This weekend the Tampa Bay Rays are in town and you had better get out to the K because it’s the only time they come to Kansas City this season. Why does that matter? Well, it’s your only chance to catch Johnny Damon.
Undoubtedly, the “Caveman” holds a special place in the heart of any long-time Royals fan. He is one of the names that is always mentioned when the conversation of trading away young talent comes up. That argument has merit, of course, because when the Royals traded him away on January 8th, 2001, he had just finished a season where he hit .327, had 46 stolen bases, and scored 136 runs. He was also 2nd in the AL with 214 base hits. He batted leadoff and was the centerfielder, the cornerstone for a team that was aching to get better. Then, just like that, he was gone.
OK, great, so in hindsight it was a terrible trade. Damon has gone on to have a pretty good career while jumping around the American League. He has managed to win a couple of world championships, with the Red Sox in 2004, and the Yankees in 2009. He has been an All-Star twice, led the league in various categories, been in MVP talks, and has just kept playing.
So much, in fact, that Johnny Damon now sits at #5 on the Active Hits Leaders list. He had three hits Friday night against the Royals and now has 101 for the season – his 16th straight season over 100. In fact, the only season that he didn’t was 1995, the year he was called up as a 21 year-old with the Royals and played just 47 games.
That kind of consistency adds up to a total of 2,672 hits for his career. I know I was surprised to hear that total. The guy’s only 328 hits away from 3,000. With his career average of being able to play an almost 150 games per year, and getting 168 hits per season, there’s a really good chance he reaches that milestone in a couple of years if he can stay healthy.
He’s also a free agent again at the end of this season, and while it would be completely unreasonable for the Royals to bring him home to finish his career, could it happen?
It was a bit surprising to Royals fans who probably felt like Damon had forgotten about them a long, long time ago to hear his interview with MLB Network on Thursday. Johnny was asked by Matt Vasgersian whose cap he would prefer to wear if he were to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. What he said might shock you. It wasn’t with MLB’s most prestigious team, the Yankees. It wasn’t with caveman hair and beard with a Red Sox cap.
He said he would probably want to go in as a Royal.
He confirmed that again on-air during the pregame show Friday night. While that is flattering to Royals fans, whether or not A) He’d ever be inducted into the Hall of Fame and B) He’d really go in as a Royal, are a long ways off. Still though, he’s building a good case to be inducted by putting up such steady numbers for a long amount of time. 3,000 hits might just seal the deal.
This kind of issue will continue to come up as some of the game’s greats from the modern era come up for the Hall of Fame. There are some great players who have jumped around, and someday might have to make that same decision. Would A-Rod go in as a Mariner, Ranger, or Yankee? Damon’s justification was that he spent the most time in Kansas City uniform.
While that decision might not make sense now, how much more sense would it make if the Royals picked him up as a free agent in the coming off-season? It’s a question that doesn’t make much sense because there’s not really a place for him here, but you wonder if the Royals and he will talk about it at all. It sounds like Damon is still fond of KC after all these years, and it would be cool for Royals fans to be able to watch an old favorite chase down a milestone.
So while the talks go on & the rumors fly, the caveman just keeps on hitting. Take a good look when you watch him play this weekend, because he just might be a future Hall of Famer. And he just might be wearing a Royals cap when he does so.