Keidel: Is Johnny Damon A Legend Of The Fall And The Hall?

By Jason Keidel
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Admit it, you called him “Matt” Damon more than once. In fact, you did it so often that you often omitted his first name. It’s easy to confuse two handsome dudes who made their bones in Boston. We’ve been equally guilty of such an inversion for decades with Jack Nicklaus (“Remember when Jack Nicholson won the Masters in ’86? At like 50 years old? Awesome!”).

But when Cooperstown comes calling it comes time to get the name right.

Johnny Damon just joined a most exclusive club last week. Upon swatting his 500th double, he became the 11th player in MLB history to hit that many doubles, 100 triples, 200 homers, and 2,500 hits.

The prior ten are a roll call for Cooperstown, somewhere huddled in a hole carved in an Iowa cornfield, including Babe Ruth, Stan Musial, and Willie Mays. (Sans CC Sabathia and a Pepsi Max machine.)

Hall of Fame criteria, particularly from the PED period, is most malleable, since we don’t know the legal from the illusion from the illicit. There have been no whispers about Johnny and Juice, and we want to applaud any player who brought a clean vein to the game. But, sadly, Damon just doesn’t add up.

Some stats are portals into induction: 3,000 hits and 300 wins, for instance. But with baseball’s myriad calculations and statistical combinations, Damon’s fast feet and growing feats don’t feel dominant. In this case, it feels like one of the sport’s eternal quirks in a game that trades on numerical eminence.

You can throw a number of notable careers into a blender and pour a cocktail of original combinations. They make for nice water cooler cackle or nice trivia stumping with your buddies, but not for Hall of Fame careers.

Was Damon fun, clever, and clutch? Yes. Yes. Yes.

Aside from his werewolf days in Boston, groomed Lon Cheney chic and the “Cowboy Up” crap that left New York nauseated, Damon was a character in a sport that promotes them. He wasn’t a dumb jock, per se, but a jock of jocular abandon. The joke always seemed to be on us. As we mashed our noses into the grindstone, he was doing naked pull-ups in the locker room, insisting once that Detroit is where he always wanted to play when we all knew it was gibberish.

(Damon, like all athletes, says the deity or destiny directs him to a team when it always coincides with the one paying the most. Pedro Martinez when he signed with the Mets and Reggie White with the Packers are perfect examples.)

But Johnny Damon never finished in the top ten of MVP voting. Wouldn’t a Hall-of-Famer at least finish once or twice in the top three, if not perennially in the top five? We’re talking about a lifetime .287 hitter who, in 17 seasons, never had season with 100 R.B.I. And he never led the AL in anything except runs scored in 2000 (136), stolen bases in the same season (46), and triples in 2002 (11) – hardly the stuff of legends.

Damon tugs the heartstrings, the rare friend and foe from Boston to New York, each rival with reasons to love and loathe him. He hit the grand slam off our beloved (yes, I’m kidding) Kevin Brown, and duped the Phillies on the bases to bring the ring back to the Bronx. Nary a Bostonian booed Damon when he switched to the pinstripes. Some of that was because the Red Sox weren’t going to pony up the cash or the years Damon desired and, well, Johnny Damon is damn near impossible to hate.

But one bona fide for a bust in Cooperstown is non-negotiable: dominance. Was he atmospheric or stratospheric? And was his time at the top consistent or prolonged? We can’t measure his moment on the mountaintop because he was never there.

He’s one of baseball’s goofballs, an authentic character with character and charisma and a clutch bat, with many of his best deeds done under brown leaves. He’s immutable but not an immortal. Says here, most regrettably, that Johnny Damon doesn’t get into the Hall of Fame without a ticket.

Call is when you get 3,000 hits, Mr. Damon, if you ever get there. We love you, Johnny; we’re just not in love with you. Goofball that you are, you either don’t know the difference or you don’t care. Laugh in your Lamborghini while we choke on your dust and gag with laughter at your memory. We’ve always needed you more than you needed us. Not a bad epitaph, even if his laugh and autograph never make it to Cooperstown.

Feel free to email me: Jakster1@mac.com

www.twitter.com/JasonKeidel

Is Damon a Hall-of-Famer? Do character and charisma count? Leave a comment below.

Comments

One Comment

  1. Paul D says:

    Johnny Damon with the Yanks was clutch, actually giving Jeter a run for his money in years when his fans still thought of him as an actual baseball player. Nowadays you’d think Derek was a recent call up tripping on the row of baseball bats lining the area just outside the dugout. Those two seemed like they were made for each other. Jeter got on and no one, and I mean no one, I’d ever seen, executed the hit and run like those two. I was sad to see Damon go. And I’m sad with these so called Yankee fans diluting and diminishing Jeter’s impact on this team. Thurman, God rest his soul, would be ashamed of them- I would suppose.

  2. lydia says:

    Though I just wrote the above column, I could not have said it better than you just did. Not to mention he made over $100 million. Kudos to you, sir.
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    1. Kurt Spitzner says:

      CBS POSTS GARBAGE LIKE THIS BUT NOT REAL RANTS FROM THOSE WHO ACTUALLY ARE INTERESTED IN WHAT THE AUTHOR IS SAYING?TO THOSE WHO MONITOR THIS SITE: DO YOUR JOB!

  3. Byron Mason says:

    Nooo!. Good Player. Never Dominated a Team, League or Division with his skills. Sorry Johnny.

    1. JK says:

      Agreed, Mr. Mason. But what if he gets 3K hits? That seems to push every player into the Hall. I still don’t think that makes Johnny an immortal, but it would be hard to deny him with that on his resume.

    2. Byron Mason says:

      Again no. I Actually don’t think that’s an automatic invite. He gets 3k hits by “compiling” another 75 hits this year(very do-able), and 140 hits over the next 2 years(do-able if he avoids injury). But playing 17 seasons (or that point 19 seasons) and having a career lifetime average of .287(where it currently stands, it will only fall as he gets approaches 40) doesn’t make you a HOF-er. If it does, then I think we should just make the Hall a “Beauty pageant” of all our favorite players. Somebody give Paul Oneil and Lenny Dykstra a call!

  4. dabooch says:

    Damon a nice player that’s about it. If you think about it Johnny would have trouble starting for a All-Star team in his prime, he wasn’t a dominant player.

    1. JK says:

      Point taken, dabooch. I don’t think he ever finished higher than 15th in MVP voting. Hardly a sign of HOF qualities.

  5. AB says:

    I disagree about this article being a waste. I think it’s great and is absolutely relevant as Damon heads into the twilight of his career. It sparks an interesting debate, especially here in NY. Not too many players (if any) have come from the hated Red Sox and been so beloved by Yankee fans. To me, Damon was easier of root for and appreciate than Clemens, even before he “misremembered”. In my humble opinion, this piece represents good journalism. Don’t be hatin’, if you don’t like it then just change the channel.

  6. JK says:

    Thanks for joining the chat, SL. If it’s such a waste then why are there over 20 comments on WFAN’s facebook page and plenty more here? Most importantly, why did you read it and waste your infinitely valuable time bashing it? Do you feel cool sniping from the comfort of your cubicle, hiding behind a pseudonym? All you have to do is turn the page, son.

    1. SL says:

      Should the only comments be ones praising you?? You sports writers have become little more than gossip columnists. Write about relevant topics involving sports and maybe you will get more positive feedback.

      1. JK says:

        So we shouldn’t write about Damon because YOU think it’s trivial? As the saying goes, if you don’t like me or my style, don’t read my work. As you say, I’m little more than a gossip columnist. You now have my permission to stalk someone else you hate.

  7. SL says:

    What a waste of an article. You sports writers write about such nonsensical things. I don’t think Damon loses a wink of sleep over whether or not he will end up in the hall of fame, neither should anyone else. I think most knowledgable fans know he falls short, yet still realize he had a fine career. So writing a whole article on why he should or shouldn’t be inducted is quite ridiculous.

  8. Joe says:

    My mistake. I meant to say he was having a lousy series against the Yankees in 2004 (LCS) until the 7th game.

    1. JK says:

      Indeed. With a little help from Kevin Brown.

  9. Greg From Brooklyn says:

    Damon is not Hall of Fame Material…maybe a Yankee or Red-sox HOF but absolutely not Cooperstown.

    Stop this nonsense man.

    1. JK says:

      Um, I agreed with you, Greg. Did you read the article?

      1. Greg From Brooklyn says:

        My bad Holmes….you got it right.

  10. Joe says:

    Nice article. Johnny Damon is one of those ballplayers whose stats I’ll look up every once in a while. He is one of the best when it comes to playing in the clutch….when it counts. How could we forget that 7th game in 2004? If I’m not mistaken, he was having a lousy World Series until then. And yes, that double steal in 2009 is a memory, I’ll never forget….and I forget virtually everything as time goes on. As for Cooperstown, well, who cares really. He still plays well and guys with his character deserve a free pass anyway, just for the entertainment alone.

    1. Joe says:

      And no. I never did call him Matt by mistake. I may have called Matt, Johnny.

      1. JK says:

        Thanks, Joe. I’ve done the same, calling Matt “Johnny.” He’s got a.326 batting average and .904 OPS in the World Series. Not brilliant, but not bad.

  11. Kurt Spitzner says:

    agreed

    1. JK says:

      Check out the brevity from Mr. Spitzner. I’m too used to a massive missive. Worried about censorship, my man?

      1. Kurt Spitzner says:

        NOT WORRIED,ANNOYED AT IT! WHEN I SPEAK MY MIND THEY DO NOT PRINT IT UNLESS VAGUE LIKE THIS!IF I SAID SOMETHING OFFENSIVE TO THE GENERAL CONSENSUS I WOULD UNDERSTAND BUT MY LAST COMMENTS ON YOUR LAST PIECE ABOUT DEPRESSION SHOULD HAVE BEEN POSTED WITHOUT A SINGLE QUALM FROM ANYONE BUT APPARANTLY I MUST HAVE RUFFLED SOMEONES FEATHERS AT CBS!THEIR LOSS BUT NEVER YOURS BECAUSE THERE IS ALWAYS FACEBOOK!

  12. Go Johnny Go Go Go says:

    He is one of my favorite players. I really like everything about him as a person and player. i couldn’t give a rat’s bee hind if he make’s Cooperstown and I don’t think he cares either. He has had a good career and a good life. He is a very fortunate man.

    1. JK says:

      Though I just wrote the above column, I could not have said it better than you just did. Not to mention he made over $100 million. Kudos to you, sir.

      1. Go Johnny Go Go Go says:

        Thank you. I enjoy your writing and this piece was no exception, especially.

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