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And an Idiot Shall Lead Them

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After the World Series victory, Damon was everywhere: Leno, Letterman, and later, Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. His December 30, 2004, marriage to Michelle Mangan, a blonde former modeling agent, featured guest appearances by members of AC/DC, an eight-carat ring, and Damon in a sleeveless tux shirt. The following spring, Damon’s Idiot hit the New York Times best-seller list (there was a clause in the book contract that prevented him from trimming his long locks until he was done promoting the book). The book was a relatively tame affair, except for Damon’s inexplicable decision to use the pages to tag his ex-wife as an insufferable nag and then confess to three years of infidelity before they divorced. “I just wrote things honestly. I wasn’t critical about anybody,” says Damon, being either acutely naïve or disingenuous.

In Michelle, Damon seems to have found a sybaritic soul mate and a real firecracker. “It seems like they party quite a bit,” says James Damon. “They complement each other.” That’s a bit of an understatement. In response to a report that Damon and Mangan were one night dropping water balloons (not pumpkins this time) from the terrace of their Ritz-Carlton digs in Boston, Mangan responded, “That couldn’t have been me. I was having sex with my fiancé.”

“She’s awesome,” says Damon. “You meet a lot of women who are beautiful, but not a lot of women who are beautiful and cool. She’s like a five-tool player.”

In New York, Mangan and Damon are living in One Beacon Court. “I want to get that real feeling of being in New York,” Damon says. Twelve years into his career, he knows the good life won’t last forever, he says. “I just want to soak up as much as I can.”

Back in Orlando, I tell James Damon a story about how his brother is starting to shape the Yankee clubhouse in his own image. James just laughs. “He’s had such a charmed life,” he says. “He got drafted in the first round by the Royals, and I thought that’s as good as it gets. Then he gets traded to Oakland, and I say this is as good as it gets. Then he signs with the Red Sox and they win a World Series, and I know that’s as good as it gets. Now he signs a big contract with the best franchise in sports, and I keep waiting for the good times to stop.” He looks at a picture of Johnny as a young Royal on the wall. “But they never do.”

Last year, Damon and the rest of the Red Sox suffered through a mild hangover of a season. After an MVP-quality first half, Damon’s numbers dipped dramatically after a collision with the Fenway Park fence damaged his right shoulder, then a hard slide into second base mangled the left. Damon didn’t miss many games, but by September, watching him fling the ball back to the infield was a grisly sight; you could see the pain with every throw. The Sox blew a season-long lead to the Yankees in September and were swept in three games by the Chicago White Sox in the American League Division Series. The Yankees, meanwhile, struggled through a year of injuries, nipped the Red Sox for the division title in a tiebreaker, and then lost in five games to the Los Angeles Angels in the ALDS. By season’s end, it was apparent that Bernie Williams was no longer an everyday center-fielder.

Damon’s contract expired at the end of the season, and Scott Boras, his Über-agent, declared his client would accept nothing less than a seven-year, $84 million deal. The Sox countered with four years at $40 million. Disappointed with the Red Sox’s attempt to re-sign him, Damon contemplated retiring. “I could just play in a beer league,” Damon told me. “That’s what I wanted to do during the ’94 strike. I just love playing.” Still, Damon was the Red Sox’s soul (and biggest draw), and most observers believed he’d return to Fenway.

The Yankees were Damon’s primary, if stealthy suitor. Cashman needed a center-fielder, but having watched Williams wither in the final year of a seven-year deal, Cashman told Boras he wouldn’t sign Damon for more than four years. When Boras called Cashman in mid-December and said four years was doable, Cashman made the Yankees’ only offer: four years at $53 million. “I didn’t want to be just hanging in the game until Boston moves the numbers up,” says Cashman. “All things couldn’t be equal for us to get Johnny. He would have taken less to stay in Boston. He was very loyal.” Cashman says he had several conversations with Damon. “It was a process he had to get comfortable with, considering the Yankees.”


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