It’s always good to catch up with Johnny Damon, who is now with, believe it or not, his sixth Major League team. Damon is playing for his hometown Rays, ironically taking Carl Crawford’s place in the lineup.
Will he play for the Orioles and Blue Jays, allowing him to say he’s played for all five AL East teams. “No, I really don’t think so,” Damon said. “I go into every year hoping that I’m stuck with my last team. Hopefully that’s the case for me.”
The situation: “It’s great for me. I actually love the fact that I’ve actually now, this is my sixth team. You get to see how organizations are run, how important it is for teams to have signings that work. Tampa’s not a team that can afford to lock up a guy and not have it work out because that sets teams back. Probably just the Yankees and Boston can get away with something not working. Every other team would be hurt for a few years.
What’s it like being on the Rays with Manny while Crawford is with the Red Sox? “It’s weird. When I was a younger player I never thought I’d be on this many teams. I figured three teams or so, and here I am now. still enjoying it, though, still getting after it. Hopefully it will be another good year to make me want to come back next year.”
Having fun with Manny again? “Nothing of the press conference was rehearsed or anything. We were just two guys having a good time and enjoying being each others’ teammates again and bringing our talents to the St. Pete area. “
Any changes in Manny? “He’s always been great. There was never a question with myself or the team that we were on. Everyone knew what our places were. We enjoyed his company as a person, and obviously we enjoyed him getting the big hits for us.”
What will Crawford’s time in Boston be like? “Only time will tell. We couldn’t really define my time in Boston until we won a championship. Same in New York. Championships are what people remember you for. I was on a pretty good team, pretty stacked team. I’m sure there’s going to be at least one somewhere in his stay there.
Handling big market after playing in a small market? “I think you just have to handle it the right way. if you keep trying to run from it, that’s where you run into talking to one guy here, another guy there, that’s when your whole day is gone. But if you learn how to manage, it’s so much better.
Count Damon among those impressed by Boston’s bullpen: How many closers do they have there? You have Bard, you have Jenks, you have Papelbon. That’s pretty solid. And their starters are really good. They can shorten a game very quickly, kind of like the Yankees of the late ’90s. Pitchers gave them five or six innings and it was game over.
On Jenks: “He’s real good. I’ve always had trouble hitting off of him. Hopefully this year will be a little bit different. But their team definitely went in the right direction. Obviously, on paper, they’re the team to beat. Who knows how many games it will take to win the East? Baltimore’s gotten better. Maybe 90 games and wild card comes from somewhere else? That’s how stacked the division is.
Happy to be back in the AL East? “Absolutely, I enjoyed playing in Detroit, and actually was hoping to get back there. That was a big reason for vetoing the trade. If I would have known at the time that they weren’t going to bring me back, I would have showcased myself for the upcoming free agent year. But I knew then that Tampa was going to be a strong possibility for me, because I knew then that they couldn’t keep Crawford.”
So he would have gone to Boston last August if he knew the Tigers weren’t going to keep him? “I wanted to stay there for the right reasons. Those kids were very fond of me. They loved the experience factor. Boston was seven games out at the time. At the time, I think a big thing was being able to play. They didn’t give me any indication. The ownership loved me. The fans loved me. So I thought it was close to being a slam dunk. But to find out on the last day of the season.
How perfect a setup is it playing for the Rays, being that he’s a Central Florida native? “Yeah. I was hoping someday it would be great. Obviously, ’98, I was still with the Royals in my fourth year, and the team I grew up rooting for was the Royals. At the time, you think you can play your whole career in one place. Then that first time you get traded, you’re like, ‘Whoa, alright, all bets are out the window.’ That’s why I didn’t mind moving around throughout my career, try to put myself in a great situation, not only for myself and a chance to win but also for my family.”