Just a few months after hearing everyone praise his leadership, Johnny Damon whined his way out of the clubhouse like my three-year-old daughter. Isn’t baseball great? You play average ball and then get to carp like a jilted lover at the first sign that you aren’t loved exactly as much as you demand to be loved.
First, Johnny is right. The offense would improve with improvements as shortstop and catcher. But that isn’t the exclusive remedy. It just happens to be his preferred remedy because it leaves room for him to come back and “lead” our team. Well, Johnny, not to confuse you with basic logic but, an improvement at any position would necessarily result in an overall improvement in offensive performance.
Damon’s bizarre pettiness aside (kind of tarnishes that Hall of Fame glow, doesn’t it? Can you imagine Joe DiMaggio ripping the Washington Senators for not letting him hang on a few more years after he’d been surpassed by Mickey Mantle?) his comments bring the issue of clubhouse leadership into the light.
SABRmatricians like to debate the real value of unmeasurable things like “chemistry” and “leadership.” After all, baseball is only nominally a team sport. But, as I wrote last fall while thinking about the miracle that was September, I think the group mental approach fostered by Joe Maddon kept the team from panicking, thus opening the door to their postseason birth. So, I think leadership is actually valuable to some degree.
But I think we can conclusively determine that any leadership wasn’t coming from Johnny Damon. Everyone is a good leader when times are good. Where is Damon when the chips are down? If he was really a good leader, wouldn’t he take the high road and depart gracefully? How can he tell a prospective team he is a good leader now? Won’t all the young players just fear that they will become his scapegoat when things get sideways?
I am convinced that yesterday wasn’t the first time he made those comments. It just happened to be the first time he made them to the press. It appears that Damon knew how to play the good leader in public while being selfish in private. Ironically, it looks like Luke Scott might be the polar exact opposite: a weird, insular, public figure that guys inside the clubhouse love. I’ll take the latter over the former. Right?
Damon and Scott remind me of my favorite Lyndon Johnson quote. He once told an advisor that he’d rather have J. Edgar Hoover “inside the tent [urinating] out than outside the tent [urinating] in.” Scott is inside the tent, Damon is outside. I think this change is going to be for the better.
(Also, will the club ever have a DH again that has a last name? Aren’t we severely limiting our options by restricting that job to first-name only guys?)