JOHNNY, WE KNEW YE WELL
I liked Johnny just as much as the next fan. He played some great ball for the Sox. Sometimes he did so many things well, he made it possible to forget that he had the throwing arm of an 11 year old girl.
But here’s the thing to remember: Bill James once wrote that a player’s career is like a watermelon. You’ve got the skin, the rind, and the tasty pink part. As a franchise, you want to make sure you get a given player’s tasty pink part and as little of the rind and skin as possible.
That’s what the Red Sox did with Damon. Before coming to the Sox, Damon had enjoyed an up and down career. He had been a good player with the small market Kansas City Royals but when he signed a big contract with the Oakland A’s, he completely spit the bit. Whether it was the pressure of being a huge free agent signing or not, we’ll perhaps never know, but ask any Oakland fan what he thinks of Johnny Damon. I’ll predict you’ll find few Damon worshippers in the Bay Area.
Damon next came to Boston not as a free agent savior but instead as a guy hoping to right his career. What’s more, he was able to ply his trade in relative anonymity. He joined a team that already had Nomar Garciapara, Pedro Martinez and Manny Ramirez – three certified superstars and certifiable fruit-loops. There simply wasn’t enough column space to document the adventures of the eccentric, newly arrived center fielder.
Damon got off to a good start with the Sox and the run lasted for four fine years. But now Damon is a 33 year old who has relied on speed for much of his success. What’s more, Damon hasn’t exactly shown a fanatical devotion to conditioning or clean living. If you were to list the players who might defy the odds of getting old, Damon wouldn’t be on it.
Johnny Damon is likely to enter a serious decline phase in his career. Soon. He’s likely to be injury prone. Added to the mix is that he’s arriving in New York with the same kind of fanfare that accompanied his arrival in Oakland, only this time with Big Apple level decibels rather than Oakland volume. He has not shown an ability to handle that kind of pressure in the past.
Any Red Sox fan has to wish Damon well. His positive contributions to the team were significant, and he was generally a blast to have around. The fans will miss him.
But it’s important to note that the Johnny Damon that the fans adored wasn’t going to be playing in Fenway Park regardless of whether the Red Sox signed him or not. That Damon, the young swift one, was going to be replaced by a slower, more injury prone, less effective version of the guy.
So, in sum, the Yankees have once again cast their lot with an old player. They have once again invested in a resource that is destined to decline. When Damon’s productivity wanes or he gets injured, the Yankees will curse their luck. But when you cross Death Valley in a Model T, you ought to expect some engine problems.
As far as the Red Sox are concerned, they ate the juicy tasty part of Damon’s career. Just like they did with Bill Mueller and Kevin Millar. And Pedro Martinez. And Nomar.
Red Sox Nation and the Cassandra-like scribes that document the team’s fortunes will doubtlessly lament this day. But such days are necessary if you want to compete not just for the few years when a core nucleus hits its stride but over the long haul.
Red Sox management understands this. The media will be a little slower to catch on.
UPDATE: ESPN's always excellent "Quickie" also thinks Damon will be a wash-out in the Apple, citing the Sampson factor as a leading cause.
UPDATE II: A distraught Mrs. Soxblog disagrees. She emails, "But Dean. He was our sexiest Sox, by far. He is a stud. A swoon-inducing, ga-ga heartthrob on a team of otherwise regular guys. We lost our sizzle."
Responses? Thoughts? Please email them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org