Four years ago, Johnny Damon left us. Our long haired, bearded centerfielder had been a lighting rod for Red Sox fans and pink hats alike. He coined the name “Idiots” for the 2004 club and pulled a lot of heads out of the oven with his second inning grand slam against the Yanks in Game 7 of the 2004 ALCS (If you try to tell me that you didn’t think that the three wins were building up to yet another letdown right up until the ball left Damon’s bat off of my boy Javy Vasquez, you are a liar). He was one of the 25, the guys that broke the curse and still make me smile today when I think about it.
The problem wasn’t that he left, it was where he went. If he had, after the 2005 season, gone to San Francisco or Chicago, he would never have been able to buy a drink and been cheered so loudly on his return that the game would have been too long for Bill Simmons to watch. But no, after lying to the Sox about the kind of offers he was getting, Damon signed with the Pinstriped Assholes, the worst thing he could have done.
When he returned in 2006, with the Yanks, people (from Gammons to Ken Rosenthal) were all telling us to cheer him, ignore the betrayal, and cheer him like he probably deserved, but at that point the wound was too fresh and that was like asking us to shake hands with the guy who had just cut off our left arm. So we booed Damon for four years as we watched him do all of the things for the Yankees that he had done here: hit, hustle, play decent defense, and throw badly. Johnny Damon was never a bad guy, and he never badmouthed the fans of Boston. He just signed with the Yankees, and that was enough for us. (The Publick House in Brookline even made bumper stickers that said “Fuck Johnny Damon”)
Tonight, however, is an entirely different story. Johnny Damon is returning to Boston as a member of the Detroit Tigers. He will be hitting third and playing left field. This winter, when the Yanks refused to resign him, Damon signed a one year $8million deal. Some, who shall remain nameless, were even stumping for him to be brought back to the Sox, (I know that I suggested he could play first, but tell me you wouldn’t rather see Damon out there with his noodle arm and .281 batting average) but the cries went unanswered and we were left with Mike Cameron, Jeremy Hermida, Eric Patterson, Bill Hall et. al. (I’m not lumping Darnell or little Danny Nava in with that group because they have out performed all expectations).
It’s time to cheer for Damon. I may, in fact, stand and clap at whatever restaurant I’m eating dinner in when he comes to bat. Johnny deserves it. He was the heart and soul of a team that was often duct taped together with little else and still won us a World Series in the best way possible. It’s time he got his due.