Teams looking for a proven hitter to help them down the stretch might want to call Johnny Damon.
The three-time All-Star, two-time World Series champion and five-time .300 hitter is staying in shape, swinging the bat and eager to return to the majors. The 40-year-old Damon last played for Cleveland in 2012, but isn’t quite ready for retirement.
“When you feel you can still outhit at least half the league and you don’t get that call, it’s rough,” Damon told The Associated Press in a phone interview Friday. “The biggest reason to play is to have a chance to win. Obviously, 3,000 hits would be great but winning is the reason I started playing this game. I’m going to continue to stay in shape and I’ll be ready.”
Over the next few weeks before the non-waiver trade deadline on July 31, contending clubs will contemplate dealing prospects to acquire a player they feel will help them make a postseason run. It’ll be hard to find someone with Damon’s resume available for nothing.
Damon, who is best known for helping the 2004 Boston Red Sox end an 86-year championship drought, has a .284 career average with 235 home runs, 1,139 RBIs and 408 stolen bases. He has 2,769 hits and his lifetime on-base percentage of .352 is higher than every current leadoff hitter this season except Jose Altuve, Coco Crisp, Matt Carpenter, Shin-Soo Choo and Brett Gardner.
Rob Potts, a batting practice pitcher for the Philadelphia Phillies, ran into Damon last month in Wilmington, Delaware. Damon was there because his number was retired by the Single-A Blue Rocks that night. Potts ended up throwing to Damon for about 15 minutes in the stadium and came away so impressed that he told Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. to check him out. The Phillies, who are stuck in last place, signed Grady Sizemore a week later.
“Johnny looks like he could play today,” Potts said. “His last swing, he said: ‘I’m gonna go yard’ and he just turned on it. You can’t teach someone how to win a World Series and he’s won two. He’s a great clubhouse guy, had success playing in the bright lights in New York and Boston. In the ninth inning in a pressure situation, I’d still want to have Johnny Damon hitting for me.”
Damon looks around the majors and sees 43-year-old Jason Giambi (Cleveland) and 42-year-old Raul Ibanez (Kansas City) hanging around. Carlos Pena, a career .232 hitter, recently signed with Texas and is 3 for 33. Greg Dobbs was 7 for 41 this season for Miami and Washington. Bobby Abreu returned to the majors after sitting out 2013. The 40-year-old was cut by the Phillies in spring training, signed with the Mets and is hitting .274 (26 for 95).
Teams always have a need for a left-handed hitter to pinch-hit, get spot starts in the outfield or be a designated hitter. Yet, Damon hasn’t had an offer.
He didn’t even get an invitation to spring training after playing for Tampa Bay in 2011. Damon signed with the Indians on April 17, 2012, batted .222 in 64 games and was released on Aug. 9 that year.
“After Cleveland, it seems like everyone said I’m finished,” Damon said. “I wanted to go to spring training, see if I have it and if the swing and the body don’t come around, walk away with that peace of mind.”
Damon said his agent, Scott Boras, hasn’t presented him with offers because perhaps they were “too embarrassing.” But Damon just wants to play baseball. He participated in his first Old Timers’ Game with the Yankees on June 22.
That doesn’t compare to October baseball.