Hippo Manchester
December 29, 2005

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LONGSHOTS: The demonization of Johnny Damon

by Dave Long

Itís been a week since Johnny Damon joined the Evil Empire. His decision to go over to the Dark Side for $52 million caused quite a furor around Nation, though surprisingly, much of it was not aimed at him. It was reserved for a front office that many feel dropped the ball in the chaos created by Theo Epsteinís departure.

The media weighed in of course. Pete Sheppard, a media buffoon if there ever was one, even called it ďdisgracefulĒ during a typical double digit IQ rant on WEEI. And Yahoo Nation chief Dan Shaughnessy stirred the pot in his typical finger-pointing way, closing a Boston Globe piece with ď... And a Nation is certain to wonder if this would have happened if Theo were still on the job ... ,Ē even as he contributed to creating the vacancy in the first place.

I suppose itís a legit question, which Iíll answer with a few of my own. Who was the GM when Carl Pavano picked the Yankees over the Red Sox? How about when Pedro defected to the Mets? And who did the rumor mill say trashed his hotel room when Jose Contreras signed to play in NY? The answers: Theo, Theo and Theo. Was Larry Lucchino in charge when the Sox were runner-up in the Mike Mussina sweepstakes? Bob Watson? Luis Tiant?

Iím not picking on Theo. All through history ó recent or otherwise ó the Yankees have always won in these head-to-head battles. Well,  not quite ó the Sox did win the battle for Mike Torrez (yikes) and Theo got Curt Schilling to come here, which turned out great. Of course, the Yanks then countered with Randy Johnson. In the case of Pedro, as the brass did with Damon, Theo drew the line on how far the Sox would go and lost him. Pedroís replacement, David Wells, is, in the words of Lloyd Bentsen, no Pedro Martinez ó even though both won 15 games. Even so, Theo was right to not give Pedro four years. Those are the decisions that need to be made.

To me the question is simple. Is Damon worth $13 million a year? The only center fielder who makes that much is Andruw Jones. He hit 52 homers and is a great fielder. The only lead-off hitter is Ichiro, who Iíll take over Damon any day. Even though it sometimes seems like they do, teams donít use Monopoly money. Teams have a budget and need to allocate it the right way. Overspending in one spot means underspending in another. Overpay Damon $3 million a year, as Mannyís being overpaid by probably $6 million, and it has an impact on depth ó especially in the bullpen where is it needed, as the chaos following Keith Foulkeís struggles demonstrated.

What it came down to was, they were playing poker with agent Scott (donít) Boras. They held a straight and got trumped by a Yankee full house. It happens all the time, so that doesnít bother me. What does is that they operated on Borasí timeline, not their own. They should have told Damon he had until Dec. 24 and had a deal for his replacement ready by the 15th. That wouldíve given them leverage to say, ďJohnny we need your answer now or weíre going in another direction.Ē Instead Boras called them and they were left holding the bag.

Maybe itís a good career move for his star-gazing wife and thatís fine, because guys do that all the time. And nobody expects a smart businessman to pass up $12 million bucks. Just donít tell me the Red Sox didnít give him a choice. He had one. Take $40 million and stay or $52 million and join the enemy. And itís not like he left for LA or even Chicago. He went to join the enemy youíve been on the other side of during two major brawls.

Thatís what I donít get. How do you get friendly with the enemy that quickly? When I was playing ball in college I got clotheslined by a guy named Rocky Rizzato and I promise you, even if it takes me until Iím playing in an over-90 league, Iím going to get him back. When the Dodgers traded Jackie Robinson to the hated Giants, he told them to stuff it and retired. And can you see Carlton Fisk leaving for the Bronx? Damon said itís because they came after him hard. Well Iím sure the British gave Benedict Arnold the top bunk the first week after he went over to the Dark Side, too.

Now even though that part gets under my skin, when he returns to Fenway the Nation should give him a nice ovation for his contributions to the cause. And then when he steps in, I say stick it in his ear to let him know heís gone over to the Dark Side and thatís made him the enemy.

Because if he can switch alliance for $12 million bucks, so can the Nation.