Johnny Damon





Professional baseball player

Born Johnny David Damon, November 5, 1973, in Fort Riley, KS; son of Jimmy (a retired army sergeant) and Yome Damon; married Angie Vannice, 1992 (divorced, 2002); married Michelle Mangan, December 30, 2004; children: Madelyn, Jackson (from first marriage).

Addresses: Home —Orlando, FL. Office —Boston Red Sox, 4 Yawkey Way, Boston, MA 02215-3496.

Career

Signed with Kansas City Royals, 1992; played in minor leagues, 1992-95; played for Kansas City, 1995-2000; played for Oakland A's, 2001; centerfielder, Boston Red Sox, 2002—.

Awards: Prospect of the Year, Midwest League managers, 1993; Midwest League All-Star Team, 1993; Player of the Year, Kansas City Royals, 1994; Best Batting Prospect, Best Defensive Outfielder, Most Exciting Player, Carolina League, Baseball America, 1994; May Player of the Month, Topps/NAPBL, 1994; Kansas City Royals Organizational Player of the Year, Baseball America, 1994, 1995; Player of the Year, Topps/NAPBL's Minor League and Double-A, 1995; Player of the Year, Texas League, 1995; All-Prospect Team, USA Today, 1995; Minor League All-Star Team, Baseball America, 1995; Double-A All-Star squad, Baseball America, 1995; Double-A Player of the Year, Baseball America, 1995; named Royals Player of the Month, 1998-2000; won slot on All-Star Team, MLB.com "30th Man Ballot," 2002; Jackie Jensen Spirit Award, Baseball Writers' Association of America, 2004.

Johnny Damon

Sidelights

Many fans were overjoyed when the Boston Red Sox finally defeated the New York Yankees and went on to win the World Series Championship. This feat had not been done by the Red Sox in 86 years. Most attributed the success to one man, Johnny Damon. The season started with his decision to not cut his hair until they had won. His antics in the locker room helped keep his team loose and stress-free. With each win, the pressure was on for the team's lead-off batter and centerfielder, but Damon was no stranger to pressure.

Damon was born in Fort Riley, Kansas. With his father in the military, the family moved a lot. They settled in Orlando, Florida, where Damon attended Dr. Philips High School. He began his baseball career on the school's baseball team. In his senior year, his coach helped him become one of the best high school players in the country. At each game, the announcer would tout him as "the No. 1 player in the nation on the No. 1 team in the nation." He won a baseball scholarship to the University of Florida, but turned it down and entered the Major League Baseball draft instead. Though many thought he would be acquired in the top ten, Damon, nonetheless, was acquired by the Kansas City Royals at number 35 in 1992.

For the next three years, Damon played in the minor leagues. He received many awards and accolades, including Player of the Year, and impressed the Royals so much that he was thought to be the next George Brett, a former Kansas City Royal and Hall-of-Famer. The two even appeared in a commercial together. In his first seasons with the Royals, Damon did not disappoint. But as far as being the next George Brett, Damon told Sports Illustrated's Jeff Pearlman, "I'm no George Brett, and I probably never will be."

Despite posting impressive numbers, and helping his team win many games, Damon, as most other major league players, yearned for the championship ring. A year away from free agency, he announced that he was not looking for a multiyear contract with the Royals. He was traded to the Oakland A's before the start of the 2001 season, but his time with the team was short-lived. His numbers for the season were the lowest of his professional career, but he still managed to lead the club in a couple of records. Damon also ranked high in some of the leagues' yearly records. Many were disappointed as they thought he was the missing component to a championship-winning team. He attributed his poor showing to a couple of things, including adapting to a different form of play and loneliness from being apart from his family, who remained behind in Kansas City. He also lost a former high school teammate, which helped put everything in perspective for him. He told Bob Hohler of Baseball Digest, "When you have a friend die young, you realize the game isn't as important as you sometimes make it seem. That's why I'm not that concerned about an O-fer or a tough slump, because I know I have a chance to pull myself out of it."

In December of 2001, Damon signed as a free agent with the Boston Red Sox. In his first season with the Sox, he exploded onto the scene. He led his team with six bunt hits, scored 100 runs, and stole 31 bases, an accomplishment not done by anyone on the Red Sox team since 1994. He was also first in the American League with triples, and second with infield hits, among other accolades. With the addition of Damon, the Boston Red Sox made it to the playoffs, losing only to the New York Yankees.

Damon continued to post remarkable numbers. He averaged .273 with 32 doubles, six triples, 12 homeruns, 67 RBI, 30 steals, and 103 runs scored. Again, the team made to the league championship only to be trounced again by the New York Yankees. Many believed that Damon was behind the team's success. Red Sox hitting coach Ron Jackson told Melissa Segura of Sports Illustrated, "People don't realize that he's the guy who makes it all happen here. If Johnny's not rolling, then we don't." However, Damon attributed it to a change in management. He told Pam Lambert of People, "When I first got here, it was a bore in the clubhouse. It was like, whoa, no music, no Playstation, no nothing." Under new manager Terry Francona, things changed in the locker room. He continued, "We got the music going . It's that kind of free style that's propelled us to the next level."

That season was not without its difficulties. Damon suffered from debilitating migraines, and he also sustained a concussion from running into a teammate. However, the concussion helped bring about a symbol that would sustain the team and encourage fans in the next season.

When Damon arrived for spring training in April of 2004, he had allowed his hair to grow to his shoulders, and then vowed he would not cut it until the Red Sox had defeated the New York Yankees, their archrivals. Because of his concussion, it took Damon 20 minutes to shave, so he decided to grow a beard. Again he stated he would not cut his beard until the team had won the American League championship.

Posting his best numbers yet, Damon also helped keep his fellow teammates loose and stress-free by doing nude pull-ups before each game, and dubbing the team "idiots." He told Lambert, "We try not to think when we play, because when we do, we only hurt ourselves." A group of fans began showing up at every game wearing long wigs and fake beards. They were named Damon's Disciples. They led the crowd in chanting, "We believe, Johnny, we believe." They also began sporting shirts that riffed off of the "What Would Jesus Do?" bracelets, stating "What Would Johnny Damon Do?"

In Game One of the American League championship against the New York Yankees, Damon scored a home run, The Yankees did not go down without a fight, but the Red Sox rallied and went down in history when they finally defeated their archrivals. While most fans were ecstatic over this, Damon and the Red Sox still had one more thing to acquire: the World Series championship. A concerted team effort helped sweep the St. Louis Cardinals. After 86 years, the Boston Red Sox were once again World Series champions. Fans celebrated into the night.

Damon, however, just ten hours after winning the major league championship, quietly slipped into his stylist's chair to get his beard trimmed. Later in the week, the team participated in a parade, and Damon appeared on Late Show with David Letterman . He also brokered a deal with Crown Publishing to release a book chronicling both his and the team's journey to the championship. His memoir, titled Idiot, was published in April of 2005.

Damon has kept very busy post-championship. He let the Fab Five from Bravo Channel's Queer Eye For The Straight Guy trim his hair. He had a small part in the feature film Fever Pitch, with Drew Barrymore and Saturday Night Live alum Jimmy Fallon. Damon was also named to People magazine's 50 Sexiest Men's list.

Damon married Michelle Mangan, whom he met two years earlier, on December 30, 2004. This was Mangan's first marriage and Damon's second. He had been previously married to his high school sweetheart, Angie Vannice; they have two children, twins Madelyn and Jackson. They were divorced in 2002.

In May of 2005 Damon stated to Alan Eskew of Redsox.com that he would like to continue with the Red Sox for a few more years, but also thought of retiring. No one can deny that Damon will enter the Hall of Fame, but he will do it in his own creative way.

Selected writings

Idiot, Crown Publishing, 2005.

Sources

Periodicals

Baseball Digest, July 2002, p. 42-44; July 2003, p. 63.

Newsweek, April 11, 2005, p. 83.

People, November 15, 2004, pp. 87-88; November 29, 2004, p. 171; January 17, 2005, p. 106.

Publishers Weekly, December 6, 2004, p. 12.

Sports Illustrated, April 17, 2000, p. 44; January 22, 2001, p. 76; November 10, 2004, p. 40.

Online

"Johnny Damon," MLB.com, http://mlb.mlb.com/NASApp/mlb/team/player_career.jsp?/player_id=113028 (May 16, 2005).

"Notes: Damon ponders the future," Redsox.com, http://boston.redsox.mlb.com/NASApp/mlb/news/article.jsp?ymd=20050501� 6;content_id=1034754&vkey=news_bos&fext=.jsp&c_id=bos (May 16, 2005).

—Ashyia N. Henderson



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