By Art Martone
A few weeks ago, the question was whether or not Johnny Damon would be cheered when he returned to Boston in something other than a Yankee uniform. Alas, he got hurt, missed the entire weekend series between the Sox and Tigers, and it remained a mystery.
But how about if he came back in a Red Sox uniform?
That once-unthinkable scenario took on life Monday afternoon when the Sox claimed Damon on waivers from the Tigers, starting the clock ticking on a 48-hour period in which the teams must reach agreement on a trade . . . and a period in which Damon must waive a clause in his contract prohibiting a trade to Boston. The news was originally reported by Jon Heyman of SI.com, and confirmed by Damon to the Detroit media.
"Right now, I'm not sure I want to leave Detroit," Damon told the media there on Monday afternoon, as quoted by Tom Gage in the Detroit News. "That's what is good about having time to make a decision. "But it feels weird. It's a pretty awkward decision -- probably tougher now to go back to Boston than it was leave Boston to go to New York. "At this moment I'm not sure I want to leave Detroit for that. I'll have to think long and hard about it. "I had a great time playing there, but once it became apparent that I wasn't a necessity to re-sign there, it started to get ugly. "I have to think about if once again I'll be probably one of the nicest guys in baseball in the opinion of the fans in Boston but also the most hated guy in baseball in the opinion of the fans in New York. That's what it boils down to." If he listens to some his ex-teammates, he'll be on the next plane East.
"Yeaahaa! Party like a rock star!" said David Ortiz, who then turned serious about possible closure for Damon with the Sox fan baseafter being treated like the baseball version of Judas in subsequent trips to Fenway Park after the 2005 season."I'm pretty sureif he decided to come back . . . he could put it all back together with the fans. They can forget about the Yankees thing," said Ortiz.
"I'm going to call him right now. Let me call him right now. Everybody knows what kind of player Johnny is, so he definitely would bring some excitement around here."The Sox -- who, because they're lower in the standings than Tampa Bay and New York, got a shot at claiming Damon before either of those teams -- may simply be attempting to block Damon from getting to the Rays or the Yankees, both of whom presumably would have interest. But that didn't stop his ex-teammates from getting excited about the possibility of being reunited.
"I think it would be great," Tim Wakefield told Alex Speier of WEEI.com. "Obviously, with outfielders Jacoby Ellsbury and Mike Cameron out probably for the rest of the year, if we're going to make a push for the postseason, he'd be a great addition.
"He knows how to play here. He was a huge fan favorite here. It would be great for the city of Boston and great for him."
Jason Varitek called Damon "a special player" and -- while he called his potential return "wishful thinking right now" -- added "Johnny knows how I feel about him" and said he "might" make a call to try and convince him to come back.
Damon -- with his carefree spirit and long, flowing hair -- was the much-beloved symbol of the Cowboy UpIdiots version of the Red Sox that broke Boston's 86-year World Series drought in 2004. He was a solid defensive center fielder and an offensive force at the top of the order, posting an OPS-plus of over 100 in three of his four seasons with the Sox. He batted over .300 twice, scored more than 100 runs every year, and seemed as indispensable a cog as there was on the Sox.
But when his contract expired at the end of the 2005 season, the Sox front office was in disarray after the surprise (and, as it turned out, temporary) resignation of general manager Theo Epstein, and Damon's negotiations seemed to get lost in the shuffle. Damon became irritated with the pace of the talks and unhappy with the team's four-year, 40 million offer. When the Yankees swooped in with a take-it-or-leave-it-RIGHT-NOW bid of four years and 52 million -- with the stipulation that Damon and his agent, Scott Boras, couldn't take it back to the Red Sox for them to match or top -- he accepted.
And, in the process, become Public Enemy Number One hereabouts.
The move was a gut-wrenching one for Damon, and he later said he and his family cried over the prospect of leaving Boston. But he'd made the mistake of saying he'd "never" sign with the Yankees in a May 2005 interview with mlb.com, "even if they offer more money" . . . and when he wound up doing exactly that, fans locally erupted in fury.
Sox fans savagely booed Damon when he returned to Fenway Park for the first time with the Yankees in May 2006, and never let up during his four years with New York. It wasn't so much that he'd left -- after all, many members of the 2004 champions were gone by '06, and all of them were greeted warmly when they came back to Fenway -- but that he'd left to go to the Yankees. That Damon eventually embraced the Yankee culture and talked about how much he loved it in New York only made it worse.
But he and the Yanks parted ways last offseason, in much the same clumsy way Damon left the Red Sox, and he wound up signing a one-year contract with the Tigers at the beginning of spring training. Speculation was that Damon in Detroit was far less onerous than Damon in New York, and that he'd be re-embraced -- or at least not virulently hated -- by the fans in Boston this year.
Now he may be back on their side.
The injury-ravaged Sox could use him. He's hitting .270 with a .355 on-base percentage in 111 games so far this year and could provide the lineup with a much-needed bat. He's no longer an adequate center fielder, but he could play left field. And his return would provide closure to a sadly ruptured relationship.
But will he agree to come back? And can the sides agree on a trade?
Art Martone can be reached at email@example.com.