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Johnny Be Gone?

Damon pondered retirement last spring

Posted: Wednesday February 20, 2008 11:20AM; Updated: Wednesday February 20, 2008 3:18PM
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Johnny Damon
Johnny Damon nearly threw in the towel on his career last spring.
John Biever/SI
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When Johnny Damon walked out of spring training early last year, he thought he was walking away from the game, SI.com has learned. The Yankees explained Damon's absence early last spring as "personal reasons,'' and there was a lot of wrong speculation about something or other happening with Damon's family that would necessitate the time off.

The reality is, according to Yankees clubhouse sources, Damon just wasn't sure if he wanted to keep playing and was actually seriously considering walking away from the final three years of his $52-million, four-year contract. Nobody does that, but Damon almost did.

"I was just exhausted .... Burnt out,'' Damon told SI.com Tuesday. "[Retirement] definitely crossed my mind.''

After a few days, Damon decided to return. "I knew these guys needed me,'' Damon said with a smile. How true that was.

Damon came to camp this year with a spring in his step, feeling better and looking happier. He said it was the first year he had a chance to relax following offseasons in which he celebrated the Red Sox title, went through free agency, became a father again and suffered from nagging injuries (the winter before he nearly walked away).

Damon wound up returning after pondering retirement, but he wasn't in the greatest shape to start the year and began badly before putting up a big second half and helping the Yankees back into the playoffs.

New manager Joe Girardi, who had a special sitdown meeting with Damon at the GM meetings in Orlando in November, was well aware Damon nearly retired last spring. Girardi told Damon how vital he is to the team's success, and that seems to have helped rejuvenate the Yankees' leadoff hitter. "Johnny sets the tone,'' Girardi said. "And he's a great presence in the clubhouse.''

That definitely seems to be the case now that Damon is back to being himself. However, he knows he won't last forever, and that when the time comes to walk away, he can deal with it. "I'm OK with looking in the mirror and knowing when it's time to go,'' Damon said.

The Yankees are very glad Damon isn't ready to do that just yet.

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