Johnny Damon doesn't get it, doesn't get why he's not getting offers after the year he had. Damon didn't get why he didn't receive an offer from the incumbent Rays after he was a leader for them in the clubhouse and on the field, and now he doesn't get why he seemingly is running second as a candidate to be the Yankees' left-handed DH.
"I think it's a perfect fit,'' Damon said of the Yankees by phone. "But for some reason you have the year I had, especially with a team that has trouble scoring, and you can't even get a call to continue playing."
It is hard to blame Damon for feeling left out. The whole thing does seem very odd, indeed.
Damon said he never got an offer from the Rays even though he had a very nice year, hitting 16 home runs with 73 RBIs with 19 stolen bases and a .261 batting average while playing home games in the ballpark that was the best pitchers' park American League last year. He also put together an improbable streak of five consecutive games with game-winning hits and became a leader with the young team that had a magical finish. Now he is concerned that the Yankees are leaning toward someone else (namely Raul Ibanez), and indeed the team's baseball people do seem to be favoring Ibanez for the DH role even though it seems no final decision will be made until the Yankees complete the long-discussed deal with Pittsburgh to send A.J. Burnett out of town and save themselves about $13 million of the $33 million owed Burnett.
Meanwhile, different reasons have been heard why the Yankees favor Ibanez, one sillier than the next.
One reason heard is that Ibanez hit better against right-handed pitchers last year, and if you count .256 as better than .255, then yes, that is the case. But it seems like that would be far from a driving force in a decision.
Another is that Ibanez is a better defender at this stage, and while he might well be, Damon is faster and the reality is that they are probably pretty close to comparable at this point. Damon didn't play much defense last year when the Rays had better defensive alternatives such as Brandon Jennings, B.J. Upton and Sam Fuld. "When you have Jennings and Upton, of course I'm going to DH," Damon said. "When I played out there, I held my own."
But even if Ibanez is slightly better with the glove now, having played it regularly in Philly, defense seems like a funny way to pick a DH.
Yet another reason heard recently is that Damon's .326 on-base percentage last year is a sign he's thinking too much about 3,000 hits and not getting on like before. This is the winner for sheer ridiculousness of course, as Ibanez's 2011 on-base percentage of .289 (with 33 walks all year) would be the statistic of concern, not Damon's .326. Speaking of 3,000 and the suggestion he's too focused on it, Damon said, "It makes for good talk. ... Everyone wants to get to the mark. But I never started playing the game for that. I never had any intention of getting to 3,000 hits -- it's never been a driving force for me. I always had the intention of being a good teammate."
Damon is more than a fine teammate, he's been a key man on two World Series winners, the historic 2004 Boston Red Sox and the 2009 Yankees. Damon is a winner, always has been. Ibanez is by all accounts a very nice fellow, but Damon is a big clubhouse presence who always has been the one to stand up and answer the tough questions when things aren't going well.
Damon, who at 38 is also a year younger than Ibanez, may not be the defender he once was, but the job is for a DH, and Damon has all the experience at that. Damon also has a superb history in the American League East, having thrived for all three of the big teams in that division.
Damon and the Yankees had a very public breakup a couple winters ago when he was expected to wind up back in pinstripes. The sides never got together when a deal had once seemed like a foregone conclusion. But Yankees people say there are no lingering bad feelings.
It can't be about the money, either, because Damon hasn't gotten an offer. He said he didn't get one from Tampa, which gave Luke Scott a $5 million deal off an injury year, and he hasn't gotten one from the Yankees yet. So Tampa took Scott off a year of injuries, and Damon sees that Ibanez may get the job he wants after Ibanez's season of outs.
Damon is in Hawaii enjoying a planned vacation. But he has one eye on the phone.
"Hopefully it rings soon," he said, "and whether it rings in a few minutes or a few weeks, I'll be ready with the bat."