Unlike generals, old ballplayers don’t fade away. They keep on coming back for as long as they can. And you can’t blame them. The job as professional baseball player is rivaled by few others in our society for glamor, fun, and moneymaking. So Johnny Damon has a new team and Andy Pettitte is inching closer to becoming part of his old team.
And we shouldn’t overlook Hideki Matsui (lifetime average .285), recently signed to a minor league contract by the Tampa Bay Rays, and Vladimir Guerrero, getting a look-see from the Arizona Diamondbacks. All of these guys are closer to AARP membership than their rookie days, but depending on what they have left the teams giving them a shot are giving them that shot because of a need.
Damon has been waiting for his cell phone to ring since spring training began. Now he is working his way back into shape to possibly give the Indians an offensive boost. The Indians have been bottom-of-the-American League Central in recent years, but have started out over .500 for the season’s first month. The division is not looking so formidable and so Cleveland believes it’s worth seeing what the 38-year-old Damon has left. Last season he batted .261 with 16 homers and 73 RBIs for the Rays. If he can duplicate that production for the Indians for $1.25-million Cleveland will probably be satisfied.
Based on Damon’s 2011 efforts I thought he would have found an outfield job before this. He can DH in the American League and if he has retained enough speed he can still be disruptive on the basepaths. Damon is also within 277 hits of 3,000, though at the rate his playing time is diminishing that wouldn’t be an issue for a couple of more years.
I’m thinking Damon should be a pretty good investment for the Indians if he stays healthy.
It’s still hard to know just what to make of the Andy Pettitte comeback trail. The southpaw talked about retirement for a couple of years, finally retired, spent one year on the sidelines, and decided to return. He had 240 wins in 16 years of pitching going into last year’s vacation. Pettitte didn’t seem like a candidate for a quick-turnaround retirement, but here he is trying to work himself back into big-league form.
No one can say that Pettitte was rushed back. In mid-April he appeared in a game for Tampa. That would be Tampa in the Class A Florida State League, not Tampa of the American League. He pitched three innings and threw 26 of his 32 pitches for strikes. Don’t know what that tells us since that league is basically filled with players fresh out of college. The next time out the 39-year-old Pettitte threw four shutout innings. So he’s still King of the Florida State League.
It’s sounding as if the Yankees are getting closer to putting Pettitte on the Major League roster. Manager Joe Girardi said recently that he won’t let the looming likelihood of Pettitte being called as a witness in the Roger Clemens ongoing drugs/perjury/Congress/steriods whatever trial play a role in a Pettitte call-up date. Freddy Garcia being saddled with a 12.51 earned run average and Michael Pineda being ruled out for the year because of a shoulder tear, certainly creates opportunity for Pettitte in the pitching rotation.
Can he be the Andy of old? Stay tuned. It’s a maybe.
One would think Matsui had enough left in his aging (37) body to find a spot on a Major League roster and Tampa could be his home. If that doesn’t work out his next diamond appearance could be for the Nippon Ham Fighters. If he wanted to, I bet Matsui could still make a living playing in Japan.
As for Guerrero, it doesn’t make much sense for him to try out with a National League team. I always thought of him as a guy who could spring out of bed and hit at 3 a.m. without a warm-up, but no one pretends he can cover much outfield ground at 37. If he’s going to play again it will be as a designated hitter for an American League team that needs a bat.
The best bets in this group to achieve something notable this season are Damon and Pettitte, both of whom will at least get chances to play. But it won’t be a shock if all four of them strike out.