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Good But, Not Great- Part Nine

The Off-Season: Good But, Not Great- Part Nine

By Tim Kabel

March 7, 2022


So far, I have written eight articles about Yankees’ players who were good but, not great. These players were not Hall of Famers. However, they were key components of their teams. In many cases, they were the backbone of World Series Championship teams. My last article in the series was about Graig Nettles, I have stated that the Yankees’ Championship teams of the late ’70s, had more good but, not great players than teams from any other era. I have a few more players from that era to write about. However, today, I will jump to the 2000s for the subject of this article.

Johnny Damon moved around a lot as a Major League Baseball player. He played for seven different teams. That’s not surprising when you consider his childhood. He was born at Fort Riley, a US Army post in Kansas. His father was a staff sergeant in the United States Army who met Damon’s mother, a native of Thailand, while he was stationed there. Damon spent his early years as an “Army Brat”, moving to several posts including Okinawa, Japan and West Germany before his father was discharged from the army. Damon’s family settled in the Orlando, Florida area while he was a preschooler. Damon was a quiet child, mostly because he had a stutter. He used to sing as a therapy to overcome the stutter. However, he often remained quiet as a child.

In 1992, Damon was named the top high school prospect in the country by Baseball America. Damon was selected by the Kansas City Royals in the first round of the 1992 MLB draft. He made his Major League debut on August 12th, 1995. He played for the Royals from 1995 through 2000. One of the best seasons of his career came in 2000, when he led the American League in runs with 136 and stolen bases with 46. He was second in hits with 214. The Royals traded him to the Oakland A’s before the 2001 season. He became a free agent after the 2001 season and signed a four-year, 31-million-dollar contract with the Boston Red Sox. During his 4-year career with the Red Sox, Damon appeared in 597 games, 590 of which were as a center fielder. Damon spent most of his time with the Red Sox as the leadoff hitter. He was a key player on their 2004 World Championship team. In Game 7 of the ALCS series against the Yankees that year, Damon hit two home runs, driving a stake through the heart of Yankees’ fans.

On December 20th, 2005, Damon signed a four-year, 52-million-dollar contract with the New York Yankees. In May 2005, Damon had stated, “There’s no way I can go play for the Yankees, but I know they’re going to come after me hard.” They did, and he changed his mind. To fit the Yankees strict grooming code, he shaved off his beard and mustache, and cut his shoulder length hair.

In 2006, Damon finished third in runs with 115 and ninth in stolen bases with 25 in the American League, while hitting 24 home runs, his career high. He was only one of four players in the Major Leagues to hit at least 24 home runs and steal at least 24 bases. On June 7th, 2008, Damon went 6 for 6 in the Yankees 12-11 win over the Kansas City Royals, including a walk-off ground rule double. He was the first Yankee to have 6 hits in a 9-inning game since Myril Hoag accomplished the feat in 1934. (I’m sure Prof Robert will tell us Hoag’s career WAR in the comments section). In 2008, Damon went on the DL for the first time in his career after running into the outfield wall, attempting to catch a triple. At the time, he was one of only three active Major League ball players who had played at least ten years without going on the disabled list.

In the 2009 ALCS, Damon hit home runs in games three and four of the series helping the Yankees defeat the Angels in six games. During the World Series, Damon was credited with two stolen bases on one play when the Phillies defense was shifted against Mark Teixeira. Damon earned his second World Series ring with the Yankees in 2009. Damon wanted the Yankees to sign him for at least the same 13 million dollars a year they had paid him previously. They declined, signing Nick Johnson and Randy Winn as replacements. In his four years with the Yankees, Damon batted .285 with 636 hits and 93 stolen bases. He was a solid player with the Yankees and certainly justified his contract. He was a key figure in helping the team win its first world championship since 2000.

For his career, Damon finished with 2,769 hits, placing him 54th on the MLB all-time career hits list. That is nothing to sneeze at. His first year of eligibility for the Hall of Fame came in 2018. He only received eight votes and was dropped from future consideration. Damon is one of those players who, for his entire career, and also for his career as a Yankee, was better than you thought he was at first glance. For some reason, he has been overlooked and underestimated. He will probably never make the Hall of Fame. If he had been able to stick around long enough to get 231 more hits, which probably would have taken him less than two full seasons, he probably would be in the Hall of Fame in the near future. He is another one of those good but, not great Yankees who was an important part of the team’s success during his relatively brief career in New York.


Previous Articles in this Series:


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