Over the years, I have been buying my little boy Rakes all the Seth McFarland Red Sox figures I can find. After the 2004 World Series year, the next Sox player he released was Johhny Freaking Damon. I bought it, put it on his shelf, and immediately started teaching Rakes Johnny's name. He was already my daughter's favorite player, so she helped me tutor Rakes: eventually, we got him saying " Onny Amon".
2005 was no problem, with the Captain of the Idiot's batting lead off, doing naked pull ups in the locker room, and patrolling CF at Fenway.
Then came the off season of 2005: And the unthinkable became a reality.
Johnny Damon was going to the New York Yankees. The same Yankees he had helped humiliate with the greatest comeback in sports history. The same Yankees he had said he would NEVER play for. The Red Sox offered him a contract, the Yankees offered more, and he left.
I have not let Rakes play with that figure ever since. It's still up on the shelf, but I can't bring myself to get it down. When it first came out that Damon went to the Dark Side, I was furious. And when he came back to Fenway and got booed out of the park, I smiled. As the season went on, I started thinking about it, and what I came up with was this.
Damon was a key part of the 2004 team. He played hard, and played well. But he had only been in Boston since 2002. He had been in Oakland before that, and Kansas City before that. He wasn't some life long Sox player, like Trot Nixon, or even like Jason Varitek, who has never played a Major League game in a uniform other than the Red Sox. He is just another mercenary in a long line of them who have come and gone through Red Sox Nation over the years.
He IS, however, a little different. He was the lead off hitter and offensive catalyst of the team that FINALLY won it all. And for that, he will always be different. I don't know if they win it all without Damon. In fact, I'm pretty sure they don't. He was the identity of that team, the guy willing to talk to some idiot Globe reporter after a tough loss, the guy willing to step up and deflect attention away from some struggling teammate. And after his playing days are over, is Johnny Damon going to be remembered as a New York Yankee? Or as the long haired wild man who led the motley crew that was the 2004 Boston Red Sox to the top of the mountain?
I don't know how other people will remember him.
I just know how I will. And while I will despise him every game he plays for the Yankees, after his playing days are done, I'm going to do one thing.
I'm going to let Rakes finally play with his Johnny Damon action figure.