Damon stays in Detroit, nixes return to Red Sox
DETROIT – Johnny Damon is staying in Detroit.
The 36-year-old outfielder decided to pass up a chance to return to the Boston Red Sox, rejecting their waiver claim and choosing to remain with the Tigers.
“These guys really like me here,” Damon said Tuesday, adding he spoke to each of his teammates individually to be sure he was wanted in the Tigers’ clubhouse.
Damon was popular in Boston when he helped the Red Sox win the 2004 World Series to end an 86-year drought. With his long hair and beard, he was part of the group of Red Sox players who called themselves the “Idiots.”
He fell out of favor, however, with many Boston fans when he later became a free agent and joined the rival New York Yankees.
“Considering the buzz that Johnny created for many years here, one of the original ‘Idiots’ of the World Series champions here, I thought it would be a great idea. But sometimes the ideas of others are not the same as the person who actually has to be in the situation,” Red Sox outfielder Mike Cameron.
Damon’s contract gives him veto power over trades to all but eight teams. Because the Red Sox weren’t one of those clubs, he was able to block the move.
Damon said he was leaning toward staying put from the beginning. He texted former Red Sox teammate Jason Varitek and talked to David Ortiz, and both tried to convince him to return to Boston.
“They told me they wanted a spark,” Damon said.
Said Varitek: “I reached out to him, as a friend, as a teammate, and ultimately, he’s obviously had some decisions to make.”
“I can only speak for what Johnny has meant here and what he has done as a player and what he is as a teammate. He would have been a big addition to our team with what he can do,” he said.
The banged-up Red Sox began the day 5 1/2 games behind New York and Tampa Bay in the AL East. Detroit started 10 games behind Minnesota in the AL Central and far out of wild-card contention.
“This game’s tough enough and when you’re in a position and you’re in a city and you’re in a place where you want to be, a place where you’re happy, there’s no real reason of doing that,” Boston closer Jonathan Papelbon said. “I’ve always admired Johnny since I came here in ’05 and he was one of the players that took me under his wing and showed me the big leagues. I wish him nothing but the best.”
“I’m not surprised because he’s in a situation where he’s happy and if he’s happy, why not stay? If he’s not happy, obviously he would have left.”
Damon is hitting .272 with seven home runs and 41 RBIs in 111 games. This is his first season in Detroit.
“I feel like we’re not out of it yet,” he said. “At least we can make some kind of run.”
Damon said he’d like to play in Detroit next year, too, but “there’s no guarantee.”
Tigers star Miguel Cabrera welcomed Damon’s decision.
“It’s good for us. He stays here and we can play more together and see what happens. We can do a lot of things,” Cabrera said. “We can win more games, we can get more support in the lineup. If he stays here for some reason, it’s because he likes it here, he believes in us. That’s good.”
Said Damon: “I’ve said Miguel Cabrera was the best hitter I’ve ever seen and I wanted to see it for a whole year.”
Damon talked to Detroit general manager Dave Dombrowski on Monday night before he made his decision and spoke to assistant GM Al Avila and manager Jim Leyland on Tuesday.
“I told him to do what your heart tells you,” Leyland said. “Don’t worry about the Detroit Tigers, Boston Red Sox, Jim Leyland, Terry Francona or anybody else.”
One of Damon’s concerns about remaining with the Tigers was his playing time. He was concerned the team might want to look at younger players.
“Yes, he’s going to play,” Leyland said. “Is he going to play every game? No. He hasn’t played every game to this point.”
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