The visual embodiment of 2004’s Idiots, if not their spiritual leader, Johnny Damon was one of the best free agents the Red Sox ever signed when they inked him to a four-year, $31 million deal in the winter of 2001. Damon became the Red Sox leadoff hitter and center fielder and one of the best in the league at both during his Boston years.
In his four seasons with the Red Sox, Damon hit .295 with 56 home runs, 299 RBI, 98 stolen bases, a .362 OBP, and 461 runs scored. His finest season came during the historic 2004 campaign when he hit .304 with 20 home runs, 94 RBI, a .380 OBP, and 123 runs scored.
He hit a torrid .467 in the 2004 ALDS and while he struggled in the ALCS, he will forever be remembered for his two monster hits in the clinching game seven at Yankee Stadium. He hit a grand slam and a three-run homer to help the Red Sox complete their historic comeback and win the pennant. He carried that into the World Series where he hit .286 with a home run and two RBI.
With his long hair and beard, Damon was nicknamed “the Caveman” and became a fan favorite. During the 2005 season as he approached free agency he stated in an interview that “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.”
However, at the end of the season he spurned the Red Sox three-year contract offer to take the Yankees offer which was for four years and $52 million. Almost immediately he went from fan favorite to villain, but time has healed those wounds and there’s no question that Damon was an essential component of the 2004 team and thus a great signing.