A recent feature in the New York Times about Yankees OF Johnny Damon made headlines all over the Net because it appears likely that Damon has a good chance to remain a New York Yankee beyond 2009.
However, one section of the piece really stood out to me and made me think...is Johnny Damon a Hall-of-Famer?
"Damon has fewer steals this season, just eight, because he usually bats second instead of first. But he still makes a difference with his speed, part of a set of skills that is rare in baseball history.
Only three players have matched Damon’s career totals for hits (2,389), runs (1,459), stolen bases (370), doubles (443), homers (205), runs batted in (981) and batting average (.289). They are the Hall-of-Famer Paul Molitor and Roberto Alomar and Barry Bonds, who are not yet eligible for Cooperstown.
Damon has only one season with 200 hits—for Kansas City in 2000—but he has an outside chance at 3,000 for his career. He is 10th in hits among active players, but only two players ahead of him are younger: his teammates Jeter (2,688) and Rodriguez (2,483).
Damon, who has four children, said he would like to play three or four more years before retiring to help his 10-year-old son, Jackson, concentrate on baseball. Whether or not he reaches 3,000 hits, Damon said his other numbers could get him to the Hall-of-Fame, anyway. He would like to keep compiling while playing for the Yankees."
But in order to dive deeper into Johnny Damon's Hall-of-Fame candidacy, I decided to fill out a mini Keltner List.
1. Was he ever regarded as the best player in baseball? Did anybody, while he was active, ever suggest that he was the best player in baseball?
No. Damon was always a very good player, but he was never that caliber of a player.
2. Was he the best player on his team?
No. Even though Damon played for some terrible teams in Kansas City, I can't say that he was the best player on any of those teams. Damon has been a very good player for both the Red Sox and the Yankees, but he's never been the best player on either team.
3. Was he the best player in baseball at his position? Was he the best player in the league at his position?
No. Once again, Damon has always been a very good player, but I can't say that he was the best player at his position. There have always been a handful of guys that I considered to be better ball players than Damon.
4. Did he have an impact on a number of pennant races?
Yes. Damon played a big role in the 2004 World Series Champion Red Sox, especially with his Game Seven home run off of Javier Vazquez. But we have to remember how much Damon struggled in the 2003 and 2004 ALCS, when the Red Sox needed him most.
5. Was he a good enough player that he could continue to play regularly after passing his prime?
I guess at 35-years-old, Damon should be considered "past his prime." However, Damon's performance suggests that he is not past his prime...yet.
6. Is he the very best player in baseball history who is not in the Hall-of-Fame?
7. Are most players who have comparable career statistics in the Hall-of-Fame?
Here are list of players, who are comparable to Damon's stats through age 34, according to Baseball Reference:
- Cesar Cedeno (897)
- Willie Davis (889)
- Tim Raines (868)
- Pete Rose (866)
- Buddy Bell (859)
- Lou Brock (855) *
- Vada Pinson (852)
- Al Oliver (849)
- Sherry Magee (841)
- Keith Hernandez (840)
Any list with Pete Rose, Tim Raines, Lou Brock and Keith Hernandez is pretty good in my eyes. However, that list does not really help us determine if Damon belongs in the HOF.
8. Do the player's numbers meet Hall-of-Fame standards?
Right now, no. But if Damon is able to get 3,000 hits, then he'll have a very strong argument for the Hall. Another World Series championship or two can only help Damon's candidacy, as well.
9. Is there any evidence to suggest that the player was significantly better or worse than is suggested by his statistics?
10. Is he the best player at his position who is eligible for the Hall-of-Fame, but not in?
11. How many MVP-type seasons did he have? Did he ever win an MVP award? If not, how many times was he close?
Damon has never won an MVP award and as never come close to winning one. The closest Damon has come to winning the award is 13th in 2005. There have been several seasons in Damon's career that we could say were All-Star worthy, but there isn't one that sticks out as "MVP caliber."
12. How many All-Star-type seasons did he have? How many All-Star Games did he play in? Did most of the other players who played in this many go to the Hall-of-Fame?
Damon has played in two All-Star Games, so far. Most Hall-of-Famers have been to more All-Star Games than Damon.
13. If this man were the best player on his team, would it be likely that the team could win the pennant?
I would have to say no. The closest Damon ever was to being the best player on his team was during his tenure with the Royals, and those teams were absolutely horrible.
14. What impact did the player have on baseball history? Was he responsible for any rule changes? Did he introduce any new equipment? Did he change the game in any way?
Damon's biggest impact in baseball was breaking the curse with the 2004 Red Sox. My generation will remember Damon as the guy on the Red Sox, who looked like Jesus patrolling center field.
15. Did the player uphold the standards of sportsmanship and character that the Hall-of-Fame, in its written guidelines, instructs us to consider?
Yes, by all accounts, Damon has been a great guy and a very good teammate over the course of his career. Does that help his HOF candidacy? Probably not.
So in conclusion, is Johnny Damon worthy of the HOF?
Right now, not in my eyes. Damon has a very realistic chance to get 3,000 hits in the next few years (2,391 hits right now), which should all but guarantee his entry into the HOF, even if he was never a "great player."
In my opinion, Damon is not even a borderline HOF at this point, even though his performance has been consistently good over the course of his career.
What do you think? Is Johnny Damon a Hall-of-Famer?