I think that this man, with his cult status and rivalry factor, cast a spell on the Yankees. At the start of the offseason, the team stated that they were looking for a center fielder to replace Bernie Williams; a center fielder who could cover ground and who had a decent throwing arm. Offense was meant to be secondary, because really, how much more offense do the Yankees need when they’ve got a lineup that consists of Jeter, Sheffield, Rodriguez, Matsui, and Giambi?
This is not to say that they will not be a better team with the addition of Damon; on the contrary, they’ve made a serious upgrade considering it was starting to look as if Bubba Crosby was going to be the starting center fielder for the 2006 season. Johnny Damon is a terrific offensive player, very consistent, and not an easy out by any means of the imagination.
I have to laugh, though, when people, Damon included, say that the Yankees have not had a legitimate leadoff man since the days of Chuck Knoblauch. Why is everyone so blind to what Derek Jeter has done in that spot since moving from the two hole several years ago? If we were to get technical and compare numbers, most people would agree that the most important statistic for a leadoff man is On Base Percentage, while hits and batting average are always important as well. Guess what? There are actually five New York Yankees with higher on base percentages than Johnny Damon’s .366, our old leadoff hitter being among them! The only thing that Derek Jeter is unable to do as a leadoff hitter is work the count. I don’t know how many times the Yankees Captain swung at the first pitch of a ball game last season, but it was far too many. This is the only aspect where Damon is superior; Johnny Damon is a pest at the plate, fouling off pitch after pitch until he gets one he likes. He never looks pretty hacking away up there, but he usually produces. Being away from Fenway now and not having to deal with Theo Epstein and his “Moneyball” approach, hopefully Damon will start stealing bases again and be the table setter for what will most likely turn out to be one hell of an offense.
Let’s think about something for a minute, though. We all know that Johnny Damon is a great offensive center fielder (notice how I keep mentioning “offensive”- we’ll get to the defense soon). Upon first impressions, you’d think that the lefty's homerun numbers should increase going into Yankee Stadium because of the short porch in right field. Unfortunately, Johnny is not a pull hitter, and really relied on smacking the ball off of the Green Monster back in Beantown. How will he deal with Death Valley in the Bronx?
And now, back to the contradiction of the New York Yankees organization. Again, they stated that they were looking for a defensive upgrade in center field, because Bernie’s lack of a decent throwing arm and failing speed were starting to hurt the club (this was greatly exaggerated however, because any Yankee fan knows that Bernie’s never had a good arm to start with, and he’s still fast enough to cover many of his mistakes; it was only the occasional mental lapses that really hurt him and the team, but that’s another story). And so the solution to all their defensive problems is…Johnny Damon?! Have they seen that man throw? I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that his arm is even worse than Bernie’s, or at least just as bad. And the only reason he is an upgrade is because he still has his legs to carry him and cover some ground. But even with that, he is not the fastest man alive, and I’m going to make the obvious comparison to Bernie Williams at that age- Both possessing poor throwing arms, but having the speed and instincts to make up for it. What happens when Johnny starts getting older and his legs start to go? Good thing the Yanks refused that seven-year deal…
Now listen, despite the fact that he’s a scruffy Boston Idiot, this was a great move by the New York Yankees. Johnny Damon is so laid back and easy going that he shouldn’t have any trouble adjusting to the spotlight in New York. He’s a great hitter, he runs well, and any team would like to have him on their roster. I’m also incredibly impressed that the Yanks didn’t do their usual “find the best free agent on the market and give him whatever he wants as soon as he wants it.” If they had done that, the team would have vastly overpaid and would be stuck with Damon for seven years. The fact that they waited and waited while other teams made moves until the price was right is admirable.
As for the Red Sox, Johnny Damon’s own label of “Idiot” more than applies to the Boston organization. Last season, one of the Sox owners called Damon “The Face of the Red Sox.” And they just let him slip away, to their archrivals no less? The deal that they offered earlier this month to Damon is equivalent to that which they offered Edgar Renteria last season. Renteria was a bust and isn’t even on the team anymore, yet they couldn’t make more of an effort to keep their beloved center fielder? If there were any loyalty whatsoever, they would have done anything and everything in their power to keep Johnny Damon. Do you think the Yankees would have ever let Derek Jeter, in the prime of his career, no less, get away? Never in a million years! On the same day the Yanks secured Damon, they re-signed Bernie Williams to a one-year contract. They weren’t going to let one of the greatest Yankees of all-time, a quiet and classy leader, and the starting center fielder for the past thirteen years get away. Some may call the Yankees greedy but we true fans know better. That’s one good thing I can say about George Steinbrenner: he takes such care of all his former players. Once they’ve retired, almost everyone who has spent some time with the Yankees is offered some sort of job within the organization- Joe Girardi, Luis Sojo, David Cone, Paul O’Neill, David Justice, and even Darryl Strawberry all have been part of the organization in recent years after retiring from the game of baseball. I was crushed when the Yankees let Tino Martinez go to the St. Louis Cardinals after winning three World Championships with the team prior to that, but when they saw that he was available last season, they brought him back for one more year to thank him for all his contributions during the Dynasty years and give the fans one of their most beloved players back for another season and pay homage to the past. Say what you will about the Yankees; they are about as loyal an organization as there is in the game today.
The Red Sox took Johnny Damon for granted. He told them that he wanted to remain in Boston and they just assumed he’d be back next season. They never went out of their way to make him an offer and he obviously felt that their nonchalant attitude towards it all was an insult. Apparently, according to him, he took less money to play for the Yankees because they treated him with respect and showed their interest from the beginning, unlike his former organization.
In conclusion, the Boston Red Sox loss of Damon is far greater and more significant than the Yankees gain. Yes, he will certainly be an asset for the Yanks, but the Red Sox will really miss him much more at the top of their lineup and patrolling center field. Boston has a lot of work to do; they started the offseason on a high note with the acquisition of Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell, but since then they have lost Renteria, Kevin Millar, Bill Mueller, and now Johnny Damon. And the Yankees have just shifted the power of the American League East back in their favor. All that remains to be seen now is how the fans of both Boston and New York will react to Johnny Damon’s switching sides.
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Today was the official end of my first semester of college, so expect more updates over the next few weeks. Don't worry, they won't all be as lengthy as this one!