Two fan reactions. Two different readings on the decibel level. Two infallible proofs why the baseball gods made Boston Red Sox fans wait 86 years for a world championship and why Fort Myers may freeze over before we’re allowed to celebrate another.
The Fenway Faithful welcomed back two conquering heroes from the self-anointed Idiots of 2004 when the Red Sox and New York Yankees converged Monday for their first encounter of the season.
We witnessed the anticipated return of that immortal team’s poster boy. You know, the guy formerly coiffed with the most famous hair in New England, the free swinger who put himself at the center of every rally, the dude who hit the grand slam at Yankee Stadium in Game Heaven, um, I mean Seven, for Teddy Ballgame’s sake.
Oh, and we made a trade to reacquire the back-up catcher.
Now which player would you guess received the greater emotional refund for his meritorious service to New England sports history?
In any other Major League Baseball city, on any other planet, politeness and common sense would demand that Johnny Damon receive a two-minute standing ovation for helping provide the only outcome that allegedly ever mattered to any Red Sox fan: A world championship in our lifetime.
That was before the Yankees offered Damon a $3 million annual raise to bus their overstuffed table for the next four years, and no, you and I wouldn’t mortgage our loyalty to The Man for the promise of filthy lucre, would we?
Of course not. I mean, let’s assume your salary is x,’ and let’s say that company’s prime competitor offered you 2x’ and job security until you reached spitting distance of retirement.
Would you make the jump? Ha! Does Rudy Seanez trotting in from the bullpen cause a 20-point increase in your systolic blood pressure?
The fact is, our real world usually doesn’t work that way. Barring a whispering phone call from a corporate headhunter, you’re on your own. But a capitalist economy gives us the chance to come and go as we please.
Johnny Damon achieved the be-all, end-all of Red Sox existence. There was no new ground to break in Boston’s center field, nowhere to go but down. And then the team’s front office responded to its chief rival’s overtures by tendering what was an insulting offer in the Monopoly-money sports universe of 2006.
The icon whose looks were once compared to the Messiah had no choice but to conclude that he was a prophet without honor in his own country. He assumed, rightfully, that the Sox really wanted to go in a younger, speedier direction and think about the future rather than revel in the past.
And we booed him for that? We booed him because he dares to call himself a Yankee? All that proves is one pennant hanging off the faade doesn’t cure the raging case of championship envy we’ve had for Gotham City going on nine decades.
Instead of treating Damon like President George W. Bush at an ACLU convention, we should have chapped our clapping hands and cheered our vocal chords raw. We shouldn’t have put anyone affiliated with that 2004 team in the position of pandering for token applause and sympathy by doffing his cap to the only people who seem to get it – his former teammates.
But we did. And we further demonstrated our insanity by hailing the return of Tim Wakefield’s caddy, Doug Mirabelli, as if he were Carlton Fisk. Hey, I think Mirabelli is a great guy, too, and I was disheartened to see him go in the first place. But he is what he was: A role player on the team that exhumed the Bambino.
Damon almost single-handedly swatted away the curse on an autumn night 18 months ago. Following Babe Ruth’s career path shouldn’t disqualify him from the respect that he’s due.
He deserves better. And like Ruth, Sparky Lyle, Roger Clemens and Wade Boggs before him, he’ll probably get it.
Kalle Oakes is a staff writer. He can be reached by e-mail at [email protected]