THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING
Dan Shaughnessy

He must have his reasons, but what are they?

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By Dan Shaughnessy
Globe Columnist / August 25, 2010

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So it’s official: He really is an idiot.

I say this with no malice and all due respect. “Idiot,’’ you must remember, was the title of Johnny Damon’s 2005 best-selling autobiography (a work often compared with Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina’’ and Dostoevsky’s “Notes From the Underground’’). Johnny famously labeled the 2004 Red Sox champions “Idiots.’’ In Johnny’s world, “idiot’’ is a term of endearment.

That said, his decision to stay with the Tigers is downright idiotic . . . or there is some larger force at work.

I keep playing this out in my head, and none of it makes any sense. Why would Damon want to stay with the moribund Tigers when he had a chance to join the Red Sox for 5 1/2 weeks of stretch-run fun? Why try to keep hitting at cavernous Comerica Park when he could return to friendly Fenway? Why play games that don’t matter when you can play games that still matter?

It really makes me wonder how bad things got for him in Boston at the end, when he was negotiating for a new contract after the 2005 season.

Were the Sox that insulting? Did they look Damon in the eye and tell him that they thought Coco Crisp was a better player? Did John Henry, Tom Werner, and Larry Lucchino tell Damon he was lucky when he hit those two homers in Game 7 of the ALCS at Yankee Stadium? Did Shonda Schilling say something insulting about Michelle Damon’s scarves?

Think about it: For the next five weeks, you could live in downtown Boston and your wife could shop on Newbury Street. Or you could live in downtown Detroit, amid the boarded-up buildings and the proverbial skeleton frames of burned-out Chevrolets. Is this really a tough call?

Really. Why wouldn’t Damon come back to Boston?

Could it have been the booing? Let’s hope not, but if it was the booing that turned Damon off to Boston, then childish Sox fans get what they deserve. It was inane to boo a player who played 100 percent every day, delivered key hits in most of the big games at the end, and almost killed himself in service to the Red Sox when he collided with Damian Jackson during the 2003 ALDS.

All of the above was erased in the minds of some nitwits because Damon signed with the Yankees. And that is pathetic. Damon came here from Oakland because Boston offered the best deal. When his contract was up, the Sox offered four years at $40 million while the Yankees offered four years at $52 million. It’s a significant difference. Damon wasn’t a guy who left for one extra dollar. He left because the Yankees outbid the Sox — by a lot.

For this, he was booed. He saw the T-shirts about looking like Jesus and throwing like Mary. He saw himself portrayed as a hardball Judas. He heard the Bronx cheers simply because he played for the Bronx Bombers. And that was stupid. And wrong.

The Sox bumbled the Damon contract negotiations after the 2005 season. They misread the future. They figured Damon’s game would deteriorate.

They were wrong. Damon was worth every penny the Yankees paid him from 2006-09. He played hard and he played well for the full four years. In his final year of the contract, he hit .282 with 24 homers and 82 RBIs. Think Boston could have used that? It’s better than the sorry numbers posted by J.D. ($14 million per year) Drew.

Damon came up big again in the end. He turned the 2009 World Series in the Yankees’ favor with his amazing instincts in the ninth inning of Game 4. It was a 4-4 game with two out and nobody aboard when Damon singled to center off Brad Lidge on a nine-pitch at-bat. He then stole second and third on one pitch, taking advantage of Philadelphia’s infield shift on Mark Teixeira.

With Damon on third, Lidge couldn’t throw his slider and that gave Alex Rodriguez the cookie he needed to hit a game-breaking double. Damon’s instincts effectively won the World Series for the Yankees. That is the kind of player he is.

In Boston in September 2010, Damon wasn’t going to be the Damon of 2004, but he would have helped. The Sox left field production this year is abysmal; people who have manned the position in front of the Monster are hitting .232 with an aggregate 16 homers, 62 RBIs, and a hideous on-base percentage of .301.

When Jorge Posada heard that the Red Sox had claimed Damon off waivers, the veteran Yankees catcher said, “Obviously, he would make them a lot better.’’

You bet. Damon’s decision to eschew Boston hurts the Red Sox on and off the field. And we may never know the real reason.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at dshaughnessy@globe.com.

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