Is There A Hall Of Fame Case To Be Made For Johnny Damon?

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It’s a new week, which means that we’re continuing our little series of looking at the Hall of Fame cases of players who are on the ballot but aren’t getting much support. If you’ve missed it to this point, we’ve already talked about Fred McGriff, Scott Rolen, Billy Wagner, Johan Santana and Andruw Jones. Johnny Damon, you are up next, sir.

In some cases, like in the case of Santana, the player isn’t a Hall of Famer but doesn’t deserve to get booted off the ballot in a year. In Jones’ case, he actually has an interesting Hall of Fame resume when you consider that his career WAR was better than guys like Jackie Robinson, Harmon Killebrew, Yogi Berra, Mike Piazza, Hank Greenberg and Willie Stargell —
names that we’d all agree are no doubt Hall of Famers. As it pertains to Damon, I think he’s the perfect example of what a player in the Hall of Very Good would look like.

Out of the 165 ballots that have been made public, Damon appears on just 1.2% of them. You know the rules; you need at least 5% to stay on the ballot for another year. As a first ballot candidate, it might be one and done for the two-time World Series champion. Damon was one of the best leadoff hitters of his era, posting a .352 on-base percentage over his 18 major league seasons, but here’s where the Hall of Very Good part comes in. He never led the league in on-base percentage, he never won a batting title, he never finished higher than 13th for MVP, and here’s something that you might not have realized, but for as good as he was defensively (minus having a noodle arm), he never won a Gold Glove. Not one.

He finished his career with 2,769 hits, which is undoubtedly very impressive. That’s good for 54th all-time, just two spots down from Ken Griffey Jr. who had 2,781 hits, but on no planet is Damon comparable to Griffey in any other sense other than that they both batted left-handed. Damon’s career WAR of 56.0 is well below what the average WAR for a Hall of Famer is (69.0), and his WAR7 of 32.9 — the sum of his seven best seasons by WAR, used to gauge the peak of a player’s career — is nearly identical to Jorge Posada’s (32.7), who fell off the ballot after just one year.

What we’ll remember Damon most for will not be the numbers. It’ll be, of course, his role in breaking Boston’s 86-year championship drought, the Game 7 grand slam in Yankee Stadium followed by the two-run shot two innings later that went into the upper deck, the hair, the beard, the hugs, running wild in Philly in Game 4 of the 2009 World Series en route to another ring, getting cut off by Manny Ramirez in the outfield at Fenway Park, and his many times crashing into walls to make catches. A true balls to the wall player, who played hard, who played hurt, and who played hard even when he was hurt.

He won’t make it to Cooperstown, but he’ll always be remembered by the fans in Boston and New York. And if you’re not quite a Hall of Famer, I’d say that’s a pretty solid consolation prize.