NOTE: The author still maintains a solid hatred towards Johnny David Damon and all things Damon related.
On Saturday, August 12, 1995, Johnny Damon made his Major League debut for the Kansas City Royals and immediately looked like he'd be the next face of the franchise, or at the very least, the most charismatic player the team has had since George Brett. Or since Chico Lind came over from Pittsburgh in 1993. That night, he went 3 for 5 with an electrifying triple, one RBI, one run scored and more importantly gave Royals fans hope. He was only 21, said all the right things about wanting to bring KC a winner, and even after one game, you just knew he was going to be something special. The best center fielder the Royals had since Willie Wilson fell in love with cocaine.
Damon would get better every year while patrolling center field in KC, topping with what is still the best season of his career in 2000. During that year, an unbelievable second half of the season saw Damon finish with 214 hits, 42 doubles, 10 triples, 16 homers, and 46 stolen bases for a Royals team going nowhere fast, even though they had an outfield that consisted of Damon, Carlos Beltran, and Jermaine Dye. All the while, Damon, suddenly a family man with a wife and twin kids, talked the talk about staying it out in KC and building them into a winner.
Unfortunately, Allard Baird was selling everyone on his idea that the Royals couldn't compete in this baseball landscape and would have to try to rebuild his team on the cheap, and oh by the way pay no attention to those men in Oakland and Minnesota who somehow were building WINNERS in this market.
In one of his greatest moves, Billy Beane picked Baird's pocket in a big way. On January 8, 2001, Beane convinced Baird that the Royals were just a closer away from winning. He got Baird to trade BOTH Damon and Mark Ellis (yes, THAT Mark Ellis, who's out for the rest of this year's playoffs by the way) to the A's, and in return Billy would get Baird that closer (Roberto Hernandez, who he'd convince Tampa Bay to part with) that would put the Royals over the top. For good measure, Billy threw in Angel Berroa and studly A. J. Hinch, because the Royals also were in desperate need of a shortstop who didn't know the meaning of working a count, but could strike out 100 times a year and make 25 errors to boot. Oh sure, Berroa would win a Rookie of the Year award he didn't deserve in 2003 (over Hideki Matsui of all people), but the bottom line was Damon had signed Scott Boras as his agent, there was no way the Royals were going to be able to sign Johnny after the 2001 season, and oh by the way, Carlos Beltran was going to patrol centerfield in Kansas City for the next decade (Scott Boras hadn't entered Beltran's life at the time).
Damon's numbers fell quite a bit with the A's in 2001, but his stellar play for Oakland in that year's ALDS (.435 OBP and .591 slugging) were a key reason they gave the Yankees all they could handle in that series, where they won the first two games in New York and should have won the series if not for Jeremy Giambi failing to slide at home in game 3. Billy Beane knew Johnny was leaving at the end of the season, but gambled on Damon for that one year for a great Oakland team that won 102 games.
Enter the Passion of the Damon. Johnny got the big bucks with Boston, signing a four year deal with the Sawks, divorcing his Midwest wife in favor of a model, growing out every piece of hair he had on his body, and becoming the toast of Boston while leading them to their first World Series title in 86, or so we're told. If you're scoring at home (or as Keith Olbermann would say, even if you're alone), that's three teams for Damon where he's done everything expected of him and then some.
So when Damon signed with the New York Yankees last December, it was just one more reason for me to despise the Yanks. It was no surprise to me that he cut his hair, shaved like all good Yankees, and once again did everything expected of him (and then some), including having his best year since that 2000 campaign with the Royals, hitting 24 home runs while leading off for Joe Torre in 149 games.
I watched today's Tigers/Yankees game 2 of the ALDS with another Royals fan, and when Damon came up in the bottom of the 4th with two runners on, we both cursed him loudly as we always did, but gave each other a look that said, "You know he's going upper deck right here." So of course, Johnny did just that, just as was expected of him. As he rounded the bases to the thundrous applause of Bronx fans, I said, "He'll come right out after he goes to the dugout for a curtain call."
Johnny Fucking Damon. Again. Still there to remind us of the Allard Baird era. Now he's getting a curtain call in Yankee Stadium, and I'm sure getting in A-Rod's head.
Somehow, the Tigers got the lead and KEPT it going into the bottom of the ninth inning. Enter Johnny Cakes -- I mean Todd Jones -- to try to close out the Yanks. Robinson Cano pops out for out number two with a runner on first, and now Damon comes to bat. Again, we watched nervously, thinking that if Johnny didn't win the game with another clutch homer, he'd at least get the game to Jeter. Somehow, Jones gets Damon to fly out -- I Love You Johnny Cakes!!! -- and the series is all tied up.
And for the first time any of us could remember, Damon finally did something we didn't expect.