of things that opened my eyes, or made me chuckle. For instance, when Derek Lowe lost ALDS Game 1 to Oakland in 2003 on a Ramon Hernandez walk-off bunt, he got a shirt that said “I survived a walk-off bunt.”
Damon also speaks of the new ownership spearheaded by John Henry, Tom Werner, and Larry Lucchino. The three are very involved in the Red Sox business and really strive to make sure everyone is involved.
Once a month the owners, coaches, and about seven players get together, and we talk about what we can do to mak Fenway better, travel better, the team better. One time the pitchers in the bullpen complained that they couldn’t see the game very well, and when we came back from a road trip, there were TVs in both the visitors’ and home bullpens.
Damon also mentions later in the section that before John Henry, players were wishing they went somewhere else. When Damon arrived in Fort Myers for his first Sox spring training, a player he refuses to name came up to him and asked him why he came to Boston. Damon should have called this person and the player would have said never to come here. However, since the advent of the Henry regime, “you only hear the players say, ‘I want to be back.'” He later credits Theo with changing this as well. Theo is very upfront with the players, and makes sure to let them know days before they might be traded, and updates them every day. Last year he assured Damon he was not going to be traded, but wanted to know if Damon would move to left-field should the Red Sox get Beltran. Theo’s communication skills again make Boston “the (he does not say ‘one of the,’ but ‘the’) best place to play.”
Damon also speaks quite glowingly of his Athletic days and I get the sense that he wishes he was still an A, but had to leave for two reasons. One, the A’s couldn’t afford him, and two, his then-wife wanted him on the East Coast, so he left for Boston. He mentions that the A’s should have won the World Series in 2001, that even the 116-win Seattle Mariners were afraid of Oakland. Derek Jeter’s flip to Posada to tag out Jeremy Giambi changed all that.
The same for 2003. Johnny Damon feels that the 2003 club was actually better than the 2004 club, and they should have won, but the fates had other things in mind.
Damon also talks about Pedro and Schilling. Back when Pedro was a member of the Red Sox, there was always controversy swirling around Pedro – arriving late, leaving late. And this book really put in perspective that it wasn’t that big a deal. I can’t say it applies to other people (unnamed sources in the 2004 Cubs clubhouse will testify to that) but these Red Sox didn’t mind it.
We were in Baltimore, and Pedro started, went six innings, and then he left the clubhouse without telling anyone to get a bite to eat. It was a superlong game, and he was hungry, so he left.
You think, Who Cares? But the next day in the papers the reporters got hold of it and made headlines with it. It was almost an exact replay of that game against Philly in 2003 when Pedro left the clubhouse early. You’d have thought Pedro had committed murder.
“Is Pedro disrespecting the manager?”
“Is Francona weak because he isn’t going to punish Pedro?”
It was pretty crazy – deja vu all over again. All he did was go out to get something to eat.
As for Schilling, he goes into quite a few pages on him, about his workout routine and day-of-game routine, and how he meticulously prepares for each game. Johnny put it best during this describing when he said
“This guy is kinda sick.”
There are other anecdotes, such as Johnny Damon and Bill Mueller fighting to give Nomar a full World Series share, but the rest of the team didn’t like that idea, and even had difficulty awarding a three-quarters share, which Nomar ended up with. He also fought for full shares for Orlando Cabrera, Kevin Youkilis, and Curtis Leskanic. (Wait until you read the anecdotes about Leskanic, whom Damon recommended to Epstein when the Royals cut him – Leskanic is one crazy dude.) You’ll have to read the book to read about the other anecdotes. (For instance, Derek Lowe ran and watched the Mark Bellhorn ALCS Game 6 home-run early in the game, the one initially ruled a double, on TV. He then told Tito he had to go argue the ruling, and it was changed to a home-run.)
There are a couple of recurring themes in the book that can get tiring. For instance, he keeps bringing up the ‘idiot’ line, and explaining what it means again and again. Also, he seems to be a bit jealous of not being appreciated enough. He mentions Curt Schilling one day telling him how incredible he is, and how he should have some MVPs already, but he’ll never get it. He also details how Ichiro’s rookie year, where he won the MVP, was worse than his year the year before for the last-place Royals. Ichiro hit .350/.381/.457 in 2001 with a 869 OPS while Damon the year before hit .327/.382/.495 with an 877 OPS.
If you read Fire Brand, you know I’ve pretty much written off Damon returning to the Red Sox. It is not because he is a lousy player. He really works at his craft, and is a good hitter. He also is a very valuable player, moving runs over. (He says that his batting average would be much higher but he prefers to move runners over, get them in scoring position.) He has good range in centerfield, the only negative is his arm, which he had to alter from a normal motion because when he was playing sandlot football as a kid, he fell on his shoulder and heard a pop. I have a lot of respect for someone who battles migraines all 2004 season long.
The reason I’ve written him off is he wants four to five years on a contract at significant money – a cool $48 million. $48/4 isn’t exactly going to cut it, so the centerfield Hanley Ramirez era might begin in 2006. If he was willing to accept something like $20/2, then I’d consider it. Either way, Johnny Damon is a valuable part of the Sox offense – he helps the offense chug along (40% of the time, he’s on base, 46% of that time, he scores) for he’s really the only player on the team that is a true leadoff man. He helps keep the clubhouse loose, and after reading this book, I feel he’s a genuine good guy.
So let’s appreciate Johnny Damon and all he does for us, in this, most likely his final year as a Red Sox.