Damon played for the Red Sox from 2002 to 2005. We’ll forget for a moment where he has played from 2006 ‘til now.
When he came to the Sox, he was exactly what the Sox needed. He was the typical lead-off guy. He could get on base. He could run. He would be a great person to have batting ahead of Manny Ramirez in the line-up. His Red Sox career ended up being even better than expected. He was everything fans hoped for on the field, and ended up as a rock star off it.
The numbers show a career where everything fell into place. He was on base as expected, and scored plenty of runs. His bat had a little bit more pop in it than some thought, and that was a great surprise. He played hard every day. He was great in centerfield, even if I could throw harder than he could. He got to every ball he was supposed to get to, and quite a few of the ones he wasn’t. Nobody could say he wasn’t a fantastic addition to the Sox.
In 2004, he took it one step further. He showed up at Spring Training with a head and face completely full of hair. Some people started referring to him as “Jesus”, and it took off from there. He gained an enormous cult following. Wigs and beards starting popping up all over Fenway Park. Damon may have evolved into the number one fan favorite on the team. It got so big, that Damon actually shaved off his beard once…for charity. A crowd of people showed up in the middle of a weekday to see his beard shaved off in exchange for a donation to charity from a razor company. (I have no idea what this says about Red Sox fans…but it definitely says something) By the time Damon led off Game 4 of the World Series with a home run, he could do no wrong. He was a hero, and a curse breaker. From there, it could all be downhill.
Which, is when we get to the elephant in the room. Following the 2005 season, Damon tested the free agent waters. As has become his standard, Theo offered a contract of a modest length. Damon realized that it was his last chance at a huge contract, and wanted a deal as long and profitable as he could. That deal came from the New York Yankees. I always thought the decision to sign with NY was another example of just how cocky Damon was. I read his book, and it is chock full of self-promotion. His post-game interviews were always just a touch too far for my liking. One clip that is always shown occurred during the 2004 ALCS. He had a terrible first couple games, 0-for-whatever with a ton of strikeouts. During the interview, he took responsibility for the losses. That’s fine. Many decent players would take the hit if they weren’t performing well. The iffy part to me was always when he went on to say that he was a catalyst for the team. I’m not sure where the line was, but I always thought he crossed it there. It’s one thing to say you stunk it up, and should be blamed. It’s another thing to say that the team doesn’t have a chance without you. But, I digress. The move to NY always made me think Damon didn’t get it. He was the rock star in Boston. He had the identity, the endorsements, everything. He was a World Champion. He’d never have to pay for dinner again. But, he didn’t quite realize the situation. He figured he could bring his star to NY, and really make a splash. But, once he went corporate, and shaved the hair, he was just another number. Suddenly, he wasn’t the top draw. Why go to Damon for endorsements? I’ve always wondered if he regretted leaving Boston. I sure would expect him to.
When it’s said and done, Damon was a 2004 World Champion, and an enormous part of that team. And if for no other reason than that, he deserves birthday wishes.
Happy Birthday Johnny!