Johnny Damon has been a fantastic baseball player.
One might compare him to Derek Jeter. Or one might describe him as "the Greg Maddux of position players".*
* In fact, Scott Boras, who coincidentally is Johnny Damon's agent, has done both of those things.
So while Damon's new job with the Cleveland Indians will necessarily delay his inevitable Hall of Fame enshrinement, at some point the good people in Cooperstown will be forced to answer this sticky question ...
When Damon's plaque is mounted on the wall in the Hall of Fame, which team's hat will he be wearing?
Damon began his professional career with the Kansas City Royals, and spent his first seven major-league seasons with the club. But he was good in only three of those seasons. As a Royal, Damon's hitting stats were dead on the league average. His running and his fielding made him a better-than-average player, to be sure. But those first seven seasons aren't what's getting him into the Hall of Fame.
Damon's next stop was brief: one season (2001) with the Athletics. He did bat .409 in the A's Division Series against the Yankees, but overall it was one of Damon's worst seasons, its only real legacy probably a few lines recited by Jonah Hill in a parking garage.
Next stop: Fenway Park, thanks to a four-year, $31-million contract with Boston's Red Sox. A two-time All-Star with the Sox, Damon also picked up a couple of nicknames: "Caveman" (because of this) and "Jesus" (because of this). In Game 7 of that year's American League Championship Series, Damon put the Sox ahead of the Yankees 6-0 with a grand slam in the second inning, and sealed the deal with a two-run shot in the fourth. And Damon led off Game 4 of the World Series with a home run, giving the Sox a lead they wouldn't give up on their way to winning that game and completing their Series sweep.
In May, 2005, while still playing for the Red Sox, Damon said, "There's no way I can go play for the Yankees, but I know they're going to come after me hard. It's definitely not the most important thing to go out there for the top dollar, which the Yankees are going to offer me. It's not what I need."
Seven months later, Damon signed a four-year, $52-million contract with the New York Yankees. His performance with the Yankees roughly matched his performance with the Red Sox, but perhaps without the signature moments (and certainly without the distinctive look).
When Damon's contract expired, the Yankees wanted him back. He wouldn't play for them for less than $13 million per season, though. Which is how he came to play for the Tigers for one season, and $8 million. And then for the Rays for one season (2012), and $5.25 million. Damon did open the Rays' unbelievable six-run rally -- in Game 162 last season -- with a bloop single, but it's difficult to think of a single moment during Damon's tenures with the Tigers or Rays.
So that's six teams, and not yet an obvious candidate for Damon's (or Cooperstown's) cap of choice.
Fortunately, we've got a late contender.
The Cleveland Indians. Johnny Damon's seventh and probably last team.
Damon has 2,723 hits. Once he joins the big club, probably in the middle of the May, he's going to take over in left field and propel the Indians to an American League Central title over the defense-starved Tigers. Damon will blaze through October, topping his month with a World Series-clinching home run in Game 6.
The Indians, grateful for all that Damon's done for him, will sign him to a two-year contract, and he'll collect his 3,000th hit while wearing Chief Wahoo on the 13th of June in 2013.
Despite the pleadings of Cleveland's good citizens, Damon will retire after that season, and will be elected -- along with fellow Indians icon Omar Vizquel -- to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2019. Wearing an Indians cap, for all the obvious reasons.