The Hall of Fame Case for Johnny Damon

During last week’s chat on Jayson Stark was asked the following by one Todd, from Philly:

“If Johnny Damon reaches 3000 hits somehow is he a HOF to you? I never viewed him in that manner before but he may be the first real test against the magical number standards employed to election – your thoughts?”

I like the cut of Todd’s jib. Jayson responds:

I never like to make firm judgments on any player until his career is over. But if Damon gets to 3,000 hits, he’s a lock for me. Maybe he wasn’t a great defender. But he was a difference-maker for two teams that won the World Series, and he was one of the best top-of-the-order forces of his generation. So case closed if he gets to 3,000 hits. And he has a great case already.”

Just to be a contrarian I thought maybe we wouldn’t be so hasty to close that case. According to Damon was worth 2.3 WAR in 2010 and is currently valued at 1.1 WAR here at almost the halfway point in the 2011 season. To be generous lets assume that he’ll see no further decline in his run up to 3,000 hits (and to be even more generous lets assume he’s going to remain healthy and keep the playing time to acquire the number). He currently has 2,647 hits on his career and he’s averaged about 150 hits a season the last five years. This means that its quite possible he’ll be desperately trying to reach the milestone before the end of the 2013 baseball season (he’ll turn 39 on November 5, 2013).

Since we’re assuming he maintains his current level lets give him 2.3 WAR for the next two seasons and another 1.1 for this year. Damon currently sits on a 50.1 career WAR (placing him 169th overall amongst position players for his career), so at that point he’ll have 55.8 career value. Amusingly his career dWAR (WAR leaving out offensive contribution) is 0.2, meaning that pretty much all his value has come as a hitter if we look at his career in totality up to this point (Maybe he wasn’t a great defender). To put this in context here is a random sampling of some position players with higher career WARs than this mythical 3,000 hit having Johnny Damon:

Andruw Jones (59.2), Jack Glasscock (58.7) (also, heh), Jim Edmonds (67.9), Ron Santo (66.4), Kenny Lofton (66.7), John Olerud (56.8), Andre Dawson (57), Todd Helton (59.2), Bobby Abreu (59.0), Mark McGwire (63.1), Bid McPhee (57.9)

Some of these are great players. Some of them have already been elected to the Hall of Fame. Some of them (looking at you Kenny Lofton) may need to have more discussion going on about their careers. For whatever reason all of them were not and are not guys that could be described as “lock” Hall of Famers. Further, keep in mind that WAR is in its way also a counting stat. Johnny Damon’s career WAR is as high as it is because he’s played a long time at a good level relatively free of injuries. This is often derogatively referred to as compiling.

There are three things that seem important to people in regards to the Hall of Fame; the player’s peak, the breadth of their career (or, counting stats), and the intangible magic of great postseason performances. Johnny Damon was a very good player for a very long time. He was never a great player. The highest OPS+ he ever had was 118+ (though he did that three times). He only played on two All Star Teams and the highest he ever placed in the MVP vote was 13th (only appearing on the ballot at all four times). And this for a guy that spent most of his career in Boston and New York. If Johnny Damon reaches 3,000 hits he will have one counting stat that can be bandied about. What Johnny Damon does have is the post season magic. He hit two homeruns for the Red Sox in clinching game seven of the 2004 ALCS against the Yankees, a game (and series) that we can pretty much be assured people will never shut up about. That gets a lot of brownie points. Then in Game 4 of the 2009 World Series Johnny Damon made a truly excellent baserunning play for the Yankees. Jayson Stark really, really liked that:

“We’ve never seen a World Series turn because a man stole two bases on the same pitch.

But we’ve seen it now, all right.

We’ve seen Johnny David Damon do it with our own eyes, and we’re still not 100 percent sure it really happened. But an hour later, the scoreboard at Citizens Bank Park still read: Yankees 7, Phillies 4. So it must have happened. In real life. In the ninth inning of a World Series game people are going to talk about for the rest of their lives — and probably a thousand years after that. We’ve never seen a World Series turn because a man stole two bases on the same pitch.”

So essentially voting for Johnny Damon is very much like voting for Jack Morris. If you value what he did on the big stage on two or three occasions over his good but not great career a reasonable argument can be made that Johnny Damon is a Hall of Famer. However, it is not an argument I’d make myself. That said if Dan Shaughnessy can get Jim Rice elected anything is fucking possible.


29 thoughts on “The Hall of Fame Case for Johnny Damon

  1. So you think Shilling is an HOF?

    Yes. The guy was unreal on some absolute dog-shit Phillies teams. It killed his numbers.

  2. If you have to debate whether or not a player is, he’s not.

    Sometimes we genuinely fail to appreciate the quality of a career as its happening, which is why I don’t entirely agree with this.

  3. I love Johnny Damon but he is not in the HOF in my book. At least Jim Rice was the best hitter in baseball for a couple of years and won the MVP. Damon was never even top 5 in outfielders in any of his years.

    I am more about being the best for a period of time than career numbers. Even with Jeter, I am less impressed by his inevitable 3000 hits than I am about him having the fourth most hits of anyone at 37 years old.

    To me, just because a player has good constitution and remains injury free so they can play into their 40’s doesn’t make them a hall of famer. They had to win the Cy Young, MVP, lead the league in something for several year stretch, be on 10 all star teams or something to that effect. Just being pretty good for a long time doesn’t cut it for me.

  4. Schilling is a no doubt HOF, he should go in as an Oriole.

    Curt’s got magic and peak out the ass, not really breadth though. I’d vote for him over Damon, really not sure where I stand on him yet. It won’t be anything like a travesty if he gets in.

  5. I’d vote for him over Damon

    If I had to vote for one, it would be Schilling. Only if I had to. Don’t think either one is.

  6. Using fangraphs:

    Toby Harrah had a career WAR of 50.9
    Robin Ventura had a career WAR of 61.3
    Andruw Jones has a career WAR of 70.3

    Cant see any of those guys getting in, Johnny Damon played on a few great teams and has a 45.4. So yeah, no hall for Johnny.

  7. In no way is he a HOFer. Also that “Maybe he wasn’t the greatest defender” is quite the understatement. Him, Matsui and Bernie (later in his career) during their tenure in NY made every throw back into the infield look like a huge chore. I can still remember a hard throw from the OF to second base from Damon bouncing twice.

  8. Fat ass is probably a HOF. However he’s an All-Time dick who Randy Johnson felt like killing during most of their tenure as teammates.

  9. I have Bernie’s CD. (looks around for my props)

    It DID win a Latin Grammy. I think that’s worth about 2/3 a regular Grammy, which is worth about 1/50th of an Emmy, which is about 1/3 of an Oscar.

  10. What the fuck is that hat he’s wearing? That can’t be a Yankee hat…

  11. Wasn’t he the one who said the rivalry was personal and all that bs?

    Yes. He’s also a self-important asshat who probably touches himself while watching “The Ketchup Bloody Sock game”.

  12. The question should be, “What makes a HOF-er” … and it is impossible to answer. And, certainly, there is no one answer or “standard.”

    For me, Damon should be a lock. No player — EVER — has “compiled” 500 2b, 100 3b, 250 HR and 400 SB (with or without 3,000 hits) … Damon will likely be the first to ever do so.

    He’s also got a good chance to finish in the Top 20 ALL-TIME in runs scored. Last time I checked, scoring runs is what the game is all about.

    And Damon was a good CF in Kansas City early in his career … and that’s a big CF there. But most HOFers get in for offense. That’s a fact.

    And I hate these silly arguments about “wasn’t the dominant player on his team or at his position.” Do you think Derek Jeter — truly — was ever the best hitter for the Yankees? Or the best defensive SS in the AL (despite two bogus Gold Gloves)? Really?? And that guy is a First-Ballot lock and deservedly so. But he also saw a ton of fastballs because of who he hit in front of.

    If Johnny Damon had played his entire career in the Bronx hitting in front of THAT collection of talent for 15 years, there’s no telling what his “compiled” numbers would be. But I guarantee you his batting average would likely be higher. Remember, he spent more time in Kansas City than with any other team. And none of those teams had winning records, if memory serves.

    Jeter and Damon broke in around the same time. Jeter may have the better batting average, but Damon has more 2bs, more 3bs, more stolen bases and is within 10 HRs and will likely finish ahead of Jeter in HRs. But Jeter has a lot more singles. Does this make him better hitter than Damon? Perhaps, but it’s a lot closer than people think.

    Damon is a deserving player. Give me the really good CONSISTENT player over a 15-20 year period over the guy who is GREAT for 5 years and so-so for the other 10.

    For me, Damon should get in.

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