Johnny Damon had a conversation with Jim Leyland before making his decision this afternoon to stay with the Tigers and not return to Boston.
Leyland told him “do what your heart tells you.”
Damon received assurance that he will continue to be a regular player in the Detroit lineup. Damon said earlier this afternoon that he didn’t want to leave his Detroit teammates and still felt the Tigers could get back into the AL Central race.
He said he was going to have “conversations” this afternoon with Detroit officials about whether he would continue to be a regular in the Tiger lineup or whether the Tigers had plans to go with younger players. Leyland assured him he would be a regular.
“I don’t plan on waiving (the no-trade clause),” Damon told Detroit reporters. “Initially, I thought long and hard about it, but after going around and talking to a bunch of my teammates, they want me here, and they feel we can make a strong push — at least make this (AL) Central race interesting. That’s why I’m going to stay.
“I’ve said all along I love playing for Detroit, for the city, for the fans. These guys really like me here.”
The Red Sox would have afforded him more exposure in trying to secure a contract for next season, and Damon said he was aware his decision may hurt him in that regard.
“The tough thing about it is there are no guarantees of where I’ll be next year,” said Damon. “As much as I would love to be back here next year, that’s something the team doesn’t really decide on until possibly the off-season. I’m OK with it.
“I know going to Boston probably could have helped out my free agency. But so be it. I felt like, when we started this season, this team was all together in our thought process. We’re going to win and lose together. We’re going to continue that. We’re going to go out there and keep playing hard. These kids are going to keep learning and, hopefully, we can keep going.”
Damon reiterated what he told the Globe earlier this afternoon that the Tigers are still in the playoff hunt.
“Mathematically, we’re still in it, just like everybody else is,” he said. “We have to see what kind of fire we have going into the last month.”
“I wanted the assurance from my teammates that they really wanted me here,” Damon said. “The higher-ups really like the attitude I bring.”
Earlier today he was impressed that a Boston.com poll asking whether fans want him back were more than 60-40 in his favor, but emphasized that he would only leave if the Tigers had different plans for him.
Damon is very close to manager Jim Leyland and the younger players like Austin Jackson, who he’s mentored. The Tigers have never been a team that’s cared about saving money as owner Mike Ilitch has spent lots of it to get the best team possible in Detroit. The Tigers could have told Damon he would be relegated to spot duty so they could save about $1.8 million, but they didn’t.
Damon had said earlier that both Tampa Bay and the Yankees had interest in him according to his sources. The Rays seemed to be the most intriguing to him since he lives in Orlando. Damon said he had not had any contact from the Red Sox on whether they wanted him or whether they were merely trying to block him to Tampa Bay.
Now that Damon has rejected the deal, he can not be placed in waivers the remainder of the year.
The Red Sox were then successful in trying to block him from going to Tampa Bay. And the Rays are pleased Damon won’t be going to Boston.