Johnny Damon on Why Yankees Couldn't Repeat 2009 Success: 'I Wasn't There'

John Healy
June 28, 2020 - 3:10 pm
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The New York Yankees have not won the World Series since 2009 – a drought by their standards – but former Bronx Bomber Johnny Damon thinks he knows why they could not at least win another one in the 2009-12 window in which they reached the postseason each year:

He wasn’t there.

The former outfielder, whose heads-up baserunning helped the Yankees win Game 4 of the 2009 World Series, felt that the organization’s decision to not bring him or World Series MVP Hideki Matsui back was detrimental to the team’s chances of repeating, or winning another.

“I knew why they couldn’t get it done. I wasn’t there,” Damon said on the “Break a Bat” podcast, per The New York Post. “Matsui wasn’t there. At least one of us should’ve been there. You just had a different feel for them.”

Both Damon and Matsui were 35 years old and set to become free agents following the championship season, but the Yankees were ready to move on.

Damon said he was willing to take a pay cut to stay in New York, but was told by his agent that he had five minutes to accept a deal to return to the Yankees for half of his $13 million salary the year before.

“I really wanted to come back,” Damon said. “They ended up offering a contract … They wanted to cut my salary in half, and I was like, “why don’t we cut it by 30 percent? I’ll be happy with that.' I know I’m getting older, my outfield isn’t as great as it was. So I was saying, ‘OK, 30 percent cut.’ Then Nick Johnson signed and I’m like, ‘Man, yeah, he might have a great on-base percentage, but I can score from anywhere and I was a team leader.’”

The Yankees filled the void left by Damon and Matsui with Brett Gardner and Curtis Granderson. While Damon acknowledged they are both fine players, he said that he and Matsui brought something to the table that they didn’t.

“[The Yankees] haven’t won since and that’s the shame of it, because Matsui and I, you never had to change the lineup,” Damon said. “With a right-hander or left-hander, the lineup was the same the entire time. … [Gardner and Granderson] hit one and two against a right-hander, and with a left-hander they’ll hit six and nine, or one would play and one wouldn’t. So, your lineup changes every single day. I’ll tell you, that’s super hard as a player. Even though the baseball nerds, sabermetric guys, they think it shouldn’t matter, but it matters a lot.”

While Damon certainly had his criticism for the Yankees, he certainly sounded to prefer his time in New York compared to Boston when he helped the Red Sox overcome the Curse of the Bambino by leading them to the World Series in 2004.

“I tell people Boston is like an ex-girlfriend where you wish them well and you loved being a part of it, but you know what, you move on, your life gets great, you marry your trophy wife and you have six more kids,” Damon said. “That’s what New York was for me. I appreacited everything with Boston, and I feel for them. I feel for the fans because even now, they just got rid of their best player, Mookie Betts. It always happens for Boston. Yankee players aren’t necessarily leaving if they don’t have to. Yankee players are going to stay, but Boston – when I came over to New York in 2006, there were only six guys left from the 2004 Red Sox team. … They always look at me and say ‘How could you? How could you?’ Well, all my guys are gone.”