Damon's decision says as much about Yankees as Red Sox
Johnny Damon turned down a chance to return to the Boston Red Sox
He has been booed at Fenway Park since leaving Boston for New York
Damon isn't the first Red Sox fan favorite to be turned on after going elsewhere
The T-shirts read, "Looks like Jesus, acts like Judas, throws like Mary," and Johnny Damon was supposed to pretend he did not see them. He was supposed to catch the first flight to Boston, do a few naked pull-ups in the clubhouse, tell a couple stale stories about 2004, and add a little ratings juice to upcoming Red Sox-Yankees series that have lost some fizz. He was supposed to make amends with Red Sox fans he alienated, while alienating Yankees fans he made amends with, and for what exactly? The Red Sox could pitch him on a pennant race, but they are five-and-a-half games out of a playoff spot, and they are still missing four starters. They could sell him on a legacy with the organization, but he would assuredly be let go after the season, only to retire elsewhere. Damon was essentially offered five weeks with the Red Sox, and unless he miraculously led them to the playoffs, his stay would go down as a dud.
Damon decided Tuesday to remain in Detroit and reject a trade to Boston, surprising mainly because the Red Sox wanted him, and the Red Sox and Yankees usually get what they want. They can throw money at their problems, but in this case, money had nothing to do with it. Damon simply chose to play for the Tigers, 10 games out of first in the AL Central, over the Red Sox. His relationship with New England, already sour, appears irreparable. He may have forfeited invitations to a lifetime of 2004 World Series anniversaries, but then again, he may have also made himself a Yankee for eternity.
The Red Sox have a rich history of great players leaving on terrible terms -- Roger Clemens, Pedro Martinez and Manny Ramirez among them -- but a special corner of the pantheon was reserved for Damon, Jesus when he helped the Red Sox to the World Series title in '04 and Judas when he bailed on them for the Yankees in '05. Damon could not have expected a pleasant reception when he returned to Fenway Park, but he also could not have imagined that the vitriol would follow him all way to Detroit five years later.
The Red Sox, like many organizations, often slam players on their way out of town, never expecting that they might need to coax one back. But with injuries to Mike Cameron and Jacoby Ellsbury, the Red Sox were desperate for an outfielder, and Damon was the last girl at the bar. The impetus for a reunion had nothing to do with emotion, everything to do with convenience. If the Red Sox truly wanted to rekindle with Damon, they could have called him last off-season, when he went unsigned into spring training. Their interest was stoked when the Tigers tried to put him through waivers this month, the Yankees and the Rays threatening to snag him if the Red Sox did not.
Damon enjoyed life outside the American League East, but if he had to return, he wanted it to be with the Yankees or Rays. He had no interest in making up with the Red Sox. He even included them in his no-trade clause. But secretly writing a team into a no-trade clause is much different than publicly spurning them, especially when that team is as big a brand as the Red Sox. The easy move was to accept the deal, do the pull-ups, and put in five happy weeks at Fenway. Damon may not have made the playoffs, but he could have guaranteed himself years of autograph sessions in New England.
He could not feign forgiveness. For the Red Sox front office, these negotiations may never have been personal, but for Damon they were. Despite his carefree persona, he held tight to a grudge, and while Red Sox fans were preparing to let go, he was not. Now, those fans will scorn him all over again, as if he were an outfielder in his prime headed to the Yankees, instead of a designated hitter in his twilight sticking with the Tigers.
Damon claimed that the decision to stay away from Boston was as difficult as the one to leave. In both instances, the Yankees were involved, though this time in a more tangential way. When the Tigers traveled to Yankee Stadium just last week, Damon was given a standing ovation, and he wondered how he would be treated if he were in a Red Sox uniform instead. Although Damon is beloved by his peers, who could not care less that he once left the Red Sox for a richer contract with the Yankees, he still seems concerned with how he is viewed by fans. He could not bear to jeopardize his relationship with a second major following.
By picking Tigers over Red Sox, Damon chose Yankees over Red Sox. If his allegiance were not clear five years ago, it is today.