From all reports, Johnny Damon is a stand-up guy. He's a clubhouse leader -- a player that helps a team both on the field and off it. He's loved by fans for his hustle, and even if he's getting old and isn't producing like he used to, he's still the sort of player you want to have on your team. He's a good guy.
And I don't mean any of that sarcastically. From all reports, Damon is all of these things. He's a great role model for younger players, which made his recent outburst concerning the Rays all the more out of character:
"Obviously, I love playing there, but for some reason they're looking for a DH and a first baseman,'' Damon told foxsportsflorida.com. "And I thought Kotchman and I were probably the two more consistent guys in the lineup last year. I know they want to upgrade the offense, but the offense is going to be fine as long as there's some production from the catching spot and shortstop.
"Those positions were hitting under .200 and obviously I think that's going to improve, and because of that, it's going to make the rest of the team improve. But Kotch and I keep hearing in the offseason that they want to get better there (DH and first)." (via Marc Topkin, Tampa Bay Times)
These comments were all made a day or so prior to the Rays signing Luke Scott to be their DH, a move that essentially ended any chance that Damon could end up back with the Rays in 2012. And after hearing of that news, Damon had even more to say: "It's an unhappy day."
Listen, I can sympathize with Damon's situation. He played hard for the Rays last season and made it clear that he wanted to finish his career in Tampa Bay, but the Rays never seriously considered bringing him back for another year. They wanted to "upgrade" at DH, which is another way of saying that Damon wasn't doing enough to help the team. If I was in his shoes, I'd be somewhat disappointed and insulted by this.
But baseball is a business. The sad truth is that Damon was a mediocre DH (at best) last season, and his .743 OPS was well below average for an American League DH (.771 OPS). The Rays do need to upgrade at DH and first base, as those two positions are normally filled by offensive-minded players. Damon's getting old and on the decline, and he simply didn't fit in with what the Rays are trying to do.
It's not an easy thing to do, but Damon needs to come to grips about his career. He likely won't be handed another starting job in the outfield or at DH next season, so he needs to wrap his mind around the fact that he's getting old. Instead of lashing out against the Rays, he'd be better served taking a long, hard look at his career and coming to grips with reality.