Johnny be good in Detroit, blocks Sox
Damon uses no-trade clause to veto Boston's waiver claim
DETROIT -- Johnny Damon isn't going. It's the way he felt when he first learned that the Red Sox had put in a waiver claim on him, and it was the way he felt after talking with Tigers officials on Tuesday.
Thus, the veteran outfielder told the Tigers he wouldn't waive his no-trade clause to clear a deal to Boston.
"I knew this was going to be the decision," Damon said on Tuesday afternoon, "but I just wanted to be 100 percent sure this is the right thing for me."
Damon had until Wednesday at 1:30 p.m. ET to decide, 48 hours after the Red Sox made their claim, but he said he didn't need any more time to decide after talking with his Tigers teammates.
"My heart all along has been with these players here," Damon said. "I've been saying all year long that Miguel Cabrera is the best hitter I've ever saw. I want to make sure I see it for a whole year. I want to see see Austin Jackson get his Rookie of the Year trophy. I want to see this team keep growing.
"We've been playing all right lately. I've never liked to quit on anything, and I'm not going to take the easy road out and say goodbye. I love Detroit, love the fans, and I know I've let people know that plenty of times."
Damon said he talked with his teammates, who were supportive in their desire to have him around for the rest of the way. He also talked with Tigers president/general manager Dave Dombrowski, assistant GM Al Avila and manager Jim Leyland, all of whom said the decision was up to him and how he felt about it. They did not pressure him to accept a deal.
"I had a very nice conversation with him this afternoon," Leyland said, "and basically I told him, 'Forget everything. ... Let your heart tell you what to do.' Obviously his heart told him that he wanted to stay, and I'm flattered. It's an honor."
Damon's heart told him all along that he was better off staying in Detroit. When he said Monday night he was leaning towards declining a deal, he said the one thing that might change his mind would be if the Tigers didn't plan on playing him regularly down the stretch.
His conversation with Leyland assured him he'd still be playing often. Though rosters can expand in September, injuries have all but depleted Detroit's prospect depth for this season. Just-recalled outfield prospect Casper Wells will get some playing time, Leyland said, but Damon will have the same amount of playing time that he always has.
"Is he going to play here the rest of the season? Yes, he's going to play," Leyland said. "Is he going to play every game? No. He hasn't played every game up to this point. Am I going to sit Johnny Damon on the bench and forget about him? No, he's going to play a lot. Am I going to look at a kid once in a while and give him a day? Yeah. It's that simple."
That's good enough for Damon.
"I understand that, heading into September, certain guys are going to be playing, and so am I," Damon said. "I understand the process. We're trying to make a push up right now. They do plan on playing me. How much, it remains to be seen. Guys get super hot, and we have to use the super-hot guys. But even when I'm not hot, I bring something to the table. They pitch me differently than most guys. The presence in the lineup is key."
The Tigers placed Damon on waivers last week. Though the Red Sox claimed him Monday afternoon, Dombrowski said they never had serious discussions toward a deal. They would have only stepped up their talks had Damon given his consent.
"The first decision was, would he be willing to go," Dombrowski said. "There's no sense going through that with the other club until [you know that]."
With no deal struck, the Tigers will now pull Damon off waivers. By rule, Dombrowski said, they cannot place him back on waivers within the same 30-day period. For all practical purposes, that means they will not be able to trade him the rest of the season.
Damon said he talked with former Red Sox teammate David Ortiz and traded text messages with Jason Varitek, both of whom tried to lobby him to accept the deal.
"I would've loved to have gone back and played with Big Papi and Varitek," Damon said, "but that time has come and passed."
Damon said he felt more duty toward his current teammates.
"I chose to be with this team," he said. "We started in the trenches together in Spring Training, and I think it sends the wrong message to say, 'Well, here's an opportunity to jump ship.' I'm not going to do it, not to these guys. We've learned a lot about each other. We've worked too hard, and we're going to try to make as strong of a push as we can."
Damon's current teammates were pleased to have him stick around for the stretch run.
"That means a lot to this team," said rookie center fielder Austin Jackson, who has benefited a lot from Damon's help. "It shows a lot about him. I think he's comfortable with this team. He's given a lot of guys like myself, a lot of other rookies, a lot of confidence when we're kind of down. He means a lot to this team."
Damon said he received no assurances that the Tigers will re-sign him this winter, when he becomes a free agent. He indicated the Tigers told him it was too soon to decide that, a point Dombrowski confirmed Monday night.
"I like wearing the Old English 'D'," he said, "and I hope to again. I can't say it enough."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.