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BOOK REVIEW

Damon's no idiot when it comes to storytelling

Idiot: Beating "The Curse" and Enjoying the Game of Life, By Johnny Damon with Peter Golenbock, Crown, 258 pp., illustrated. $24

First among idiots, Johnny Damon is as responsible as anyone for the maverick style and mood of hijinks that transformed an angst-ridden, disaster-prone franchise into the world champion 2004 Red Sox. ''Idiot" is his engaging account of how this miracle came to be, starting with his terrible head-on collision with Damian Jackson in the 2003 playoffs against Oakland. Though he rose again, as his devotees might say, to play the Yankees that October, he is mercifully frugal in his account of the last game in New York and proceeds back to his childhood.

Born in 1973 on an Army base in Kansas, the second son of an American soldier and Thai nurse, Damon moved around the world until the family settled in Orlando, Fla. Here he began to show the baseball talent that ultimately led to his being drafted by the Kansas City Royals. After three years in the minors, three with Kansas City, and a year with Oakland he came to Boston in 2002 as general manager Dan Duquette's last acquisition before the general manager's unlamented firing.

Damon's year with Oakland had shown him the unifying effect of that team's frat-house camaraderie, and he made it his business to infect the Red Sox with a similar spirit. He provides tales of good times had by a bunch of ''crazed lunatic idiots" and plenty of baseball, as well as brief looks at his first marriage, his enthusiastic womanizing, and his courtship of his present wife. (''Michelle and I were engaged over at Martha's Vineyard.") He also lists a lot of his possessions and gives us a thorough consideration of his iconic hair and beard, justifying them in sundry ways, before simply confessing: ''Hey, what can I say? I'm just blessed with good hair. It's turned into a Samson thing. My hair is my strength."

Damon, in fact, provides multiple, even conflicting conclusions on most subjects, and is sometimes diplomatic to the point of incoherence. His position on steroids is a prime example: He does not consider those who use them ''cheaters"; on the other hand he admits that steroids do give players an ''unfair advantage."

When it comes to his teammates, however, Damon's observations are less obtuse. He is fierce in his defense of former Sox pitching ace Pedro Martinez, whom he sees as having been unfairly attacked by the Boston media. He extols the virtues of catcher Jason Varitek, declaring that without him, ''our pitchers' ERAs would be 2 points higher." Indeed, he is generous toward almost all of his teammates though pitcher Curt Schilling, with his bulging briefcase of charts, is ''kinda sick." He also describes Nomar Garciaparra as being hurt and suspicious after attempts to trade him and believes that the shortstop's midseason departure from the team was for the best: ''It's a short life, and it's hard to play the game of baseball and be miserable where you are." For Damon, new shortstop Orlando Cabrera's game-winning home run on Aug. 17 was ''the spark we needed to go all the way to the playoffs."

Damon's recap of the playoffs is thrilling, as is his account of the World Series, which victory we may put down at least in part to his leadoff home run in the fourth game, cutting the heart out of the St. Louis Cardinals, and possibly his attempts to block premature celebration. (There is a chilling scene of the other Sox players signing World Series Champion jerseys before the fourth game.) Still, in these pages, it is Boston's victory over New York that still feels, as Damon puts it, ''like the greatest event in the history of the world."

Katherine A. Powers, a writer and critic, lives in Cambridge. She can be reached by e-mail at pow3@earthlink.net.

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