How Big was the Johnny Damon Signing?
Last night, in front of almost 21,000 crazed Rays fans, Boston strolled into town having crushed their way to nine straight wins. In the first inning, with the bases loaded and two outs, former Ray Carl Crawford and his $142 million dollar contract came up to bat. Had Crawford won that first battle with James Shields, it might well have been lights out for the evening. Instead, Shields got Crawford to ground out to Casey Kotchman, who flipped the ball to Shields covering first to end the threat.
Crawford actually received some accolades from appreciative Rays fans, but the man who has stolen their hearts wears a championship ring earned while playing in Boston and another while in New York.
When Damon signed a one-year deal with the Rays for $5.25 million dollars, he wasn’t the center of attention. Instead, it was Manny Ramirez and his $2 million dollar deal that got all the hype. Damon, at 37, was considered a part-time veteran player who would help stabilize a club house that had experienced a mass migration out of Tampa Bay. Few baseball analysts would give the Rays a snowball’s chance in hell of being competitive this year.
Manny would hit the eject button on April 10th, ending a storied career and leaving behind a checkered legacy as a mercurial player who could also be one of the most feared. Damon would continue to put his glove on and go about his business.
Business, as they say, has been good for Johnny Damon, and as a result, pretty good for the Rays as well.
On April 29th Damon would go 0-4 against the Ervin Santana-led Los Angeles Angels, ending a 16 game hitting streak that would tie him with Ben Zobrist (2009-2010) and Aaron Ledesma (1998-1999) for the fourth longest in team history. As of last night, Damon had another streak going. His double in the third inning off Tim Wakefield made it 39 straight games he’d reached base. He is now one double away from achieving something only 10 other players have achieved in the history of major league baseball. One more double and he’ll be the 11th player to have 500 doubles, 100 triples, 200 home runs and 2,500 hits in a career. Not bad for a 37 year old outfielder many thought would be a footnote in a season where the Rays were expected to flounder.
Oh, and the other ten players? They are to a man enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame. One more double, and Damon joins George Brett, Willie Mays, Babe Ruth, Robin Yount, Stan Musial, Rogers Hornsby, Goose Goslin, Paul Molitor and Al Simmons in a very exclusive club. The air gets pretty thin up there.
Through 63 games, Damon already has 256 at bats under his belt. His batting average is .281, and he has added eight home runs and 33 RBI to go with seven stolen bases while alternating between the outfield and designated hitter. In three games against his former team, Damon is hitting at a .462 clip with a home run and five RBI. To say that he has been a key addition to the team would be like saying Tampa Bay is full of sea water.
While he isn’t the only story in town, Johnny Damon has proven again that the Rays management is pretty good at evaluating talent.
Going into tonight’s game, the Rays are 3 1/2 games out of first. Who knows? Maybe the fans at Tropicana Field will witness history if Damon can get another double. He’ll certainly do it soon.
Maybe then, Johnny Damon will get the attention he deserves.