The underappreciated Johnny DamonBy
Every fan of every team believes there are certain players that don’t get the credit they deserve, but only a handful of players actually fall into that category. Current Yankee leftfielder Johnny Damon is one of those players. Thanks to last night’s 2-for-4 game, Johnny became the first player in more than 50 years (and the third overall) to rack up 600 or more hits with three different teams, which is pretty amazing when you think about it.
Since Johnny’s first career game on August 12th, 1995 (when he went 3-for-5 with a triple), exactly two players have more than his 2,389 hits, and they’re his teammates: Derek Jeter (2,672) and Alex Rodriguez (2,440). Damon’s also scored the third-most runs (1,459) in that time, again trailing Jetes & A-Rod. Stolen bases? He’s fourth (370) behind Juan Pierre, Kenny Lofton, and Eric Young.
Counting stats are nice, but Damon also ranks amongst the elite in wins over replacement, or WAR. With 42.2 WAR to his credit coming into the season, he has already placed above Hall of Famers Jim Rice (41.5) and Lou Brock (39.1), among others, on the Top 500 WAR list. And don’t forget that he’s still going, with more Cooperstowners like Kirby Puckett (45.0) and Ralph Kiner (45.8) within shouting distance.
Amazingly, Damon is currently enjoying the best season of his career at age 35. He’s two shy of tying his career high of 24 homers, which he set in his first year in pinstripes. His .532 SLG and .240 IsoP are far and away career highs, ditto his .894 OPS and 11.1% walk rate. Oh sure, Damon’s getting a ton of help from the New Yankee Stadium this year (.979 OPS at homer vs .803 on the road), but HitTracker says that every one of his homers would have been gone out in at least one other park, and 15 of his 22 homers would have left the yard in at least 20 big league ballparks. Even if you want to discount the 57 home games he’s played this year from his career production, it’s like taking a cup of water from the ocean.
Yet despite all of the numbers Damon’s racked up, he’s never been considered one of the elite players of the generation. He’s always been in that “very good” category, especially since he signed with the Yankees. Is he a Hall of Famer? I don’t think so, but you can make a case he should be. I do know this though: Johnny’s been one of the best and most consistently productive players in the game since the day he set foot in the big leagues. I tip my cap to him.
Photo Credit: Uli Seit, NYT