It will be an emotional night at Fenway Park on Monday night as Johnny Damon returns to Boston for the first time since he bolted the Red Sox for the Evil Empire last December. It will be interesting to see how Red Sox Nation treats him upon his return in pinstripes.
On Sunday I wrote an article for the Red Sox fan web site I am a part of, http://www.bornintoit.com, and it's called "Damon's Return", and I thought I would share it with all of you.
It will be a night of mixed emotions for sure. There will be fans who'll remember the good times, and who will stand and cheer. There will also be those who felt utterly betrayed and will do nothing but boo. But there will be very few fans who will be neutral at Fenway Park on Monday night, May 1, when the Yankees make their visit to Boston in the 2006 season.
It will be the return of Johnny Damon to Boston for the first time since he signed with the Evil Empire last December.
We won't know for sure how the Fenway Faithful will react when Damon enters the batter's box for the first time against Tim Wakefield shortly after 7 PM. I've talked with many Red Sox fans about that since the day Damon officially departed. Some want to stand and cheer. Some just want to just boo him lustily. And there are others that want him taken out with a long-range rifle.
If I were in the stands at Fenway on Monday, I would actually give him a standing ovation in his first at-bat of the night. But in every succeeding at-bat of that evening, and forever more in Boston, I would do nothing but boo him.I would stand and cheer him the first time for all he did in his four years in a Red Sox uniform. It would be for all those times he played hurt, for his all-out hustle and the way he played the game. It would be for a very special night that lives in the heart of every Red Sox fan: October 20, 2004. A night that erased decades and decades of heartbreak that every Red Sox fan knew by heart. For hitting two monsterous home runs and driving in six runs that night. It would be for hitting the biggest home run in Red Sox history, one that was bigger than Pudge Fisk's in the 1975 World Series, bigger than Dave Henderson's in the 1986 playoffs. It was the second inning grand slam that put the Red Sox on the road to The Promised Land.
It would also be for another big time home run, the one that led off Game 4 of the World Series seven nights later. For being the catalyst that broke a media-created piece of stupidity called "The Curse." Something that seemed to be shoved down the throat of every Red Sox fan by every empty-headed moron who tried to be cute and clever either in print or on television. It would be the game-winning run that ended 86 years of futility, and put a spring in the step of every Red Sox fan on earth.
Damon will forever be "One of the 25", no matter what uniform he wears from now until the day he retires. Once the 2004 World Series championship was won, he became the face of the Red Sox. Talk shows, books, movies, he was turning up everywhere that winter. But as the old saying goes, all good things must end. Johnny Damon deserved all the acolades that were thrust upon him after he brought a championship to the city of Boston. For all of this, I believe he deserves a standing O in his leadoff at-bat on Monday night. But once that highly emotional at-bat comes to a close (no matter how it turns out), in every at-bat after that he deserves the scorn of Red Sox Nation.
Sox fans should then let him know what they think of him leaving town to take George Steinbrenner's money and hightail it 200 miles to the south. Just about every other Red Sox player who won in 2004 who has returned to Boston has been warmly received their first and succeeding time back (think of the classy reception Orlando Cabrera got when he came back with the Angels last September). Kevin Millar and Pedro Martinez (if he pitches) will getting rowsing ovations upon their returns this year. Of course, neither of them put on Yankee uniforms.
If Damon had gone to say, the Cubs or Angels, I'm sure his return to Fenway would be one giant lovefest. Some fans might be hurt that he left, but all in all it would be pretty positive. Damon simply signed with the wrong team. He signed with the hated ancient rival, a team that is despised beyond words throughout Red Sox Nation. Damon turned down a fair offer from his team (4 years at $40 million) and signed with a team desperate for a centerfielder. So much so, that they grossly overpaid him ($12 million more than the Red Sox deal). The Yankees tried trading for players such as Juan Pierre and Torii Hunter to play CF, but without success. So they had no choice but to offer him a contract they probably know by the end of it will be a contract they will be stuck with (like Bernie Williams). You could make the argument (and many have) that Damon would have been foolish to have stayed in Boston and turned down such an offer.
We should also remind Damon about a quote he made last May, about how he's never leave Boston for New York, even though back then he said that the Yankees "would come after me hard." One thing Red Sox fans don't like, and that's being lied to. If he said that he would leave his options open that winter, and even regarding the Yankees, most people would have understood where he was coming from. (Remember back in 2003, when free agent pitcher Andy Pettitte said he would never sign with the Red Sox because, "I could never do that to the Yankees fans?" Compare that to Damon's May 2005 proclamation.)But Boston is where Damon's legacy was made. Boston is where he will be most fondly remembered, no matter what he accomplishes in New York. There are some Yankee fans who will never forgive Damon for what he did the night of October 20, 2004. He helped put the choker tag on the team he currently plays for, a tag that is not going away any time soon. But by leaving Boston, Damon has taken his legacy, wrapped it up in 52 million pounds of dynamite, and blown it to smithereens.
Perhaps Damon does not care about his legacy. Maybe playing baseball for the most money is what truly motivates him. He certainly won't be the only player who truly feels that way (think of Roger Clemens for instance). So be it. Baseball has been, and will always be, a business first. Damon is an athlete, but above all, and like all baseball players, he's a businessman, and he ultimately felt that going to New York was in his best interest.
We should all appreciate what Johnny Damon did to bring the Red Sox fans the championship they had long desired to see happen. The first at-bat on May 1 should be for that. But we should also let him know what we think of his taking the Yankees' money in every at-bat after that.
I'll never forget an email a friend of mine sent out shortly after Damon signed with the Yankees. It went:
"The Bronx: A place where former Red Sox champions go to get one big final payday."
We truly wish you all the best, Johnny. We only wish that "all the best" didn't have to include you wearing pinstripes.