Tuesday, August 24, 2010
Updated: August 25, 4:47 PM ET
Johnny Damon nixes return to Boston
ESPNBoston.com news services
DETROIT -- Johnny Damon is staying with the Tigers after all, saying "I love Detroit."
The Tigers outfielder said before Tuesday night's game against Kansas City that he decided to pass up a chance to return to the Boston Red Sox, with whom he became a cult hero in helping lead the team to a World Series title in 2004, its first since 1918.
The Red Sox claimed Damon on waivers this week, but he had the right to veto a move to Boston because of a no-trade clause in his contract.
"These guys really like me here," Damon said Tuesday, adding that he spoke to each of his teammates individually to be sure he was wanted in the Tigers' clubhouse.
Damon said he was leaning toward staying put from the beginning. He texted former Red Sox teammate Jason Varitek and talked to David Ortiz, and both tried to convince him to return to Boston.
"They told me they wanted a spark," Damon said. A source told ESPNBoston.com earlier in the day that the Red Sox were indeed interested in acquiring Damon and that the waiver claim was not merely to block a move to another team.
The banged-up Red Sox began the day 5½ games behind the New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays in the AL East.
Damon is hitting .272 with seven home runs and 41 RBIs in 111 games in his first season in Detroit.
"I said it before and I'll say it again, playing with Johnny and the way he plays the game and the way he goes about his business would have been a welcome visit to have him back here," Varitek said before Tuesday's game at Fenway Park.
"I reached out to him as a friend, as a teammate and ultimately he's had some decisions to make and I can't fathom what had to go into it. He would have been a big addition to our team with what he can do.
"I don't know the particulars of what went into his decision, and I'm not going to claim to know that. I do know Johnny loved playing here and he loved his time here and he flourished during that time."
"This game's tough enough and when you're in a position and you're in a city and you're in a place where you want to be, a place where you're happy, there's no real reason of doing that," Boston closer Jonathan Papelbon said. "I've always admired Johnny since I came here in '05 and he was one of the players that took me under his wing and showed me the big leagues. I wish him nothing but the best.
"I'm not surprised because he's in a situation where he's happy and if he's happy, why not stay? If he's not happy, obviously he would have left."
Detroit started the day 10 games behind Minnesota in the AL Central and far out of wild-card contention.
"I feel like we're not out of it yet," Damon said. "At least we can make some kind of run."
Damon said he'd like to play in Detroit next year too, but "there's no guarantee."
Tigers star Miguel Cabrera welcomed Damon's decision.
"It's good for us. He stays here and we can play more together and see what happens. We can do a lot of things," Cabrera said. "We can win more games, we can get more support in the lineup. If he stays here for some reason, it's because he likes it here, he believes in us. That's good."
Damon talked to Detroit general manager Dave Dombrowski on Monday night before he made his decision and spoke to assistant GM Al Avila and manager Jim Leyland on Tuesday.
"I told him to do what your heart tells you," Leyland said. "Don't worry about the Detroit Tigers, Boston Red Sox, Jim Leyland, Terry Francona or anybody else."
One of Damon's concerns about remaining with the Tigers was his playing time. He was concerned the team might want to look at younger players.
"Yes, he's going to play," Leyland said. "Is he going to play every game? No. He hasn't played every game to this point."
Red Sox first baseman Kevin Youkilis and outfielder Mike Cameron, both out for the season with injuries, agreed that Damon would have been a welcome addition.
"Johnny can go to any team and make them a better team, and not just on the field, but his presence in the clubhouse," Youkilis said. "He has fun and shows guys how to have fun. He's a kind-hearted guy who really cares about people, and I think that's huge. Anytime you get those kinds of guys, it's a good formula for any team. He's such a good guy he would bring a presence to this team.
"He really cares about people and it means a lot."
"For me, hearing about it yesterday and just kind of looking at the aspect, considering the buzz that Johnny created for many years here, one of the original 'Idiots' of the World Series champions here, I thought it would be a great idea," said Cameron, who is in his first season with the Red Sox. "But sometimes the ideas of others are not the same as the person who actually has to be in the situation."
Information from ESPNBoston.com's Joe McDonald and The Associated Press contributed to this report.