By Jim Caple
Page 2

Idiot.

What Would Jesus Do if Scott Boras were his agent? I don't know, but Johnny Damon just made the mistake of his career by signing a four-year, $52 million deal with the Yankees.

Johnny Damon
ESPN.com
Sure Johnny's getting more bank, but at what price? Is it worth losing loyal fans?

Players never learn. They can't help it, I guess. They become free agents and receive all those offers and see all those dollar signs, and then Boras whispers into their ears about how they'll go play in some magical land with talking animals, giant lollipops and marshmallow clouds. Naturally, they lose all their senses and sign for the most money instead of with the team that is best for them.

This is not about Damon's moving from the Red Sox to their hated rival. Good gosh, no. This isn't 1957 anymore, when Jackie Robinson decided to retire rather than accept a trade from the Dodgers to the Giants. The only good scene in "Fever Pitch" is when Jimmy Fallon's character sees Jason Varitek, Trot Nixon and Damon laughing in a restaurant after a bitter defeat and suddenly realizes that the fans care far more about losing than the players do. And I seem to recall Roger Clemens orchestrated a move to New York, and it didn't hurt his career any.

Besides, it's not like Damon has been with the Red Sox that long, anyway. He played for Oakland before Boston and played for the Royals before Oakland. He has almost twice as many career at-bats with other teams than he does with Boston.

No, the problem is not that Damon left the Red Sox. The problem is he signed with a team that's all wrong for him.

The problem is the dress code.

Forget about his batting leadoff ahead of Jeter, A-Rod, Giambi, Sheffield and Matsui (though I am a little worried about the No. 8 spot in New York's lineup). Forget about all those runs he should score. The thing that should worry Yankees fans (other than his arm) is that Damon is going to play for someone who has this thing about hair. On his first day as owner, George Steinbrenner looked at his new team lined up for the national anthem and circled the photo of every Yankee he thought needed a haircut. He ordered Oscar Gamble to get a haircut. Even though he was serving a "lifetime ban" at the time, there is little doubt he was behind ordering Don Mattingly to get a haircut.

(Is there any question why this man donated money to Richard Nixon's slush fund?)

I've long maintained that Giambi's biggest mistake was not his decision to take steroids, it was signing with the Yankees. Steroids didn't hurt Giambi's career, they helped it. It was signing with the Yankees that ruined him. He went from being a wild, long-haired, free spirit in Oakland to playing for the most conservative team in sports. He cut his hair, shaved his face and covered up his tattoos -- and he's never been the same player. Without his true personality, he's a lesser player. He's been domesticated. Putting him in the Yankees clubhouse was like capturing a lion and putting him in a zoo.

(Speaking of taking proud animals from their natural environment -- I saw "King Kong" last week and loved a lot of it, especially the early scenes depicting Depression-era New York. But three hours? Good Lord, has Peter Jackson never heard of an editor? Enough already with the dinosaur scenes. We saw those a decade ago in "Jurassic Park," and frankly, the special effects were more believable then. This would have been a great movie if it were 45 minutes shorter. If the theatrical version tops three hours, I shudder to think about the special director's-cut DVD.)

Sure, Damon was clean-cut before he joined the Red Sox. But this isn't just about the hair. It's about personality and spirit and being yourself instead of being forced into corporate pinstripes that don't suit you. Some players are meant for New York (Jeter) and some players aren't (Giambi). Damon is in a bad fit and his career will suffer (although maybe not as much as Bubba Crosby's).

Yes, the money is good. But is it that much better than what the Red Sox offered? Was it worth all the grief it will bring? The worst thing A-Rod ever did was sign that $252 million contract with Texas. He could have signed a shorter deal with a contender that paid nearly as much per season. Instead, he signed with a last-place team that put a label on him he'll never shake.

By signing with New York, Damon destroyed his legacy in Boston. Despite his role in winning the long-coveted World Series, he instantly becomes dead to Red Sox fans for going over to the dark side. He's also going to hear boos in New York. His signing doesn't begin to help the Yankees' considerable pitching needs. Unless the Yankees solve those needs, they will struggle and Damon will become their scapegoat.

Damon will regret this. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but as soon as he gets his tires slashed in Boston.

Jim Caple is a senior writer at ESPN.com. His first book, "The Devil Wears Pinstripes," is on sale at bookstores nationwide. It also can be ordered through his Web site, Jimcaple.com.




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ALWAYS AN IDIOT