Former New York Yankees outfielder Johnny Damon is on the Baseball Hall of Fame ballot for the first time this year. He will not be a first-ballot choice of the writers, given the field he is chasing, but at some point, Damon, for reasons other than just numbers, has earned a place in Cooperstown.
Johnny Damon played 18 seasons in a big league uniform, a career that included four seasons each with both the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox, two of the top baseball hotbeds in America. He won a World Championship with each ballclub and that alone should be enough to jettison him to the top of this year’s hall of fame (HOF) class.
But it won’t, and that’s okay as long as he gets his due recognition in this, his first year of eligibility, for the hall.
Let’s get the numbers out of the way right now though, because they are only a fraction of Johnny Damon’s credentials for entry into Cooperstown. Damon had a lifetime batting average of .284, amassed 2,769 hits, scored 1,668 times, drove in 1,140 runs and stole 408 bases, to go along with a lifetime on-base percentage of .352.
Only three times did Damon lead his league in anything, but that just tells part of the story. Johhny Damon was a table-setter supreme. His lifetime 235 home runs serve only to indicate he could have hit more. Need a stolen base in a particular situation? He could do that, too, turning a World Series game around for the Yankees in an instant …
Heads up all the way, Damon played each game with only one purpose in mind, to win it. His head told him only one thing whether he was playing in New York or Boston, whether it was David Ortiz coming up behind him or Mark Teixeria, which was to get on base and do anything you have to score because runs win ballgames.
Nevermind he was the most hated Red Sox player (in my book) when he smacked two home runs, driving in six in the seventh and deciding game of the 2004 American League Championship Series, crushing the Yankees hopes for another title.
Instead, with a player like Damon, you just tip your cap to him saying, “Well done, son.”
Jay Jaffe, writing for Sports Illustrated, claims that:
“Johnny Damon, Hideki Matsui, and Aubrey Huff provided some memorable moments over the course of their careers, but they’re among the position players who will fall off of the Hall of Fame ballot after this year.”
With Huff, certainly, and Matsui, to a lesser extent, Jaffe makes sense. But to extinguish the career of Johnny Damon in one fell swoop is not only dishonorable to Damon, but to Major League Baseball.
And if we want to take the time, which I have no desire to because it’s been overdone before, check out Graham Womack‘s on the mark article for The Sporting News to find the scores of players in the Hall who fall well below the achievements of Damon.
The vote for the HOF is in the control of baseball writers who occupy a privileged seat in the voting. It is often subjective, and I get that. Stories about writers abusing their privileged status, along with the consequences of being “found out” are graciously welcomed by those who care.
According to the hall of fame rules, and let’s digress just for a minute here—the hall of fame has nothing to do with MLB. It operates as a separate entity and has its own Board of Directors headed by Jane Forbes Clark, who arguably has more power than the Commissioner of Baseball, Rob Manfred.
Back to the point. Johnny Damon, as well as all the other first-time candidates for the HOF, will need a minimum of five percent of all ballots cast to remain on the ballot next year.
We can’t be going there, can we? Not with this player. It should be, at least for those writers who take the time to look beyond the numbers, which are impressive on their own, to find the gold in Damon’s career.