Sitting in my home office on a chilly Friday, cell phone next to my computer and Weather Channel on TV, waiting to see which will arrive first – snow here in Atlanta or a Johnny Damon signing with Detroit (or Atlanta, or the ChiSox….)
Noticed today that the Royals are reportedly going to try Kyle Farnsworth in the starting rotation. My prediction: There will be blood. (As in, bench-clearing brawls. At the very least, crucial homers and on-mound meltdowns.)
But where were we? Oh, yes. Damon. Our topic du jour. More like, du month.
If Thursday reports of the Tigers offer (two years, $14 million) are even remotely accurate, I can’t imagine Damon turning that down, not if that’s a regular contract – in other words, if that’s guaranteed money.
As unequaled as Scott Boras (that’s his agent, whom you may have heard of) is at drumming up offers that defy all conventional wisdom at any particular time, I don’t see another team making an offer anywhere close to that.
And unless Boras advises Damon to take a one-year offer from the Braves, Tigers or another team so he can put Damon back on the market again next winter – a risky proposition given factors including his age (36) and the likelihood of his power numbers declining away from Yankee Stadium – then a two-year, $14 mill deal from Detroit seems as good (actually, better) than it can possibly get.
So we wait. Could be today. But as I’ve mentioned, once you’ve taken this thing this far, what’s another few days? After all, Damon can commute to spring training with either the Tigers (Lakeland) or Braves (Dark Star, aka Lake Buena Vista) from his home in Orlando.
So no need to scramble to find living arrangements or anything like that. Not that such matters would be a big deal for a ballplayer anyway, particularly one of his stature. Teams have people that take care of those kinds of things — housing and rental cars and such at spring training. But I’m just saying, Damon will be able to tuck his kids in at his Central Florida home every night if he wants to during spring training, if he ends up with the Tigers or Braves.
And I only keep mentioning the Braves as a possibility because, even as it seems most likely he’s headed for the Tigers in light of that reported offer, we’ll still leave open the possibility that the Braves could sweeten their offer a bit and Damon could decide to go for a one-year ride on the Bobby Cox retirement show – recommended Braves slogan: “Postseason or Bust; We’re Taking ‘6′ Out on Top” — and hit the open market again next winter.
We’ve gone through the reasons why Damon makes sense for the Braves, how he’d given them a proven leadoff option, clubhouse presence, winning pedigree, lessen the pressure to have 20-year-old Jason Heyward on the opening-day roster, etc.
But if the Braves really, truly have only $4-5 mill they are willing to spend – in which case the payroll might be under $90 million — well, then Damon is probably going to sign with the Tigers. Either that or those reported offers from the Tigers are going to turn out to have been bogus.
♣ Chipper on Heyward: As long as we’re on the subject of the future Face of the Franchise, here’s what the current Face said about Heyward when I asked Chipper Jones this week about the big kid (6-4, 245 pounds) who figures to be in right field before the Fourth of July, and perhaps three months sooner than that.
“I got to hit with him yesterday, and I was more than impressed,” Chipper said on Wednesday. “I’ve got a pretty good feeling he’s going to seize this opportunity and make the most of it.”
People keep asking me – your Crusading Everyman, Pseudo-Hipster blogmeister — and everyone else who’s seen Heyward whom we’d compare him to, and I’ve said physically he reminds me of Derrek Lee. I think he hits the ball as hard as Cliff Floyd, who Jim Leyland once told me hit them as hard or harder than anyone Leyland had ever seen.
As for Chipper, he says Heyward reminds him of someone that many Braves fans are more familiar with. Fred McGriff.
“His swing’s obviously a little different, but he looks like a bigger, more muscular version of Fred,” Chipper said. “And that’s saying something. Fred’s 6-5, 230 or so. This kid, he’s built like a brick house. And to watch the way the ball jumps off his bat … it’s batting practice, I know, and everybody’s supposed to do that in batting practice. But….
“It’s going to be interesting to see how he hits the breaking stuff, how he makes adjustments pitch-to-pitch, at-bat to at-bat, can he make the adjustment. And that’s all something he’s done in the minor leagues. It’s a little bit different making the adjustment up here, but looking at his makeup, mindset and coachability, it looks like he’s ready and raring to go.”
Chipper’s winter injury scare: Chipper Jones said he’s up to about 230 pounds after a winter of lifting weights and (presumably) trying to eat sensibly. Says he wanted to get his strength back after losing some of it during his disappointing 2009 season, and says he’s done that.
“I’m actually on a little bit of a diet right now, trying to lose a couple of pounds,” he said. “But I feel good, healthy.”
That latter part is always the most important point when it comes to Jones. Healthy. And he waited until our conversation Wednesday to divulge an injury that nearly sent up a red flare six weeks ago from his Texas ranch.
“I had a little scare over Christmas with my thumb, playing golf in Texas,” he said. “A club snapped in middle of my grip as I was swinging, and it bent my thumb back. I was on the shelf with little bit of a sore thumb for a while.”
But before he could get too worried, the thumb was back to normal. Braves Nation never even got a chance to work up its collective consternation.
I also asked Chipper what he’ll be watching for from the Braves at spring training, what he believes to be the key situations to keep an eye on.
“I want to see certain guys in our rotation step up, that’s everybody’s biggest question,” he said. “Is the front end of the rotation going to be solid, is it going to be good?
“Health is always an issue. You hope you’re healthy down at the end of the bullpen, that’s obviously huge. From a position-player standpoint we’re pretty well set. But we know we’ve got to stay healthy.
“And everyone’s looking to see how Heyward does.”
♣ Tom Glavine turns the page: Here’s a few quotes from Tom Glavine that you might have missed or that didn’t make it in my story Thursday, from the news conference to announce his new job as assistant to Braves president John Schuerholz. http://www.ajc.com/sports/atlanta-braves/glavine-joins-braves-front-298830.html
(And for those wondering, yes, Glavine and Greg Maddux should go into the Hall of Fame together in July 2014. Get your Cooperstown hotel reservations well in advance, because the village fills up quickly.)
– Glavine on what will be his fondest memories as a pitcher with the Braves, whether it’s the worst-to-first season, or the World Series title, or his two Cy Youngs, or his time with Maddux and John Smoltz…
“All that,” he said, smiling. “I’m fortunate in that I had a great career individually, and I had a great career as far as my teams were concerned and my teammates that I played with. We were able to accomplish a lot of great things. And I had the luxury of coming to the ballpark and watching great players, and being a part of a pitching staff that’s probably going to have three Hall of Famers off of it before it’s all said and done. That’s pretty special.
“And then on top of all that, you look at the friendships that we had, and the fun that we had off the field, and playing golf and doing all the goofy things that we did. You hear the expression ‘the time of your life’ – yeah, it was. It doesn’t get any better than that.
“So there’s a lot of things. It’s hard to narrow in on one thing that was so much better than the others. When you look at the whole body of work, not just from a personal standpoint. You look at 1987 and I lost 17 games, and we lost 100 games. We lost 100 games for three years, and then you look up and – boom – all those flags are hanging from the rafters. I mean, it’s pretty remarkable.”
– On whether the Braves releasing him in June turned out for the best:
“I can’t sit here in hindsight and say it wasn’t the best thing, because I don’t know what was going to happen. I mean, I don’t know. There were times where my arm felt terrible and times where it felt good. So I didn’t know from one day to the next what was going to happen….
“Was it the best thing? Maybe. Probably. In hindsight. But at that point in time I wasn’t ready to stop pitching. I had done all the work that I needed to do and wanted the opportunity to go back out there. But it didn’t work out, and the guy they brought up here and took my place did pretty well, so it’s hard to argue with all that.”
– On whether it was important to work things out with the Braves:
“Absolutely. Once all the emotions of what happened last year died down, then you have to figure out whether or not there’s an opportunity. I had heard some things about the potential to have some [job] opportunities here, and I floated my messages to people that I knew would get messages here, and eventually it led to a phone call and a conversation with John, and that conversation led us to where we are.
“Look, I’m smart enough to realize that if I want to stay in the game of baseball, it makes the most sense for me to do it here — obviously from a standpoint of me living here, but more importantly this is the franchise where I defined myself as a player. It would only make sense that I would want to continue to be a part of this organization in the future.
“… It was just a matter of a few big boys getting over some emotions from last year, and that really wasn’t that hard.”
– On working things out with GM Frank Wren and the Braves:
“Look, when something like that happens, obviously there are a lot of emotions that are involved. But that’s one of the difficult and interesting dynamics, is the relationship between the front-office side and the player. The player is always evaluating himself differently, and that’s always a delicate bridge to cross. I’ve had my conversations with John. We certainly have cleared the air. I’m happy and comfortable where we are, as far as all that is concerned. I’ve talked with Frank. So, all of that is behind us.
“And if I didn’t feel like it wasn’t, if I didn’t feel like I could work with John or work with Frank, then I wouldn’t be standing here. I feel like that’s all been adequately discussed and everybody is on the same page, in terms of what I’m going to do and the opportunity I’m going to have. So it should be fun.”
– On the possibility of taking a dugout job, coaching or possibly managing:
“More so as a pitching coach. Right now, no. Right now it just wouldn’t fit my lifestyle. I’ve got five kids at home, three of them 10 and under. I enjoy being home with them. That’s the part of my baseball life that I don’t want to duplicate – I want to be home more, I want to be around and see things and be involved more with what they’re doing. So right now, it doesn’t make sense for me to entertain the idea of being in uniform on a full-time basis, because it’s just too much of a time commitment. It’s more of a commitment than you had as a player.
“Somewhere down the road when the kids are a little older, maybe. I certainly would not sit here and tell you that I would never consider it, because I know if I did it, it would be something that I would enjoy. Because I enjoyed working with younger pitchers when I was in the last four or five years of my career. I enjoy teaching and doing all that stuff, so I know I would enjoy it. But the time commitment would be such that it wouldn’t make sense.
– On returning to organization for Bobby Cox’s planned final season as manager:
“That had a role in it, as well. I guess it’s always a balancing act when to get back in the game when you’re done playing. On the one hand I’ve had advice from people, ‘Stay away from the game at least a year and figure out what you want to do,’ and I’ve had other people tell me, ‘You know what, if you have an opportunity and it’s a good opportunity, then get back in.’ So I was toying with all that. And certainly the fact that this is Bobby’s last year – although I’ll believe it when I see it – that played a role in it. Bobby’s been so important and instrumental in my career, so for me to be able to be around in some capacity for his last go-round, it’s something that I wanted to try and be a part of it….
“Bobby was such an influence on so many of these guys’ careers, and I certainly fall into that category. He taught me more than anyone about the game itself and about respecting the game and how you play the game and how you carry yourself. Those aren’t things that are just limited to just baseball. I mean, those are things that, when you walk out that door, how you carry yourself as an individual and representing your family and doing all those things. They were life lessons as much as they were baseball lessons, you just didn’t realize it at the time.
“It’s an understatement for me to say he was a huge impact on my career and on my life.
“SHORE LEAVE” by Tom Waits
Well with buck shot eyes and a purple heart
I rolled down the national stroll
and with a big fat paycheck
strapped to my hip sack
and a shore leave wristwatch underneath
in a Hong Kong drizzle on Cuban heels
I rowed down the gutter to the Blood Bank
and I’d left all my papers on the Ticonderoga
and was in a bad need of a shave
and so I slopped at the corner on cold chow mein
and shot billiards with a midget
until the rain stopped
and I bought a long sleeved shirt
with horses on the front
and some gum and a lighter and a knife
and a new deck of cards (with girls on the back)
and I sat down and wrote a letter to my wife
and I said, Baby, I’m so far away from home
and I miss my baby so
I can’t make it by myself
I love you so
Well I was pacing myself
trying to make it all last
squeezing all the life
out of a lousy two day pass
and I had a cold one at the Dragon
with some Filipino floor show
and talked baseball with a lieutenant
over a Singapore sling
and I wondered how the same moon outside
over this Chinatown fair
could look down on Illinois
and find you there
and you know I love you Baby
and I’m so far away from home
and I miss my baby so
I can’t make it by myself
I love you so