With the Major League Baseball post-season starting Wednesday, we're doing our best to sleep as much as possible so we can make it through the nightly 3 a.m. bedtimes baseball playoffs force upon us. And to preview the Yankees' first post-season in two years, we're taking a daily look at players vital to the team's October success. Today: Johnny Damon.
You know, Johnny Damon has a chance of becoming a Hall of Famer. No, seriously: If he can hang around for three or four more seasons — he's only 35, so it shouldn't be a problem — he'll probably end up with 3,000 hits (he's at 2,425 right now). And the only people who don't make the Hall of Fame with 3,000 hits are ones who wag their fingers in Congress's face and are then exposed as lying-liar guys who lie just a few months later. Johnny Damon seems unlikely to do that.
No one has taken advantage of the new Yankee Stadium dimensions more than Johnny Damon, who tied a career high with 24 homers, 17 at home — an inordinate amount of which were seemingly flicked just barely over the right-field wall. What's funny about this is that Damon absolutely denies that there might be an issue with homers to that part of the park in the new place: "I haven't noticed anything," he told us in April, with a straight face. "Same old park to me."
Unlike most of the Yankees, Damon has won a World Series before. (Only six Yankees have won a ring: Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada, and Andy Pettitte with the Yankees, and A.J. Burnett with the Marlins in 2003.) That was with the Red Sox and a beard, of course, though few remember that Damon was also on the A's team that lost to the Yankees in 2001 in the "Jeter Flip" series.
For a guy who was once so closely associated with the "Idiots" of the 2004 Red Sox championship team, Damon is clearly desperate to stay in New York. Shaving made his career, and his four seasons in New York were better than his four seasons in Boston. (He was at his peak when in Kansas City, but they don't pay enough.) He's obviously quietly comfortable here — this has been his best season since '04 — and has already begun lobbying the team to hang around.
The problem is that the Yankees might not need him. Now that Damon's too old to play center field, he becomes another expensive, weak-armed left-fielder with mediocre power. There will be plenty of upgrades available in left field, if the Yankees chose to go that direction, from Matt Holliday to Jason Bay to even Bobby Abreu, if they dared bring him back. All those guys are superior players to Damon offensively.
If Damon is willing to come back as a general fourth outfielder/DH type, and with the discount that comes with that role, the Yankees might be able to find a place for him. And if he has a grand post-season -- and his post-season OPS, .793, is almost exactly the same as his regular season OPS, .794 -- he could make it that much harder for the Yanks to let go of him. The fact is, if Jeter and Damon are consistently getting on base in front of Mark Teixeira, A-Rod, and the rest of the boppers, the Yankees can slug even the sharpest pitching staffs. Damon can prove his worth to the Yankees definitively over the next few weeks. He wants to be a true Yankee more than anything: Now is the time to prove it.