On Oct. 20, 2004, I saw Johnny Damon tear Yankees fans' hearts out. Considering the '04 American League Championship Series is probably the most famous LCS of the past 25 years (its only major competition was the '03 NLCS, and that one doesn't seem quite as historic after what the Cubs just did), you probably remember what I'm talking about.
I'm talking about this.
Up until that point, you still could believe that the Yankees were going to win that series. Sure, they'd blown their 3-0 lead, but they were still at home, still had Mariano Rivera and still were, you know, the Yankees. Like with the Cubs this year, you would believe that the Red Sox would take out the Yankees when, and only when, you physically saw it. But when Damon hit that home run, you couldn't pretend anymore. The Red Sox were doing this.
And Damon, of all people, seemed to represent the Red Sox in a way that stood diametrically opposed to the Yankees. The self-proclaimed "idiot" had long scraggly hair, a lumberjack's beard and a penchant for staying out all night rocking out with Bronson Arroyo. It was one thing for the Yankees to lose to the Sox. But it was quite another for the buttoned-up, all-business, No Sideburns, Gentlemen New York Yankees to lose to a bunch of mountain men. That Damon -- who of course appealed in large part to Boston fans because he was so un-Yankee-like -- would deliver the final crushing blow was the unkindest cut of all. He was everything that Yankees fans despised.
Until, of course, they signed him to a $52 million deal one year later.
Not only did they do that, but they made a big public deal of showing Damon shaving his trademark beard and getting his long hair cut. They made everyone watch it! It was on the cover of the Daily News! And Damon just sat there and smiled, a $52 million grin on his face.
And Yankees fans couldn't wait to have him play for their team. They were right to: He was excellent for them for four years, even helping them win a World Series in 2009. Yankees fans have nothing but good thoughts about Damon. And so do Red Sox fans. It's funny how that works. When you are a productive baseball player for a team, those teams' fans don't really care about anything else. Production is always all that matters … even if you were once booed and despised.
I couldn't help but think about Damon yesterday when I read about Orioles general manager Dan Duquette's remarks regarding free agent Jose Bautista. When asked on a local radio program about whether or not the Orioles would have any interest in signing Bautista to fill their open DH/1B spot, Duquette said, "We told [Bautista's] agent that we are not interested because our fans don't like him. Our fans don't like Jose Bautista, with good reason."
This is honestly one of the funniest things I've ever heard a GM say. I think I love it. I'm not sure how Orioles fans feel about Bautista, but I am quite sure I know how Duquette feels about Bautista. That "with good reason" just kills me. Duquette not only wants it known that he believes Orioles fans hate Bautista, he wants to make it clear that they are right to do so. That's amazing. More general managers should encourage their fans to despise opposing players. Let's go all the way with this and start having GMs start passing out note cards to fans with a list of ways to mock various opposing players like the student section at a college basketball game. "Too fat." "Has a weird nose." "Gassy."
(Also, the best part: Bautista's agent says he's hasn't talked to Duquette about Bautista. See, there are some upsides to a post-fact world!)
Duquette probably isn't wrong, though: Orioles fans do probably dislike Bautista. He has openly feuded with various Orioles players, most notably Adam Jones, perhaps the most beloved Oriole of them all. He has played 19 hotly contested divisional games each year against the Orioles, and I bet he gets booed every time he comes to the plate. Duquette probably did himself some good with that fan base, and, for that matter, Jones: It never hurts to toss out some red meat to the crowd. Ripping on Bautista will never cost any Maryland politician any votes.
I bet if the Orioles did sign Bautista, though, the fans would get over it if he hit the ball. Bautista might be one of the more unpopular players in baseball -- I don't see the Rangers signing him any time soon either, though I'd totally watch a sitcom starring Bautista and Rougned Odor as roommates on the road -- and I'm sure if he signs with another team, Blue Jays fans will get irritated if he bat flips after hitting a home run against them, too. (And you know he will. The first homer Bautista hits off the Blue Jays is going to send that bat into orbit.) But when he's playing for your team, and flipping that bat when he's hit a home run for you, you will love him.
Exhibit A for this has to be John Lackey. He is one of those guys, when he's pitching against your team, who causes you to start throwing things at your television. When he pitched for the Angels and Red Sox, I couldn't stand Lackey. And when he wasn't pitching well or was injured, Boston fans couldn't stand him either. Boston Globe beat writer Pete Abraham wrote in 2013, "to fans, John Lackey is the most unpopular player on the Red Sox. There is no second place; that's how much of a landslide it is." Then he went out and helped them win a World Series, and they loved him in Boston again. I still snarled when I saw the guy. That is, until the Red Sox traded him to my Cardinals, when all his faults suddenly became virtues in my eyes. He's not a jerk … he's a competitor! And Red Sox got back to their natural state of Lackey dislike again. Then the Cubs -- whose fans hated Lackey when he was with the Cardinals -- signed him, and we Cardinals fans started hating him again. All is not forgiven. But when a jerk's on your team, all is easily forgotten.
The Orioles aren't going to sign Bautista. Though it's worth noting that Duquette, amusingly, kept the door open, saying, "Of course, that may change. But the [qualifying offer] makes things difficult." Even Duquette, while bashing Bautista, acknowledges that he might come back around if the price was right. Orioles fans would absolutely cheer for Bautista if he signed with them, until he signed with another team, in which case they'd return to booing him again. We hate jerks. Unless they are our jerks. This is inconsistent and hypocritical and, all told, probably healthy and just and right.