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Inner Damons
2005-12-21 15:15
by Mike Carminati
BERNSTEIN (to Leland): What's the matter?

LELAND: Mr. Bernstein, these men who are now with the "Enquirer" - who were with the "Chronicle" until yesterday - weren't they just as devoted to the "Chronicle" kind of paper as they are now to - our kind of paper?

BERNSTEIN Sure. They're like anybody else. They got work to do. They do it. (Proudly) Only they happen to be the best men in the business.

—Citizen Kane "Davis" with the great Joseph Cotton (Leland) and the David Paymer precursor Everett Sloane (Bernstein) discussing the acquisition by their boss, Charlie Kane, of the entire staff from a better-established, rival paper

The Yankees signed Johnny Damon to reportedly a four-year, $52 M contract yesterday, thereby filling their biggest need, a center fielder who can field and hit above the proverbial replacement level. However, as the Yankees organization unfreezes the caveman—giving him a proper haircut a la Mrs. Howell chasing members of the Beatles ripoff band, the Mosquitoes, with scissors on Gilligan's Island, shaving him, and removing the Brundlefly expectorant from his batting helmet—one has to wonder how this erstwhile son of the Red Sox Nation will be received by the Yankee throng.

I guess if he can hit better than Bubba Crosby and throw better than Bernie Williams, the Yankee faithful will chant his name along with the rest of the starting lineup. However, one has to wonder with all if the identities of these two storied franchises and longtime rivals are getting rather incestuously intermingled.

I am reminded of the Star-Belly and Plain-Belly Sneetches applying and removing stars until no one knew "Whether this one was that one or that one was this one. Or which one was what one or what one was who." (and Sylvester McMonkey McBean had all their money—god, I love Dr. Seuss).

Last year, the Red ox needed a pitcher and picked up an old Bronx favorite, Boomer Wells. The Yankees picked up former Red Sock favorite Mark Bellhorn mid-season. And Mike Stanton's entire career seems to be based on which of the two teams happens to need a lefty short reliever (and throw in the Mets as well, who have identity problems of their own with their big brother from the Bronx).

The big push for Damon seemed to be ratcheted up when the Yankees signed former Boston sinkerballer Mike Myers, and Myers called for the Damon signing—as if the Yankes needed the advice.

So next year you might see Boomer Wells pitching for the Red Sox to Johnny Damon, batting for the Yankees. Odd!

This commingling of identities gets all the odder when one considers that one team is considered by many in baseball fandom as the "Evil Empire" and the other is America's sweetheart. I leave it to the reader to determine which team is which in that equation. Of course, that doesn't reflect my opinion, but it does seem to be representative of the opinion of the baseball hoi polloi .

Last year the Yankees had a whopping eight former Red Sox on their roster: Bellhorn, John Flaherty, Rey Sanchez, Tom Gordon, Paul Qauntrill, Alan Embree, Mike Stanton, and Ramiro Mendoza. The Sox had three ex-Yanks: Stanton, John Olerud, and Wells.

A total of eleven turncoats between the two rosters was more than double the number from the previous season (5) and was the highest total in over seventy years (there were 12 in 1933).

This comes after the teams had a rather austere approach to the other team's ex-players for many years. From 1983 to 1992 the two teams had more than one of the other's ex-players just once (Don Baylor and Tim Lollar on the 1986 Red Sox). And for eight of the ten years in this period, there was no more than one player between the two teams who had played for the other team previously.

So what does it all mean? It's only natural for a team to go after players whom they face often and who perform well when the do meet. Perhaps the field gets rather limited for free agents when you consider that they have the two biggest payrolls by far in baseball and both have been extremely active in acquiring players.

So maybe it's a mere byproduct of the economics of the game today, but I have to confess that I have the same reservations that Joseph Cotton had in the quote above. So many players switching sides can't be good for the Yankee-Red Sox rivalry. Many of the fans cheering Damon in my hypothetical at-bat above will probably be wearing an ever-popular Boomer Wells "Hero" T-shirt. The same goes for the Damon-toupee doffing crew at Fenway. And we thought that Red Sox fans needed therapy before?

Here are the years that the Yanks and Sox had the most cross-pollination. It's no surprise that the bulk were in the Frazee years:

2005-12-21 17:39:44
1.   Schteeve
Interesting point Mike, but I think the psychology of fandom leads to far less nobility than we might like to think. If Jeter started playing for the Red Sox, how long would it take for the average Yankee fan to turn on him. Not too long I fear.
2005-12-21 18:39:47
2.   JohnnyC
Mike, the Red Sox are truly at a crossroads, a very serious turning point here. I daresay that the only thing that can save their 2006 season is to rely once again upon the one factor, the one indispensable fount of their recent success. No, I do not mean the callow Theo Epstein, he of the primate wardrobe and mesmerizing dimples. I am referring to the Bud Selig version of the Underground Railway. Yes, there must be another of Bud's client teams that can send Boston some reinforcements in return for the usual bag of shells, er, immortal "prospects." Unfortunately, you can only trade Brandon Lyons 3 times. It says so on the label, only 3 refills.
2005-12-22 06:18:14
3.   Sliced Bread
Very well done. The Mrs. Howell/Mosquitos thing is hilarious.

Johnny C, the Underground Railroad thing is hilarious, too (and probably true).

As a Yankee fan, it's going to be very difficult for me to root for Damon. He's not just any star-belly sneetch. He will forever be that most conspicuous star-belly who knocked my pinstripe-belly sneetches out of the playoffs.

I don't care how good he is, or isn't. To me, Damon on the Yankees is as wrong as Bucky Dent playing for the Red Sox.

Bernie Williams, oddly my favorite homegrown Yankee of this generation, would have been dead to me the day he signed with Boston.

I never really warmed up to Clemens because he seemed blatently mercenary (I think he might go back to Boston because that would be so all-about Roger). I was fine with Boggs because, for some reason, I never regarded him as the enemy.

Damon was the shaggy face of the enemy -- and now I'm supposed to embrace him like a lost brother?

It's the modern age of pinstripe perestroika and I'm still fighting the Cold War.

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