Locks, stock and barrel: He's a Yankee
Freshly coiffed Damon 'ready to run through walls' for team
NEW YORK -- Yankees fans got an early holiday gift on Friday, as Johnny Damon slipped on his No. 18 pinstriped jersey for the first time.Damon was officially introduced as the Yankees' new center fielder at a Yankee Stadium press conference, as the former face of the Red Sox swapped in his "Idiot" look for a Yankees hat, which sat atop his nicely trimmed hair and clean-shaven face. "This is a very exciting day for me," said Damon, who signed a four-year, $52 million contract. "This team really wanted me, and I'm ready to run through walls for them." Accompanied by his wife, Michelle, Damon sat at the front of the Stadium Club alongside his new manager, Joe Torre, and general manager, Brian Cashman. Also present were team president Randy Levine, COO Lonn Trost, bench coach Lee Mazzilli and Damon's agent, Scott Boras. "He looks like a Yankee, he sounds like a Yankee and he is a Yankee," George Steinbrenner said through his spokesman, Howard Rubenstein. "Welcome." "I never envisioned this," Torre said. "You can dream about it, you can hope it would happen, but especially coming here from the Red Sox after what he established there, I didn't see that happening."
Cashman presented Michelle with 18 roses, representing Damon's uniform number, as cameras flashed for what seemed like an hour."First of all, what do you guys think?" Damon said, looking at the cameras while stroking his chin. "Keep on snapping away." Damon will be the Yankees' new leadoff hitter, setting the table for Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Jason Giambi, Gary Sheffield and Hideki Matsui. Once Damon settled into his new uniform, he spoke about his move from Boston to New York with a smile plastered on his face. "To be a part of this lineup, you can only dream about it," Damon said. "Joe has to fill out the lineup, but when you have guys like Bernie Williams or Jorge Posada at the bottom of the lineup, that's pretty good." "It's really huge for me," Torre said. "You don't want to see him come up to hit, because even if you make good pitches, he can get jammed and hit a little ground ball, then beat it out. He keeps a defense on its toes and keeps a pitcher from getting too comfortable."
Unlike some of the players the Yankees have brought to the Bronx, there is little fear that Damon will have trouble adapting to the high-pressure atmosphere that comes with wearing the Yankees uniform."I've dealt with pressure. Boston is a tough place to play, and I know New York is," Damon said. "But I think the type of person I am and the attitude I have, the free spirit, the confidence that I have, I believe I can fit into New York perfect." "He's been with the Red Sox," Torre said, "so I think he's already cut his teeth on the rivalry and the ability to play under pressure." Damon will become the first player other than Williams to roam center field on a regular basis for the Yankees in more than 12 years. "I don't think you could have picked a better person to follow Bernie in that situation," Torre said. "He's going to be who he is. He's not trying to get people to forget about Bernie; he's just going to be Johnny Damon." Torre, who spoke with Damon last week, was one of several Yankees to reach out to the free agent. Damon also spoke with A-Rod and Giambi, and has heard from Jeter and Posada in the past few days. For Torre, Damon's work ethic will allow him to fit in immediately in his new surroundings. "Whether you're 0-for-4 or losing by 10 runs, he plays his [butt] off," the manager said. "He just plays hard and runs hard all the time. That's one thing I've noticed, and to me, that tells me he's pretty proud of what he does." While his contract was certainly worth discussing, it was Damon's shorter hair and clean-shaven face that attracted much of the attention on Friday. Michelle Damon, who started looking for apartments in Manhattan on Thursday, said she was happy to see her husband adapt to the Yankees policy. "He looks good both ways," she said. "I prefer him with not as much hair on his face, so I think he looks really good." Although his caveman look is a thing of the past, Damon will be expected to bring the same attitude he has always had with him to New York. No, he won't be growing any beards, but the Yankees anticipate him making their clubhouse a more relaxed place. "I want the Johnny Damon that is fun-loving, keeps people loose, is a positive-attitude guy both on and off the field, in the clubhouse, and when he shows up for work, he has an infectious impact on the other guys," Cashman said. "I don't want him to tone that down at all. I want the real guy." "He can be himself," added Torre. "There are only certain things we do here, and they're easy rules to live by. It's how you represent the uniform you wear. He's always had a great deal of respect for the game." Damon cited his desire to win as the primary reason for his move, though he admitted that he was taken aback by Boston's lack of aggressiveness when it came to re-signing him. That said, he's a Yankee now, and he seems ready to do whatever it takes to help bring the World Series title back to New York for the first time since 2000. "We have a lot of key components already here," Damon said. "I'm not coming in here as a savior; I'm a piece of the puzzle."
Mark Feinsand is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.