Johnny Damon: The Hall Of Fame Case

Johnny Damon Was Better Then You Remember.

CC Sabathia & Friends Celebrity Softball Game
CC Sabathia & Friends Celebrity Softball Game / Cassidy Sparrow/GettyImages

It’s Hall of Fame season. Congratulations to Adrian Beltre, Todd Helton, and Joe Mauer on their inductions. Today, though, I want to talk about one Hall of Fame snub: Johnny Damon.

In Damon’s 18-year career, he totaled 2,769 hits and 408 stolen bases. Yet, in his first year of eligibility in 2017, Damon only got 1.9% of the votes and fell off the ballot. Damon believes he had a Hall of Fame career, so let’s look at his case.

According to Baseball Reference, Damon amassed 56.3 WAR in his career. WAR is by no means a perfect metric, but 56.3 is awfully good. Most Hall of Famers fall between 50 and 70 WAR. Through WAR alone, it looks like Damon has a decent case. Another stat to be considered with the Hall of Fame is called JAWS and was invented by Jay Jaffe. This stat is an average of a player’s career WAR and their 7-year peak WAR. Johnny Damon has a JAWS of 44.6. That’s the 23rd highest JAWS ever for a center fielder. To put it in perspective, Willie Mays has the highest center field JAWS at 114.8. Damon is surrounded on the list by three Hall of Famers. He’s one spot behind Earl Averill, one ahead of Max Carey, and two ahead of Kirby Puckett. That’s good company and warrants Hall of Fame consideration.

His old school stats are good, too. He had a career slash line of .284/.352/.433. He hit 235 home runs,
scored 1,668 times, and drove in 1,139. All excellent numbers, but this may be where Damon’s Hall of
Fame case got tripped up. He has nice counting stats, but never hit any of the magic numbers. 3,000 hits will get almost anyone into the Hall of Fame. 2,769 just isn’t a memorable number. 408 stolen bases puts him 68th on the all time list. When you consider how many people have played professional baseball, 68 is a great number, but it doesn’t pop.

Another thing working against him may be the "fame" part of Hall of Fame. Damon was beloved in the
cities he played in, but wasn’t necessarily known by the wider world. He only got two All-Star nods. He did get MVP votes in four seasons, but he never won the award. There were no Gold Gloves or Silver Sluggers in his trophy case. There were no batting titles. He did lead the league in stolen bases once, but that was in 2000, long after people stopped caring about stolen bases.

His intangibles are off the charts great, though. He was always a clubhouse leader. His energy sparked the 2004 Red Sox to a World Series title, their first in 86 years. He was a huge factor in breaking the Curse of the Bambino. He was also a leader on the 2009 Yankees for their title run. In his two World Series appearances, he had an OPS of .904. It’s just sad that Johnny Damon never got serious Hall of Fame consideration. He might not have been a no-doubt, slam dunk, first ballot hall of famer, but his candidacy should have lasted longer than one ballot. He was a better player than a lot of the players in the Hall of Fame.