Could the Boston Red Sox be looking to recapture the magic of 2004 that brought an end to their 86-year World Series drought?
Detroit Tigers outfielder Johnny Damon confirmed to reporters Monday that he has been claimed on waivers by the Red Sox and that he has until Wednesday to decide whether he will waive his no-trade clause to return to Fenway Park.
"My teammates are making this decision easier by saying they want me to stay," Damon said after Monday's 12-3 win over Kansas City. "My gut and everything else tells me that Detroit's the place for me."
Damon, though, said he wants to talk to Tigers president Dave Dombrowski before making his final decision.
His contract includes a clause that gives him veto power over trades to all but eight teams. Because the Red Sox aren't one of those eight clubs, he can block a return to Boston, where he was a long-haired, bearded folk hero as a key part of the 2004 "idiots."
When a source close to Damon was asked whether Damon was going to Boston, the source said, "I doubt it. But we'll see.''
Dombrowski declined comment.
Detroit could work out a trade with Boston to complete the deal if Damon gives the OK, and that might bring the Tigers a prospect in return.
"I understand if it could help the Tigers in the future, I have to look at it that way, but my teammates are making it much easier on me," he said. "If they want me to stay, teammates normally win out."
It is still unclear whether the Red Sox claimed Damon in order to try to acquire him or to prevent him from joining another contending team, such as the Tampa Bay Rays, who are in need of an outfielder.
If Damon decides he wants to return to Boston and the Red Sox are interested, the team has 48 hours to work out a trade with the Tigers, who also could let him go for nothing or decide to pull him back off waivers and keep him.
"It's probably as tough of a decision for me to make right now as it was for me to leave Boston for New York," Damon said earlier Monday. Damon was referencing his move to the Yankees after the 2005 season, a decision that still strikes a negative chord with many Red Sox fans. "It's something that, fortunately, we have some time to think about."
The Red Sox have been ravaged by injuries this season, including Opening Day starting outfielders Jacoby Ellsbury (ribs) and Mike Cameron (abdomen), both of whom are unlikely to return this season. Still, Boston remains on the fringe of playoff contention, 5½ games behind the Rays and Yankees in the American League East.
"At this moment, I'm not sure I want to leave Detroit for that," Damon said. "I like playing here and I love the fans. I'm enjoying playing with these kids and for this coaching staff. But obviously, [Red Sox manager] Terry Francona is amazing. But it's something that I'm going to have to think long and hard over.
"I had a great time playing there," said Damon, who played in Boston from 2002-2005. "I told the team what it would take, in terms of dollars and years -- but it got ugly when it became apparent that re-signing me [after the 2005 season] wasn't a priority."
Damon said the broken relationship with the Boston fans has "absolutely" left a scar on his psyche, and he knows accepting a move back to the Red Sox could fix that, especially if he could help them make a late playoff run.
"If I do this, and we pulled everything together and I could help them get into the postseason, it would change everything again," he said.
"[Jason] Varitek knows what I brought to the table night in and night out. [David] Ortiz does. And [Tim] Wakefield. So obviously I know they want me. But I love it here in Detroit, and I love my teammates here. I hope this can work out to something that I can be back here in Detroit. I'm kind of weighing all my options, seeing if I could help improve this team for next year."
Damon is due about $1.8 million from the one-year, $8 million contract he agreed to earlier this year.
He is hitting .270 this season with seven homers and 40 RBIs as an outfielder and designated hitter.
Sentiment in the Boston clubhouse before Monday's game with the Seattle Mariners was decidedly pro-Damon, endorsing the idea of his return.
"I remember his 10-, 15-pitch at-bats, fouling off nasty pitches, and the grand slam in Game 7 [of the 2004 ALCS against the Yankees]," said Varitek, the Red Sox captain. "He plays the game the right way. He pushes energy. He's an exciting player. I never wanted to see him leave here."
Ortiz asked whether Damon got to choose his team. Told yes, Ortiz brightened.
"Really. Let me call him right now," he kidded. "I can say one thing and he'd be back. I guarantee you, just one thing."
"It would be great. You know Johnny Damon's always been a great person to be around," he added. "Let's to wait to see what's going to happen."
Francona declined to comment.
A sampling of fans outside Fenway on Monday was, as one might expect, somewhat mixed.
"I liked him when he was here. I'd like to see him come back," said Kelly Yurka, 29, a pre-kindergarten teacher from Dracut, Mass.
"I think we do need an outfielder, but I'm not too happy with Damon. I think he's done," said Brian Marrocco, 31, a sales rep from Pelham, N.H. "When he's here I'll cheer him, but I thought he was a sellout when he went to the Yankees."
"I always liked him. He was a good stand-up type of guy, a good hitter," said Scott Huard, 40, a toolmaker from Weare, N.H. "A lot of fans booed him when he left, but I'd welcome him back. He definitely could help the team."
"Bring him back!" said Michael Lencki, a retired brewery worker from Goffstown, N.H.
Information from ESPNBoston.com Red Sox reporter Gordon Edes, ESPNBoston.com contributor Steven Krasner and The Associated Press was used in this report.