As the Red Sox prepare for another late-season, AL East showdown with the Yankees, Hub heartthrob and longtime Idiot Johnny Damon sat down with Bronx Banter correspondent Jacob Luft for an exclusive one-on-one interview.
BB: Johnny, It's been about 10 months since you turned down the Yankees' offer in free agency and decided to stay with the Red Sox. Any regrets?
JD: Absolutely not. What we have here and what we've built here the past couple of years, winning the World Series in 2004 and finally overtaking the Yankees in the East last year ... it's just too special. This group of guys, we've been through a lot together and management has done a great job of keeping this core together.
BB: How close did you come to donning the pinstripes?
JD: I mean, I thought about it. You have to. Business is business and their offer was pretty strong. Pedro went through the same thing when the Mets came calling last year, and Derek Lowe almost went to the Dodgers after '04. But at the end of the day, John Henry and [Boston GM] Theo [Epstein] came to the same conclusion that, as with those guys, they knew I would be too difficult to replace and came through with the years and money I wanted.
BB: C'mon Johnny. We all know you couldn't handle losing those locks of yours.
JD: [Laughs] Yeah, you got me. That was definitely a factor. But I'd like to think there's a little Vanity Smurf in all of us.
BB: You mentioned Derek. With Curt Schilling and Pedro taking turns on the DL, how big have the contributions from Derek and Bronson Arroyo and rookie starter Jonathan Papelbon been in keeping the Red Sox in the hunt?
JD: They've been huge. What can you say about Arroyo? The guy would be an ace anywhere else, especially for any middling NL Central team. Plus he signed a team-friendly contract to stay here and be a part of this. Papelbon is the real deal. His arsenal makes him perfectly suited for the rotation. Cla Meredith is unorthodox but has done a fine job as the closer. And Derek, ever since we shored up our infield defense [the Orlando Cabrera-Nomar Garciaparra trade in 2004] he's been lights out.
BB: That left side of your infield, with rookies Hanley Ramirez and Andy Marte. How tough is it to hit a ball past them?
JD: It's like a brick wall over there with those two guys. I doubt the Red Sox have ever had a better defensive shortstop than Hanley. In fact, we're planning on interrupting a game during our next homestand to honor him with a plaque saying, "Best Defensive Shortstop in Red Sox history."
BB: Didn't you do that already? Maybe I'm confusing that with "Best Fourth Outfielder/Pinch-Runner Dave Roberts Day."
JD: Maybe so. I can't really keep track with all the hype surrounding this team. I mean, every day there's another book that comes out about us. Somebody out there must be buying all this junk or else they wouldn't keep writing them.
BB: Who is the MVP, Manny Ramirez or Big Papi?
JD: Well A-Rod was in the mix there until recently when he went down with those heart palpitations. I hope he's OK. Yankee fans need to give him a break. As for the MVP, it's tough because Papi gets the big hits but he wouldn't have the chance if Manny wasn't protecting him. It's totally a Mantle-Maris thing. I hope they split the award.
BB: In hindsight, how disastrous would it have been if the Red Sox had not backed off of the Josh Beckett trade talks? He ended up with the Yankees, where he has floundered against the tough AL lineups.
JD: Well that trade would have cost us Hanley, who looks like he might be the next Barry Larkin. I'll be shocked if Derek Jeter ever wins a Gold Glove again. Besides, have you heard of this kid Anibal Sanchez? He'll be in the rotation next year for sure. Beckett is a nice talent and maybe he'll turn into the ace the Yankees thought they were getting when they traded Wang and Cano for him, but he's still got some learning to do, and we've handled him pretty well so far.
BB: So has Vernon Wells.
JD: Yeah, Vernon told me the other day he's going to buy Beckett a Rolex for Christmas to thank him for all the gopher balls he's thrown him.
BB: What do you want for Christmas?
JD: Another ring. We got one two years ago but last year we fell to the White Sox in seven games in the ALCS. We have a veteran group here that has been together a long time and knows how to win. It's a good thing the front office never carried out those elaborate plans for overhauling the ballclub. Sometimes, it's just better to stick with what works and not to outsmart yourself.
BB: Thanks for your time, Johnny. Just for the record, I think you would have enjoyed being a Yankee. I know the fans here in the Bronx would have loved it. Instead we're stuck with Coco Crisp.
JD: [Laughs] I'm not touching that one.
Jacob Luft is the baseball editor for SI.com and, as you can tell, an aspiring fiction writer.