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Damon can return or return the favor

Posted by Christopher L. Gasper, Globe Staff  August 24, 2010 12:37 PM

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This really shouldn't be a difficult decision for Johnny Damon. He should be racing back to Boston, the place where he became a hirsute cult hero and made history by helping the franchise shed the shackles of past disappointment. A place where good times never seemed so good.

Sometimes life is stranger than fiction. The 36-year-old Damon can return to his old stomping grounds, help his former team make a playoff push and further cement his legacy. The erstwhile caveman can be the Calvary for a Sox team devoid of sizzle and healthy outfielders. Yet, Damon seems to be leaning towards staying in Detroit with a mediocre Motown outfit that is below .500 and 10 games out in the American League Central.

I can't really blame him for turning his back on Boston. He's just returning the favor.

If Damon, who was claimed on waivers by the Sox yesterday, is going to return to the Fens then there needs to be some serious fence-mending first because the way he was treated when he returned here as a Yankee just wasn't right.

An enemy uniform, even that of the Yankees, shouldn't have overridden what Damon accomplished here, what he meant here. It shouldn't have erased the memories of citizens of Red Sox Nation, who celebrated a World Series title they never thought they'd live to see in 2004, in part thanks to Damon's two home runs to vanquish the Yankees in Game 7 of the 2004 American League Championship Series.

Those same folks then acted like it all never happened when he stepped into the Fenway batters box as a Bronx Bomber on May 1, 2006.

If you pay for a ticket you have a right to respond to a player however you want, but this was the Idiot Idol, a player who helped change the culture of Boston baseball and break an unbreakable curse. Instead of being granted amnesty and appreciation for one at-bat, just one, he was treated just like any other bum from the Bronx.

Damon seemed genuinely taken aback and stung by the reaction he received that night, which was a smattering of cheers mostly drowned out by loud, lusty booing.

After that game, Damon held court with reporters in the bowels of Fenway, outside the visitors' clubhouse. There were so many media members encircling Damon that some clambered up a fire ladder to pick up his softly-spoken quotes. He said unconvincingly the Fenway Faithful were just booing the uniform.

"People around here are born to hate the Yankees and that's what they enjoy," said Damon that May night. "If it was any other team it wouldn't be as bad, but it's the Yankees and I understand that."

But he really didn't. That much is obvious, based on the quotes now coming out of Detroit. It's not too much of a stretch to think that was the night Damon convinced himself he would never wear a Sox uniform again. Why else would he have the Sox on the list of teams he must give approval to be moved to?

Damon told reporters in Detroit that his treatment by Sox fans "absolutely" scarred him. During the Tigers' one trip to Fenway this season, Damon was out with a back injury, but told reporters he expected to be booed.

Forgiveness is possible at Fenway. We've seen that. Wade Boggs and Roger Clemens were both Sox icons-turned pinstripe pariahs. Their betrayals far worse than Damon's in a lot of ways.

Damon going to the Yankees didn't feel quite like Boggs and Clemens, which was the Sox fan equivalent of Shawn Michaels throwing tag-team partner Marty Jannetty threw a plate glass window.

Yet, they have been welcomed back to Fenway; Boggs is even in the Red Sox Hall of Fame. Both, like Damon, won World Series titles with the hated Yankees. Unlike Damon, they never delivered a World Series title here.

Damon needs to be convinced he could be embraced again in similar fashion. This is more about settling the score with the fan base than the front office.

If Nomar Garciaparra can reach detente with the Red Sox front office then so can Damon. Plus, Damon has always maintained that things would have been different if general manager Theo Epstein had not been on self-imposed hiatus.

Damon didn't really want to leave the Sox. He was trying to do what every free agent does -- get the Yankees involved to raise the price, except the Sox didn't bite or budge. The Yankees' four-year, $52 million offer trumped the Sox' four-year offer by $12 million.

Would any of us turn down such a raise?

The merits of the outcome of Damon's departure from Boston can be argued either way. The Red Sox were right in that Damon's days in center field were quickly coming to an end. He played 131 games there for the Yankees in 2006, and just 86 games there between 2007 and now. Damon won one World Series in New York during that four-year deal. The Sox won one without him in the same time span.

It was in a lot of ways a win-win, kind of like the Sox claiming Damon now. If he comes here, they add a veteran bat who can grind out at-bats, get on base and play left field and first base for a month at low cost. Unless, you prefer Daniel Nava.

If he passes, then the Sox have prevented him from going to American League East rivals, Tampa Bay and the Yankees.

It's a shrewd baseball move.

The question is whether Damon is moved by the opportunity to mend his relationship with the fandom that adored him, then scorned him? Or is the damage already done in Damon's mind?

Unlike a lot of roads in Boston, forgiveness is a two-way street.

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The word

Christopher L. Gasper riffs on the news

Dearth

...That's what the Patriots have when it comes to picks in the 2013 NFL Draft, which starts Thursday. After all those years of stockpiling picks the way a survivalist does non-perishables the Patriots have just five picks in this year's draft, thanks to Band-aid trades for Albert Haynesworth, Chad Ochocinco and Aqib Talib. Five picks would be the fewest draft picks in franchise history. (Part of that is attributable to the trimming of the draft to just seven rounds in 1994). Further complicating matters is that two of the Patriots' greatest needs are at wide receiver and cornerback, positions where they have sustained draft droughts. With that in mind, I'm convinced the Patriots are going trade back out of the first round of a quanity-over-quality draft where you're just as likely to pick a Pro Bowl player in the second and third round as you are in the first round.

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