Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Where Everybody Knows Your Name:Johnny Damon, the #RedSox, Cheers, and 90210

FOXBORO, MA - NOVEMBER 14:  Boston Red Sox player Johnny Damon show off the World Series trophy before the New England Patriots game against the Buffalo Bills at Gillette Stadium on November 14, 2004 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)


When word broke yesterday afternoon about the Red Sox putting a waiver claim on Johnny Damon (conveniently after 3 PM as I filled in on the PM Jab, so thanks Theo!), the phone lines on sports radio stations throughout New England were lit up with folks wanting to talk Damon. While many complained about him leaving for the Yankees and comparing him to Benedict Arnold (even though the Sox's actions at the time showed they didn't really want him back), many were excited about the possibility of him joining the team and bringing back some of that 2004 pedigree back to Fenway.

This morning talking about Johnny D was still all the rage, even though John Lackey pitched the Sox to victory the night before. TV and Radio ratings for the team are down this year, and while many point to the injuries and the "bridge year" comments from Theo Epstein, more point to the fact this team doesn't have a Pedro, or a Manny, or even a Millar. It's a team made up of folks you have and haven't heard of, people you don't want to get attached to because they probably won't be back next year (looking at you Adrian Beltre and Victor Martinez). It's guys like Josh Beckett and JD Drew, players you hate having to root for because of their prickly personas and fragile egos. Guys like Darnell McDonald and Eric Patterson remind long-time Sox fans of the likes of Dwayne Hosey and Jeff Frye in that they sometimes flash brilliance, but you know this will probably be the only year they play for this team. Bill Hall will kick a ball all over in the infield in the top of an inning, yet put one in the parking garage in the bottom of the inning, similar to the way a dog pisses on your carpet but later brings you your slippers. There's that feeling of dread when Manny Delcarmen or Scott Atchison or Hideki Okajima or even Jonathan Papelbon walk out of that bullpen door, which brings the ghosts of Rick Aguilera, Bob Stanley, and Calvin Schiraldi back in the nation's heads. Ryan Kalish and Daniel Nava are the Ellis Burks and Mike Greenwell of 2010, young guys not quite ready for the main stage but doing their damnedest to make a ton in tips. It's a far cry from 2004, and even 2007.

Damon, however, provides a new link that the PED-tainted Ortiz, an aging Jason Varitek, and an irrelevant Tim Wakefield can't bring: a new, fresh connection to the idiots from 2004, the team that did the impossible, the team that slayed the Mighty Yankees in the most impossible of circumstances. The team that turned the Red Sox organization from sympathetic figure to annual favorite, that put Red Sox fans in the same boat as Yankees fans in the eyes of the rest of MLB. It's Shelley Long returning to Cheers for a last call, or Luke Perry coming back to Beverly Hills, 90210. An old favorite who left on sour circumstances, and can now make new memories for a team desperately trying to stay off the back page as the Patriots and the NFL start to become the flavor of the month. He's saying all the right things about staying in Detroit, but for a guy who once likened himself to a rock star, in a year when Chris Cornell can reunite with Soundgarden, I wonder if the call of the crowd yelling for an encore would be too much, that the thought of a final tour with Red Sox Nation could be the fitting end to a career, or even a great way to make amends with the misguided fans who once loved him, but can't forgive him for moving to the Bronx (even after giving Pedro a standing O on opening night after he left for the Mets in much the same manner)? In the end, Cheers didn't beat MASH for most-watched series finale ever even with Long's help, and Perry didn't save 90210 from the chopping block. I don't know if Damon can help get this team into the playoffs, but I know I'd watch him try, and so would you.

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