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And an Idiot Shall Lead Them

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That’s okay, A-Rod, your new teammate will! “Alex mentioned that me, him, and Derek were all approaching a lot of milestones and how great it would be to reach them as teammates, but people could look back on us and forget the numbers and remember what we did together,” Damon told me. “It meant a lot to me.”

Right now, Damon is saying all the right things. He long ago apologized for the cheating jab (he took it out of later versions of his book) and is now just looking to fit in. “This is Alex and Derek’s team; I’m just proud to be part of the tradition,” Damon insisted after his first Yankees workout. “There will be time to be nutty, but it’s probably a good thing to tame it for now.”

“This is Alex and Derek’s team,” Damon says. Maybe, but the cap he’s wearing as he heads to his Ferrari says “ROCK STAR.”

Maybe. But the cap he was wearing backward as he headed toward his black Ferrari didn’t say NY on it. It read ROCK STAR.

In the driveway of Johnny Damon’s boyhood Orlando home, his father’s Honda Odyssey still sports a Red Sox bumper sticker. “I have to change that,” says Jimmy Damon. “I keep forgetting.”

There’s a theory with ballplayers: The less they think, the better they play. Damon is like that, and it may well be a by-product of being raised by parents who were virtually oblivious to his talent. While at Dr. Phillips High School in Orlando, Damon barnstormed on a national all-star team with a young Rodriguez and was touted as one of the best players in the country. Still, “I never saw him play until his senior year,” says Jimmy Damon.

Jimmy met Yome, Johnny’s mom, in Thailand when he served in Vietnam. Raising their family, “we both had two jobs,” says Jimmy, sitting on his sun porch. “It wasn’t until scouts started to call the house that I had any idea. I just thought he could get a college education out of it.”

Much of Damon’s parenting was done by his older brother, James (Jimmy worked as a security guard, and Yome as a hotel maid). In Idiot, Johnny cops to being a burnout. “He was really cocky,” says James. “He was hanging out with older guys and was stoned every day, drinking a lot at 12, 13 years old.” Still, neither of the Damon boys caused too much trouble,” Damon Sr. says. “The cops never came down here.”

By his senior year, Damon was being introduced at games as “the No. 1 prospect in the nation, Johnny Damon,” but he remained a quiet kid, largely because of a stuttering problem. “My thoughts just raced ahead of my tongue,” says Damon. “I’d sing songs as therapy, and I got better, but I just kept quiet most of the time.”

Damon met his first wife, Angie, in high school, and they married when he was 19. In 2001, after six seasons with Kansas City and one with Oakland (where he and Jason Giambi, among others, earned a reputation for playing as hard off the field as they did on it), Damon signed a four-year, $31 million deal with the Red Sox.

Damon put up solid numbers for the Sox—batting close to .300 and scoring 100-plus runs per year—but it wasn’t his play that won the hearts and minds of Red Sox Nation. In addition to the hair, the beard, and the smile, Damon, along with teammate Kevin Millar, fostered an all-for-one, one-for-all attitude through nude jumping jacks, group Harley rides, and other high jinks. Boston fans ate it up.

Damon soon became a man about town, and his marriage began to crumble (he and Angie split up in 2002, but Damon admitted in his book that he began cheating on her before that). At times, Damon’s extracurricular activities concerned both Sox management and his brother. Red Sox manager Grady Little wouldn’t tell Damon in advance when he would have a day off for fear he’d party too hard. “We talked it out,” recalls Damon. “I let him know I was going out, but I wasn’t tearing up the town. We were fine after that talk.” Still, James Damon wondered about the possibilities if his brother lived a more homebound life. “One time, me and some of Johnny’s buddies from here went up to Boston and we stayed out to three or four in the morning. The next day, Johnny went two-for-four, and I was like, ‘Man, what could he do if he got a good night’s sleep?’ ”

In 2004, after 86 years of misery, Damon and the Red Sox engineered their historic comeback from a three-games-to-none deficit against the Yankees, and Damon’s legend in Boston was secure. Part of what made the feat possible was the “Who gives a fuck, let’s just play” attitude Damon instilled in the Sox clubhouse. The title of Damon’s book refers to a comment he made about his teammates before the 2004 miracle run began. “We’re just the idiots this year,” said Damon. “We feel like we can win every game. We feel like we have to have fun—and that’s why this team is liked by so many people out there.” The quote, and his six RBI in Game 7, made most people forget that Damon went 10 for 55 in his two ALCS matchups against the Yankees.


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