To cheer or to boo Johnny Damon.
Oh, Iím sorry, this is up for debate?
When exactly did we as a sporting society become so overly sensitive to such potential mass displays of affection? When the Red Sox won the World Series, I knew weíd be part of a kinder, gentler Red Sox Nation. I didnít realize it would be so touchy-feely though.
Whether or not to boo Johnny Damon has been a debate in these parts since the former Red Sox hero signed with the Yankees last December. Would fans respect Damonís legacy as a Red Sox legend, or allow him to feel their frustration over his decision to leap to the hated Yankees for a mere $3 million more?
Weíll find out tonight when the Red Sox and Yankees face off for the first time in 2006, a night on which Damon should be booed. Roundly, loudly, and often.
Now, in todayís sensitive Red Sox Nation, that is apparently a view that borders on thuggish behavior, as if in booing Damonís appearance in pinstripes tonight, Red Sox fans are spitting on all he did in his four years here, which included a World Series title in 2004. Itís unappreciative. Itís classless. Itís hypocritical. Cheer for him if you like tonight. Then we can finally put the finishing touches on our new sensitive, touchy-feely Red Sox Nation. Pink hats and all.
The game was a lot easier as a fan when you could just jeer someone at the ballpark without somebody telling you that you were a cretin for doing so. (And weíre talking just booing here, folks, not encouraging the inebriated yahoos who are sure to disparage his presence with language and actions better suited for HBO.) Mo Vaughn returned, and was booed. Wade Boggs, booed. Roger Clemens, was he ever booed. Tell me, what is the legacy of each of those players in Boston, negative or positive? Yes, you have your spiteful whiners who donít want Clemens to come to the Red Sox this summer, but those folks are thankfully in the minority.
The fear many have is that such an outburst of negativity tonight would instantly render Damonís history with Boston as unappreciated, that it would land Red Sox fans a negative mark for never being pleased, no matter what joys they have delivered to them. Whatever. There are messy divorces in the nation every single day, Damon and the Red Sox is but minor compared to them. Letís liken the whole thing to a cheating husband. Said couple gets a divorce, but that doesnít change the appreciation each has for the other for delivering their son or daughter. They donít go slapping each other on the back every time they see other either.
Damonís legacy is fine, and however the fans greet him tonight wonít change that.
If his legacy is to die, it will be his own fault.
Had Damon gone to New York and kept his yap shut, none of this would be an issue. He would have been cheered when he stepped onto the field for the first time as a Yankee at Fenway, even if he did trade his uniform. Itís business, after all, and though itís difficult to accept, Damon took the better deal. You would do the same. Damon took the money, we know this. But he went on and on insisting it was because the Yankees showed him the respect that Boston refused to.
If youíre going to follow the money, youíre going to have to pay the price, and in this instance that was even further illuminated. During the offseason, Damon had to spend every waking minute convincing Yankee fans that he was, indeed, one of them now. Imagine Derek Jeter coming to the Red Sox and trying to warm himself to the dubious members of Red Sox Nation. It takes a lot of knocking down walls to put up new ones.
Damon spent a lot of time during the offseason doing just that. First the beard went, the initial cutting of his Red Sox ties. He never missed an opportunity over the next month or so to discuss, ďThe Yankee Way,Ē something he clearly knew nothing about yet, particularly after rolling his eyes at such thoughts of superiority over the previous four seasons. Just last week Damon went on the defensive, claiming that if the fans booed him, he would feel bad for Coco Crisp because it would some sort of indictment as to how much more he meant to them.
Damon spent all offseason distancing himself from his Red Sox legacy to begin anew in New York. But now ... fans are supposed to forget all of this, and just welcome him back and thank him for all heíd done for them? There was a time for that. It was called last season.
No, Damon is now a Yankee, and to greet him any other way than with complete derision would be a hypocritical stance for any Red Sox fan. Thereís no denying the fact that Damon had to make good in his new home, but he did it at the expense of his former fan base. He canít just expect everything to suddenly be fine, a happy family reunion tonight at the Fens.
Damon went to the Yankees. The New York Yankees. And it was his time in Boston, in the midst of this rivalry, that allows him to understand how the fans are going to react when he steps to the batterís box against Tim Wakefield tonight, which is why heís already started his ďBe good to meĒ campaign with such ridiculous statements as the one about Crisp.
Johnny Damon was a Red Sox hero. And he will be remembered as such throughout Boston baseball history.
To cheer or to boo? Heís a New York Yankee now. For Red Sox fans, that should settle the debate.