By: Tom Cloutier
I must preface this piece, in an attempt to salvage some credibility as a knowledgeable baseball fan, that I don’t really think Johnny Damon deserves a plaque of Cooperstown. With that being said…
Headlining the new members of the Hall of Fame ballot are surefire first-ballot inductees Chipper Jones and Jim Thome. At the other end of the spectrum for first-years we have Orlanda Hudson and Aubrey Huff. Somewhere in the middle is Johnny Damon.
Damon was my first favorite player on the Red Sox. The first favorite baseball player I ever remember having was Sammy Sosa, so that choice didn’t age very well. I played center field in my early days in little league and was naturally drawn to the speedster patrolling the center of the outfield on my beloved team, the Red Sox. Damon evolved into a fan favorite during the Red Sox’ curse breaking season as he devolved into the caveman. I personally think his hair/facial hair combo during that time is argument enough for the Hall of Fame. I mean, just look at that flowing mane, pure beauty.
From a sabermetric perspective, his career wins above replacement (WAR) of 56 leaves him sandwiched between two players you may never have heard of. Directly ahead of him is Will Clark, a power hitting first baseman and perennial All Star during his tenure with the Giants in the early 1990s, whose career trajectory plateaued after a few MVP caliber seasons in his early years. Just behind him is George Uhle, a pitcher who came into the league at the dawn of the modern era and won the 1920 World Series with the Cleveland Indians. That series also featured Bill Wambsganss’ famous unassisted triple play. Neither of these players are in the Hall of Fame. There are however, 80 players enshrined in the Hall with a career WAR lower than Damon's, 49 of whom were position players. On WAR alone, Damon would sit in the top two-thirds of all players inducted into the Hall of Fame. Although WAR is an interesting, and popular statistic, it is by no means the ultimate indicator of a Hall of Fame career. For example, another notable Red Sox star finished his career with a lower career WAR than Johnny Damon. A prolific slugger by the name of David Ortiz retired with 55.4 wins above replacement, just behind Damon’s mark of 56. I will, however, use my dying breath to argue Ortiz’s case for the Hall of Fame, although I highly doubt that will be necessary
Damon ranks fairly well in many career batting totals, 32nd all-time in runs scored, 54th in hits (2,769), and 48th in doubles. These totals were compiled over an 18 year career; He ranks 38th in career at bats. While there is something to be said for being able to perform year after year, he never really elevated his game to true elite status. He was selected to only 2 all-star games in his lengthy career. If he was hardly ever recognized as one of the top players in the league while he was playing, it's difficult to argue that he belongs in the same conversation as the top players of all-time.
Damon will always hold a special place in my heart, but he’ll never gain that special place in the Hall.
Image Source: (cjonline) (Getty images)