Damon claimed by Red Sox, deciding whether to go
DETROIT – It’s all up to Johnny Damon now: Play out the season in Detroit, or rejoin the Boston Red Sox for another playoff chase.
The Red Sox have claimed the 36-year-old outfielder on waivers from the Tigers, and Damon was deciding Monday whether to go. Once a fan favorite at Fenway Park, he’s been booed there ever since he defected to the rival Yankees.
Damon had a little time to make up his mind – teams have 48 hours to work out a deal.
“I’ve got a lot to think about,” he said before Detroit played Kansas City. “On top of everything else, I’ve got to be ready to hit a baseball tonight.”
Damon has hit .270 with seven home runs and 40 RBIs during his first season in Detroit.
His contract includes a clause that gives him veto power over trades to all but eight teams. Because the Red Sox aren’t one of those clubs, he can block any move.
Damon was a hero in Boston in 2004 when he helped the Red Sox win their first World Series championship. But he was no longer so popular two years later when he became a free agent and went to New York.
Boston began the day 6 1/2 games behind the Yankees in the AL East and 5 1/2 games behind Tampa Bay for the wild-card lead. Detroit was 11 games behind Minnesota in the AL Central and far from wild-card consideration.
“I had a great time playing there, and I did everything I could to go back,” he said. “I told the team what it would take, in terms of dollars and years – but it got ugly when it became apparent that re-signing me wasn’t a priority.”
Damon said that the broken relationship with the Boston fans has “absolutely” left a scar on his psyche, and he knows accepting a move back to the Red Sox could fix that, especially if he could help them make a late playoff run.
“If I do this, and we pulled everything together and I could help them get into the postseason, it would change everything again,” he said.
Damon’s old teammates in Boston seemed eager to have him back.
Red Sox slugger David Ortiz asked whether Damon got to choose his team. Told yes, Ortiz brightened.
“Really. Let me call him right now,” he kidded. “I can say one thing and he’d be back. I guarantee you just one thing.”
“It would be great. You know Johnny Damon’s always been a great person to be around,” he said. “Let’s to wait to see what’s going to happen.”
Normally fairly stoic, Red Sox captain Jason Varitek smiled when talking about Damon.
“Johnny knows how I fell about him today and always have. It’s wishful thinking right now,” he said.
“He’s pushing Hall of Fame type numbers and you add what he’s done in the clubhouse and on the field. I never wanted to see him leave here. It would be a nice opportunity,” he said. “Bedsides being a great player, he’s an example with how he plays hurt and he plays the game right. He pushes energy. He’s an exciting player.”
Damon has consistently said that he wants to stay with the Tigers, and he repeated that stance Monday.
“I like playing here and I love the fans,” he said. “I’m enjoying playing with these kids and for this coaching staff.”
The Tigers could work out a trade with Boston to complete the deal if Damon gives the OK, and that might bring the Tigers a prospect in return.
“The reason I would consider this is to help out this team in the future,” he said. “I love the Tigers organization.”
Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski declined comment on any moves.
About 90 minutes after getting the word of a possible move, Damon had obviously begun his research. He knew Boston’s exact position in the wild-card race and precisely how many games they have left with the Yankees and Rays.
“Johnny is a good player. I’m not sure what Johnny is going to do,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said in Toronto. “Johnny was part of a world championship there. He seemed to be really appreciated by the fans there. I guess he has an option not to go, right? So you just kind of wait and see.”
Still, he was glad that he’d have days, not hours, before having to give the Tigers and Red Sox a final decision.
“This is probably as tough of a decision for me as it was to leave Boston for New York,” he said. “Fortunately, there is some time to think about it.”
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After a period of dry, warm weather, winter returns this week to Lake Tahoe.