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Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Part II: Boston's Traitor


Boston's Hero

I've gone back and forth on this. The pragmatic, more cynical part of me says it's all about the money. The Red Sox offered Johnny Damon a four year $40 million contract. The Yankees offered $52 million. As someone who makes a point of taking every sick day my company allows, figuring that if I don't, it's like working for free, I can hardly advise someone else to walk away from $12 million. Never in my life will I see that kind of money. All a guy like me can do is try and break it down into terms I can understand.

Let's say I had two companies making me two offers of employment. OK, that's a stretch right there, but let's say one company, where I've been working for five years is offering an annual salary of $40,000 and the other, a competitor, is offering $52,000. The purely realistic side of me says the choice is obvious. It might be awkward working for "the enemy" but let's get real. I've got to pay the rent, fix the car, and going out to eat more than once a month sounds pretty good, too. I'm taking the $52K. No question.

Life is more complicated than that. What are the other differences between the two jobs? Do I like the people more at one place? Does one have a nicer building to work in? Am I going to be more stressed out at one place? Will I be appreciated? Is the work likely to be more fulfilling? A lot of people in this situation not only discard the answers to these questions, they discard the questions themselves. They take the money. A lot of people take the money.

But there's another side of me that still believes as I did when I first started watching professional sports that the players are individuals only to the extent that they make up their team. When I was 9, my friend George from Maine's age, I offered unconditional support. I could never have booed anyone on my team no matter how poorly they performed. After all, that's when they need support the most, right?

30 plus years later, intellectually, I recognize the innocent quaintness of this structure. Now I'm nostalgic about it, about a simpler time when players stayed on one team for their entire careers and felt as committed to the fans as to the team owners, to the league, to themselves. Did such a world ever really exist, or is this just how I've embalmed the memory of all those pitches and all those hits, all that sunshine and all that green?

Accurate or not, its legacy lives on inside me, triggering a gasp as I read the December 21 headline. "DAMON LEAVES SOX FOR YANKEES!"

A few points that should be made:

• The arena of loyalty and obligation in professional sports is rife with double standards. Fans (like me) accuse Damon of betrayal, yet many of these same fans (not like me) literally boo other Red Sox heros out of town. So long, Mark Bellhorn. They charge Red Sox management with incompetence for letting a superstar like Damon get away, yet they hardly say a word as less flashy but more highly respected players who contribute as much if not more than Damon move on to other teams. Welcome to L.A., Bill Mueller. And when a player does forgo the bigger payday in order to stay loyal to the Red Sox, the media suggests that it's merely a ploy to influence future deals. Nice to have you, Bronson Arroyo. Where's the logic?

• I have devised the Crap Chart to explain the squatting order of those involved in the Johnny Damon deal.

• Damon's explanation of why he chose to sign with the archrival of the team for whom he has played for the last five years is garbled. As recently as January 31 on David Lee Roth's radio show in New York, Damon said that when it came down to it the Red Sox didn't want him as badly as the Yankees. But in the same interview he said that the Red Sox didn't believe that there was another offer being made to him. Those are two completely different scenarios. One suggests that the Red Sox' offer of $40 million was set in stone from the beginning and essentially represented a courtesy gesture designed to appease Boston fans and media when Damon inevitably left for a higher bidder. The other scenario suggests that the Red Sox' internal intelligence is so poor (or the Yankees' secrecy is so tight) that they were unable to determine whether an offer from the Yankees was on the table or not, the implication being that had they believed the Yankees offer was real, they would have upped their offer and possibly retained Damon's service. Whichever scenario is closer to reality, Damon is unwilling or unable to explain his decision.

Is he so required? If it were just us adults here, I would say no. It's his decision and his responsibilities lie with himself and his family. Who are we to ask him why?

But the problem is it's not just us adults. It's kids. Kids who loved him as a hero only to be slapped in the face. Kids who pledged allegiance to him and then watched him burn his Red Sox uniform, shave his beard and cut off his hair. To a kid, it's like he took off his Boston uniform to reveal the New York pinstripes that have been underneath all along. There's no more Santa Claus, no more Easter Bunny, no more Tooth Fairy, and Johnny Damon doesn't care about you, kid. Sometimes the people you count on most are the ones who let you down the hardest. Sometimes people are not who they claim to be. It’s a hard, adult lesson that Johnny Damon foisted upon countless unsuspecting kids like my friend George in Portland, Maine. And his parents are left holding the bag.

Upon receiving news of Damon's choice to not only leave the Red Sox, but to leave them to play for The Enemy, the Yankees, George's young mind tried desperately to process the situation. His brain flopped and floundered like a downy gosling struggling to waddle across a river bank, too young to fly, but too anxious to sit still. Betrayal like Damon's was unfamiliar behavior, recalibrating George's notion of that which people are capable. Entitled "People Are Not Always As They Seem," a new section had been added to life's rule book. George looked to his mother and asked, "How could someone do that?"
"It is tough, especially on the kids. My kids had a hard time dealing with it and I told them and they cried and I cried with them."
- Johnny Damon, 1/31/2006
Red Sox tickets went on sale a few days ago. I missed the initial go around so I had to enter my name in a lottery to win a chance at more tickets. Maybe I'll get lucky and win. Maybe I'll get even luckier and actually get to a game. And maybe a stroke of pure luck will land me tickets to the game on May 1, the first Red Sox - Yankee game of the year, Johnny Damon's first appearance in Fenway Park as a New York Yankee. Of late, stretches of my commute to and from work are speckled with daydreams of how such a thing would take shape.

There I stand with 35,000 other lucky bastards. Damon, clean-shaven and short-haired as required by Yankee management, steps from the dugout and heads for the on deck circle. The crowd is divided, some for, some against, but together generating a noise that sounds like a fleet of jet engines. I hold up my handcrafted sign, the one I made the night before. The sign has just two elements. In big red letters on a white background, a question, "How could you?" Below that, an enormous blown up photograph of George, his long, dark brown locks streaming out from underneath his Red Sox cap, straggling over both shoulders. I hold it silently, high above my head for the television cameras to see. The crowd is sustaining vocal thunder. As Damon loosens up, he takes in all the noise, not quite sure how to react. Suddenly, a smile breaks across his wide face, impossibly increasing the noise from the crowd. And when he knocks the doughnut off his bat and steps toward the plate, I set my sign down and start to clap and cheer more loudly than I have ever clapped or cheered in my life.


Boston's Hero



At 2/08/2006 1:07 PM, Anonymous said...

That is a powerful and true article not just for kids. All REAL sox fans felt this for sure. The one guy you thought wouldn't be for the money!!!

At 2/08/2006 3:31 PM, Jackie said...

Sorry. I can't find forgiveness or understanding in my heart with the argument you posed: "What would I do if I were offered an annual salary of $40,000 versus $52,000." The fact is, we're talking about $40,000,000. Who needs more than that? How could it possibly even register that you were earning more than that? What's he going to do with that extra $12 million? How much of a difference will that make in his life? Compared to cutting his hair (my God, is there a greater symbolic gesture of giving up your super powers??) and giving up the love of the most devoted fans on earth.

Johnny Damon will never, never, NEVER be loved the way he was in Boston. He was a god, and he gave it up for an extra $3 mil a year.

At 2/10/2006 10:02 AM, Anonymous said...

Can I use some of your story and Jackie's comments in the next Hausfrau? Guess who's going to be severely punished in HF #9?

At 2/10/2006 10:36 AM, Tom in L.A. said...

Absolutely! I have a feeling he'll be feeling the severe punishment when he goes into a slump, his kids hate NY, and the only one getting anything out of this deal is his wife.

At 2/11/2006 5:43 AM, Daniel said...

can I use your crap chart on my website?

At 2/11/2006 9:18 AM, Tom in L.A. said...

Sure thing, Daniel!

At 4/28/2006 8:11 PM, Anonymous said...

Gee whiz, guy. Thanks for that! I myself have been inundated with the comments from the meanest people -- I am amazed at how adults are reacting.

There is so much negativity in this world, so much hate -- just because some guy took a better paying job somewhere else. People need to grow up and get a freaking life.

At 4/28/2006 8:14 PM, Anonymous said...

and tom in la: his kids don't live in NY. They live in Fla.

jackie: who are you to determine that $40 million is enough? It may be for you but something tells me that his standard of living is a little bit higher than yours. Besides -- his wife needs a lot of work, if you know what I mean.


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