Damon Can Still Play
There comes a time in every professional baseball player’s career when he just can’t perform at the level he’s use to, and is forced to call it quits.
This past week, two-time American League batting champion with the Boston Red Sox, and one-time Dodger, Nomar Garciaparra, and Brian Giles, who toiled 15 seasons for three teams, mostly notably the Pittsburgh Pirates and the San Diego Padres, and was hoping to make the Dodgers as a left-handed pinch-hitter, each ended their stellar careers.
Garciaparra played 14 seasons with four clubs, was 36, while Giles, a two-time All-Star, just turned 39.
Then there’s the curious case of Johnny Damon, a remarkably durable player, who recently signed a one-year deal with the Detroit Tigers.
A one-time standout center fielder with Kansas City and then Oakland, Damon will spend time in the outfield, and will also be used as the designated hitter.
If Rickey Henderson is the best leadoff hitter ever, Damon and a select handful are in a small group at the top.
Damon’s lifetime on-base percentage is .355, and his slugging percentage is .439. These numbers have helped Damon score 100 runs or more 10 times, including nine consecutive.
Once a blur on the base paths with the Royals and later the Athletics, Damon, who turns 37 in November, has stolen as many as 46 bases in 2000, and enters the season with 374.
But with age and leg problems, Damon has been slowed, swiping only 12 bases last season with the New York Yankees, after picking up 29, 27 and 25 in his four-year run in Gotham.
The real mark of a speedster is the number of triples he hits. For a fairly fast runner, five is considerable. Damon has 95 over his 15-year career, and has topped double figures three times, with a best of 11 in 2002, his first of four years with the Boston Red Sox.
If that’s not enough, Damon has been a doubles-hitting machine, knocking out 451, with a high of 42 in 2000 with Kansas City.
Commencing in 1996, his first full season in the majors, Damon has played in no fewer than 141 games, which he did in 2007.
A zany character, Damon likes to have fun off the field, but is serious once the game begins. A lifetime .288 hitter, Damon added levity in a time of crisis for the Red Sox during the 2004 AL Championship Series.
Trailing the Yankees three-games-to-none, it was Damon, along with a few others, who set the tone for the now memorable and historic comeback.
In that ALCS, Damon drove in seven runs and launched two homers, and scored five runs, even though he batted only .171.
In the four-game sweep of the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series, Damon batted .286, with a homer, triple and two doubles and four runs scored.
Playoff heroics are nothing new for Damon, who owns a .326 batting average in 10 World Series games.
Damon’s work last season (.364 batting average with four runs batted in and six runs scored) pushed the Yankees to their record 27th World Series banner.
Oddly, Damon has made only two All-Star squads, and doesn’t figure to make one this season. He will, however, supply the Tigers with a potent bat and leadership, while defying father time.
Rick Assad has been a sportswriter for more than two decades. He has a political science degree from UCLA, a journalism degree from CSUN, and is a staff writer for diamondboxing.com, and is a contributor to trufanboxing.com. You may e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.