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Damon's denial proves Sox appeal isn't what it was

Posted by Tony Massarotti, Globe Staff  August 25, 2010 10:53 AM

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Without ever raising his voice, Johnny Damon lifted a hand, thumbed his nose, and made a rather revealing statement. He doesn’t need the Red Sox. Boston just isn’t that desirable a destination anymore. Thanks but no thanks.

And so there you have it, Red Sox followers: what goes around comes around. Five years after the Red Sox all but dared him to leave, four years after being greeted with boos at Fenway Park as a member of the Yankees, Damon just doesn’t see the point in pretending it all was some kind of bad dream. The developments of the last two days raise a chunk of questions about the state and direction of the Red Sox, whose popularity this season has taken a rather sizable hit.

And now, as television ratings continue to plummet, we cannot help but wonder: Have the Sox lost their appeal to players – at least some of them - as swiftly as they have lost their appeal to many fans?

And on a much grander scale, is all of Boston now suffering from a similar shift?

In the case of Damon, we all know the story here. The Red Sox offered four years and $40 million and the Yankees came in at four and 52, and Damon apparently was supposed to treat the extra $12 million (or 30 percent) as if it were pocket lint. Johnny lied. Johnny said he would never play for the Yankees. Johnny looks like Jesus, throws like Mary, acts like Judas, the last of which is being sung by fans who now despise him for both leaving and failing to come back.

Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.

With regard to the Red Sox, the question is obvious: why does Johnny feel this way? Is Damon merely being childish and naïve – a complete possibility - or are the Red Sox now so undesirable that a man would rather remain in Detroit, of all places, playing for a team that entered last night a bulging 10 games out of first place? Not so long ago, from Randy Moss to Kevin Garnett and Eric Gagne, there was a time when no one could deny Boston. This was a place where men came for redemption. This was a place for which they would make sacrifices. Now someone like Damon, who knows this city as well as any athlete, is telling the rest of the world that Boston just isn’t what it’s cracked up to be, taking the Brian Giles approach to a market that has hit a bit of a snag in 2010 when it has come to elite talent.

But hey, at least we have Shaq.

Can someone please pass the Metamucil?

Fine, so Damon isn’t the player he used to be. You’re missing the point. Five years ago, when Damon left the Red Sox, one club official suggested that Jeremy Reed would be a better player than Damon by the end of Damon’s four-year contract with the Yankees. The truth is that Reed still isn’t a better player than Damon, that he never has been close, and that the Red Sox never replaced Damon at all.

During Damon’s four seasons in Boston, from 2002-2005, the Red Sox ranked third in baseball in on-base percentage from their leadoff hitters; since Damon departed, a stretch of time that began in 2006 and extends to today, the Sox have ranked 28th in the same statistic. The departure of Damon took the Sox from the top 10 percent to the bottom 10 percent almost overnight, the kind of fall in class ranking that would make one wonder a student had learned the wonders of dropping acid.

Meanwhile, during his four years in Boston, Damon missed 51 games – or about three times as many as Jacoby Ellsbury has played this year.

In the interim, does everyone understand the crossroads at which the Red Sox now stand? The approaching free agent market is relatively thin. The Red Sox have made no substantive player acquisitions during this season, a void that is either the result of a reluctance to part with young talent, a shortage of young talent, an unwillingness to further increase payroll or, perhaps, a combination of all. Whatever the case, the Red Sox needed help weeks ago – or, perhaps, months – and club officials curiously waited until late August, at which point their efforts were unceremoniously snubbed.

Meanwhile, Adrian Beltre, David Ortiz and Victor Martinez all are potential free agents, meaning the Sox currently project to have some major holes in the middle of their lineup.

Does all of that mean that things are positively bleak? Of course not.

But for the first time in a very long time, for an assortment of reasons, it means the Red Sox have an awful lot of work to do.

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Updated: Mar 1, 07:24 AM

About Mazz

Tony Massarotti is a Globe sportswriter and has been writing about sports in Boston for the last 19 years. A lifelong Bostonian, Massarotti graduated from Waltham High School and Tufts University. He was voted the Massachusetts Sportswriter of the Year by his peers in 2000 and 2008 and has been a finalist for the award on several other occasions. This blog won a 2008 EPpy award for "Best Sports Blog".

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