Johnny Damon on Red Sox tenure and end, Manny Ramirez and why he’s not retired
|05.28.14 at 8:31 pm ET|
The 2014 Red Sox are searching for the same formula that won them a World Series a season ago. Former Red Sox center fielder Johnny Damon can relate to the feeling, after the 2004 championship club experienced some notable turnover in the offseason following its legendary postseason. But he thinks that one move after that initial title run would have accelerated the arrival of the Sox’ second and third titles.
“I feel like if Boston would have resigned me after 2005, we probably would have had a couple more championships,” Damon said. “That’s how strong of a team that was. Turnover is tough. Whenever a team wins the World Series, it’s very easy to let the fans know you’re looking to the future. So it’s a difficult thing [to keep a team together].”
Damon has been back to Fenway Park many times since leaving as a free agent after the 2005 season and infamously signing with the Yankees. In the past, Damon has received some less-than-warm welcomes from the Fenway faithful, but time heals all wounds, and his presence at the ceremony elicited an entirely positive reaction from the crowd.
“They were booing the uniform [in the past],” Damon said. “I think a lot of times they just didn’t understand how it could happen. But people got to see it again this year when [Jacoby] Ellsbury signed with New York. You pretty much get a contract after you agree with the other team, and unfortunately that’s the way it is. If I didn’t sign with New York, Ellsbury might not have gotten a chance here, and Coco [Crisp] never would came here, so it’s the way the game is.”
Despite leaving Boston and joining the club’s rivals in 2006, Damon says that he’s grateful for his time in a Red Sox uniform.
“I loved playing here in Boston,” the outfielder said. “I left my heart on the field every single time I played, and [I was] running up against those walls just so Manny [Ramirez] didn’t have to. It was something I would do in a heartbeat and that I did just so Manny could stay healthy, and I was going to play regardless. That’s the type of player I was and still am. I played this game with a passion and I’m glad I was able to bring that passion to Boston and win in 2004.”
Ramirez and Damon shared an outfield from 2002 to Damon’s departure after 2005. One of the most memorable plays from their time together is, of course, when Ramirez dove to cut off Damon’s throw into third base on what would have been a triple off the wall (it resulted in an inside-the-park home run). The two reenacted that play, in a sense, as Ramirez threw out the first pitch on Wednesday night. Damon dove in front to catch it before it reached home plate. The play has become one of the fondest and funniest memories from the championship season.
“My reaction was — why wasn’t he backing me up by the wall instead of hanging out where the shortstop should be?” Damon recalled. “I tried to relive that moment when we were both in Tampa for a little bit [with the Rays in 2011] but he really didn’t want to. I was like, ‘Hey Manny, I was the one who took the brunt of the heat because you cut it off.’ It would have been a one-, maybe two-hopper going to third base — I know I wasn’t blessed with the strongest of arms, but I was accurate, and that was gonna be accurate. But it’s something we’re always going to laugh about, but he still should have been backing me up.”
While Ramirez has found his way back to baseball, signing on with the Cubs Triple-A team as a player-coach, the 41-year-old Damon says that he won’t be taking that route in the near future.
“Good for him. The fact that Manny wants to stay in baseball and help teach some young guys try to become better ballplayers — good for him,” Damon said. “That’s not gonna happen anytime soon for me. I’m home raising six great kids.”
Though he hasn’t played in the majors since appearing in 64 games for the Indians in 2012, Damon says that he’s not ready to officially hang up the spikes just yet.
“I’m not planning on announcing my retirement anytime soon,” Damon said. “I don’t feel like there’s a need. I’m not really sure what the protocol is. I just go about my life and live it.”
He says that he has been playing soccer for fun and managing his various businesses while raising his children, but, “If a team calls [him], [he] can be ready in a short while.”
But even though he says official retirement isn’t in the cards right now, things could change.
“I’ve told you guys things before and things have changed,” Damon joked, “[like when] it was I’m not going to sign with the Yankees, and I did.”
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