Johnny Damon: Underrated or Forgettable Star?

Much of the focus this past week was devoted to Derek Jeter, who homered off of David Price on Saturday to become just the 28th player in major league history to record 3,000 hits. The attention was well deserved, as this was a monumental feat worthy of celebration. When the on-field festivities subsided, however, I couldn’t help but hearken to an earlier article about milestones that buck the Hall of Fame tradition.

No, this has nothing to do with Jeter, who was a first ballot Hall of Famer even if he ended his career at 2,999 like Stan Ross, but rather a current member of the Rays who was in attendance this weekend: Johnny Damon.

Damon has 92 hits this season and is projected to finish with 155, putting him right in line with his totals over the last several seasons. Finishing with 155 hits would also push his career tally to 2,726. Assuming he falls somewhere in the vicinity of that projection, wouldn’t it seem like the 37-year old Damon is a virtual lock for 3,000 hits? He would have to decide to stick around for at least another two seasons, and find an American League team in need of a designated hitter and occasional left fielder, but neither of those caveats seems far-fetched.

Damon has averaged around 150 hits/yr since 2007. With 2,726 entering next season, he would only need to average 137 hits for two seasons, or 91 hits for three seasons. Sure, injuries could derail his pursuit, but I find it difficult to argue that he couldn’t average 90-100 hits from 2012-14, hanging up his cleats as the 30th member of the 3,000 hits club (Alex Rodriguez will get there sooner).

If he gets to that plateau, either his induction into the Hall of Fame becomes automatic, or the milestone itself is cheapened. Given that he would be the 30th person ever to achieve what is considered to be a holy grail of baseball accomplishments, the former scenario seems much more likely than the latter. Yet, Damon has never felt like a Hall of Fame player. He has barely even felt like a superstar. How is it possible that someone with a high probability of getting 3,000+ hits in his career, who won’t have played 25+ seasons like, say, Nolan Ryan or Jamie Moyer, has had such a relatively forgettable career?

Back in April, Matt Klaasen wrote of Damon’s chances of getting into Cooperstown, calling them slim on the basis that he was outperformed by Andre Dawson both in career and peak wins above replacement. You might recall that, while Dawson’s induction wasn’t as criticized as that of Jim Rice, it was still much debatable.

The numbers between Dawson and Damon aren’t even close, and they still won’t be if Damon plays three more seasons and gets his 3,000th hit. Dawson finished with 62.3 WAR while Damon currently stands at 45.5. Add another six wins above replacement from here until the end of the 2014 season and there is still a rather large difference between the two. Obviously having 3,000 hits gives Damon a huge advantage, but the point remains that his candidacy is likely to come under scrutiny even with one of the rarest career accomplishments in baseball under his belt. Of everyone with 3,000 hits, he would have the worst career numbers, and his resume sans milestone pales in comparison to others at his position.

On the other side of the spectrum, he will finish his career with some solid counting stats. He will likely end up with totals around 250 HR, 400 SB, 1,900 runs, 1,200 RBIs. Damon is the perfect example of someone who has been good for a long time, but never truly great. His decline phase has seen him range from 2.4-3.7 WAR, and in his peak he vacillated between below average and all-star levels. His career has been impressive on the whole, but without the milestone his candidacy is barely worthy of a debate. The milestone itself shouldn”t trigger the election, but it’s also rare for someone to achieve an historic career feat and not have a somewhat worthy body of work.

My prior article on milestones that might not automatically trigger a Hall of Fame election was framed around the likelihood that Paul Konerko reaches 500 home runs. But HR-centric milestones have been cheapened in perception lately given the steroids cloud that looms over the game. Achieving 3,000 hits isn’t generally associated with performance enhancing drugs so one could reason that it is the most impressive career hitting accomplishment.

If Damon sustains his current pace and finds work — which will be easy if he does sustain his current pace — 3,000 hits is much in play, and it will be interesting to see how that narrative plays out. Then again, players his age can fall off of a cliff rather quickly, and a few months of poor production could lead teams to shy away from giving him major league offers, especially with his defensive limitations.

Johnny Damon has had a good career, but not one worthy of a Hall of Fame induction. It will be absolutely fascinating to follow his candidacy if he reaches 3,000 hits.

We hoped you liked reading Johnny Damon: Underrated or Forgettable Star? by Eric Seidman!

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Eric is an accountant and statistical analyst from Philadelphia. He also covers the Phillies at Phillies Nation and can be found here on Twitter.

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zsmyles
Member

i think for this generation of players especially, it’ll take more than shear numbers to get elected. You’re right that Damon doesn’t have the glamour of a HOF player and I don’t think I’d vote him in either, even with 3,000 hits (if he makes it). He’d make it to the ‘Hall of Pretty Good’ though

Remy
Guest
Remy

I’ve recently become somewhat agnostic about what qualifies for the HOF, but one thing I’ve disallowed over the last few years is this “Hall of Pretty Good” comment. It isn’t the Hall of Great either, it’s the Hall of Fame and the last time I checked Paris Hilton is famous and her stats are terrible.

I’m not saying Damon should be in, but I am reevaluating what it means to make the Hall.

Theodore
Guest
Theodore

Wat.

Paris Hilton???

jim
Guest
jim

paris hilton is full of grit and knows what it takes to win, all your ‘sabremetrics’ be damned!

JimNYC
Guest
JimNYC

One thing that nobody seems to bring up about Damon whenever this 3000 hits discussion comes up is that he is a truly “famous” player, and it is, after all, the Hall of “Fame.” Dizzy Dean barely managed to scrape in on the 10 year career minimum, and he really only had three or four truly great years, but, at his peak, he was probably the most “famous” pitcher of all time — hence the induction.

Johnny Damon’s long hair and beard and grand slam in Game 7 of the 2004 ALCS are some of the most memorable things about the Red Sox team that broke the curse. He was an integral part of World Series champions on the two teams that are the most “famous” in baseball. Little old ladies in Connecticut who have never heard of Albert Pujols know who Johnny Damon is.

He would be, by far, the worst member of the 3000 hit club — even Lou Brock is worlds ahead of him. But as far as “fame” and name recognition go (even accounting for era), he’s far more memorable than far better 3000 hit men Robin Yount, Craig Biggio, Paul Molitor, Dave Winfield, or Eddie Murray. And that can go a long way in getting you into the Hall of Fame.

Jason B
Guest
Jason B

“And that can go a long way in getting you into the Hall of Fame.”

Let’s hope not – otherwise we *definitely* need to make room for Canseco, probably guys like Bernie Williams and Chuckie Knoblauch (so many rings! and yankees no less!), Eddie Gaedel, etc.

TK
Guest
TK

I mean, seriously, if this is the best argument for his induction, he obviously doesn’t deserve it.

And I’d beg to differ that any of those players are less memorable to a casual baseball fan than Damon. I’m not sure who the Hall of Fame is for, but I’m pretty sure it’s not for little old Ladies in Connecticut who think Johnny Damon has a cute ass.