Idiot: Beating "The Curse" and Enjoying the Game of Life

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9780307237736: Idiot: Beating

Dear Baseball Fan:

I know what you’re thinking: Couldn’t he have come up with a better title?

My mother agrees with you, but unfortunately Genius just doesn’t have the same ring.

Let’s get something straight right away. I may be an idiot, but I’ve tried to do more in this book than just revisit the Red Sox’s Miracle Season.

I want to give you a sense of what it’s like to grow up with baseball dreams, to spend long years climbing the ladder, and then over the course of three years to see the building blocks of those dreams fall into place.

In this book, you’ll be reading about the son of an Army staff sergeant—a thrill-seeking Orlando kid who at age thirteen was gifted with a man’s body, including rare speed and reflexes. It was some straight talk from my brother that kept me from abandoning that talent, which led to my eventually catching on with the Kansas City Royals and later the Oakland A’s.

Starting in 2002 with the Red Sox, I got to see what can happen when a determined front office decides to roll the dice and acquire players who, like me, leave the thinking out of it—who trust their instincts and play team baseball.

Forget what you’ve read about the posse of long-haired rebels who eventually made up the 2004 Red Sox. I'll give you the straight dope, including who's got the biggest mouth (hint: his first name is Kevin); what Pedro Martinez was doing all those times when you couldn’t find him on the bench; what game David Ortiz should never play; and why I sometimes question Curt Schilling’s sanity. Memo to Curt: the statue of you is being erected.

What’s it like being responsible for the hopes of millions? In the fall of 2004 my teammates and I got to find out. What I’ve tried to do in these pages is bring you inside, show you the black humor that erupted when it seemed we could do nothing right, and the immense joy that followed when 25 guys took turns picking each other up, and by sheer force of will reached baseball’s summit.

Red Sox Nation (both natives and new arrivals), this one’s for you.

—Johnny Damon, #18

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About the Author:

Johnny Damon is in his eleventh year playing Major League baseball. A feared contact hitter and base stealer, Damon is only one of four players in baseball history to drive in more than 90 runs from the leadoff position. He lives with his wife, Michelle, in Central Florida and has a twin boy and girl.

Peter Golenbock has written numerous New York Times bestsellers, among them The Bronx Zoo with Sparky Lyle, #1 with Billy Martin, and Balls with Graig Nettles.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter 1: So Close, but So Far. October 2003

I was standing out in center field under the bright lights in Oakland. The Red Sox were playing the A’s, my old team, in the first round of the playoffs in the fall of 2003. Jermaine Dye, probably my best friend in baseball, hit a lazy fly ball my way. I remember thinking it was going to be an easy catch. I ran over to get it. Then I blacked out. Damian Jackson, our second baseman, had run out for the ball, and just as it came down, we both went for it and collided. His hard-ass head struck me in the temple, knocking me out cold for a few minutes. If you look at the replay, I fly into the air, and my whole body goes numb. One of my arms starts shaking. It was the hardest whack I ever got. When I was playing football in high school, Warren Sapp hit me pretty good but Damian Jackson’s head-on-head collision was definitely harder.

While I was on a stretcher being put into an ambulance, I gave a thumbs-up. When they carted me off the field, everyone thought I was okay, but I wasn’t. I’d suffered a bad concussion. My mind was scrambled. I actually thought I was wearing an Oakland uniform and that I was walking off the field waving to the Oakland fans, saying, “Thank you for supporting us this year.”

After the medics loaded me into the ambulance, they put some fluids in me and hooked me up to an IV. But as they were sticking it into my left arm—people think everyone’s right-handed—the ambulance hit a speed bump on the way out of the coliseum and the IV rammed into my veins. I ended up with a bruise from my wrist to my bicep that pained me for weeks.

When I arrived at the hospital, I asked one of the staff to turn on the TV, but I hardly remember anything about the game. Richard Halpern, a friend of mine from L.A., came to see me. He was wearing a shirt that said “Boston Red Sox vs. Oakland A’s, 2003 ALCS.” I kept looking at it thinking, “2003? When did Boston and Oakland play?” And I continued to think I was part of the Oakland A’s, who I’d been with in 2001. I remember thinking, What just happened to those two years? I had no clue.

My girlfriend Michelle, whom I’d later marry, was in the room, and I kept asking her, “Did we win? Did we win?”

“We won,” she kept assuring. “The team is going to New York.” But then a few minutes later I’d ask her, “Did we win? Did we win?”

I kept asking the same question over and over, 10 times, driving Michelle crazy. She told the doctor, “Every question he’s asking me, I’m answering the same way, but he’s not taking it in.”

That’s because my brain was scrambled. I knew what I was asking, but the answers I was receiving didn’t register. They say that when you suffer a serious concussion, you get thrown into a loop of questions. No matter how much your questions get answered, you don’t comprehend. That’s exactly what was happening here.

The doctors sent Michelle back to our hotel so she could take a nap. After she left, I kept asking for her. “Where is she? Tell her to get back up here.” When she returned, I figured she’d been away 10 minutes. But she’d taken a 2-hour nap before coming back.

When I was released from the hospital and returned to my hotel room, I kept asking, “What kind of game did I have? Was I doing good?” I really had no idea what had occurred that night. I didn’t know if I’d struck out four times or hit two home runs.

“You had a good game,” Michelle assured.

About five months later I got to watch a replay of the game. That was the game in which Derek Lowe finished off the A’s in the ninth by striking out the last two batters looking on two of the most hellacious pitches he’s ever thrown. It was a satisfying first-round win that had my teammates celebrating while I was lying in a hospital bed.

Hours after defeating Oakland, the Sox left for New York without me. Our head trainer, Jim Rowe, an incredible guy, made it his job to stay with me. He didn’t get to celebrate our advancing on to the next round of the playoffs, but he never complained.

The next morning one of our owners—I’m not exactly sure which owner—sent his private jet over to fly us into New York.

Before the series with the Yankees, the team doctors were debating whether to even put me on the roster because they knew how messed up I was. I went to Grady Little, our manager, and I said, “I can pinch hit if you need me.”

“You don’t look like you’re all there, son,” he said in that southern drawl.

“I’m ready to pinch run for you. I’ll be ready to play whenever you need me.”

“You don’t even sound right, boy.”

Grady may have had that slow drawl, but he was a very smart man. What a great guy to play for. He knew he couldn’t keep me off the roster, nor did he want to, even though I sat and watched those first two Yankee games from the bench.

I don’t remember those two games at all. I know we won the first one with Tim Wakefield on the mound. In Game 2 Andy Pettitte beat us, but I had no clue. Every time I’d stand up and grab a bat or do something to get loose, Grady would look at me and say, “Sit down, boy.”

When we got back to Boston, I went to the team doctor, and he said everything was checking out fine, that I was regaining some of my faculties. But the truth was I wasn’t close to normal—it took me four or five months before I had a clear, vivid picture of what was going on. When it rained the day we were supposed to play our first game in Boston, I got in one more day of recuperation. I don’t get much time off, even in the off season, and in all I ended up resting five days, which was huge. Everything started to feel fine. I felt like I was pretty strong.

Only a couple of people knew how beat up I really was when I started against the Yankees in Game 3. Not only was I not playing with a full deck upstairs, but my left arm was still bruised from the IV and was absolutely killing me. I was playing with one arm. I couldn’t move it.

I have an unorthodox swing where I release the bat just after contact. The pain didn’t allow me to do that. People said, “Your swing really changed for the Yankee series.” It wasn’t because I was scared in the box. It was because I had no motion owing to what had happened in the ambulance.

Before the game I didn’t even take batting practice. I just stepped out on the field and tried giving it what I could. Thinking about it now, I was in no condition to play. I’d start the games, and every game by the third or fourth inning I’d experience a painful migraine brought on by the concussion. I’d always been able to relax before a game, but not now. As soon as I started feeling stress or exerting energy, I’d get a migraine. Every day before the game was half over I’d just be wiped out. I would be standing out in center field, and my head would be throbbing. But being the kind of person I am, I still thought we were a better team with me out there. I just wish I’d been a little bit healthier for that Yankee series.

My memory of Game 3 is spotty. Roger Clemens started for the Yankees, not a very fun situation. When I came into the league in 1995, Roger was having a couple of down years. I’d say to myself, Hey, I see the ball pretty decent off him. Then when he got to Toronto he started throwing his split-finger pitch, and I thought, My gosh, this is one of the greatest pitchers ever. This is what they’ve been talking about!

Roger has been a workhorse. Against him that day the scorecard says I got three hits, but they were all softly hit to the left of the third baseman and to the right of short. I beat out a couple of tough hops on slow rollers which were credited for hits. I wasn’t going to complain, but I very easily could have been 0–3.

So even though I was in such bad shape to play, I went 3 for 3 against Clemens right out of the chute. I didn’t even consider myself a player in those games. Normally I’m filled with adrenaline. I hustle. Normally, I can do some special things on the baseball field. Against the Yankees, nothing was there, though the last thing I wanted to do was tell Grady, “I’m not really the guy you want to play.”

You just can’t ask out of big games, even if you have nothing going for you and your head is throbbing. That’s not how I was brought up as a ballplayer. You go out there because you think you’re the best option for the team.

Though I don’t remember a lot of that game, one incident does stand out: after Pedro Martinez hit Karim Garcia, tempers got hot and both benches cleared. I came running in from center field, thinking, No way in heck can I get in the middle of this thing. I have absolutely no strength, and I’ll get beat down something awful.

I ran toward the home plate area to find my best friend on the field, Jason Giambi, who was playing first base for the Yankees. When Jason and I were teammates in Oakland in 2001, we were very close.

“Hey, protect me if you can,” I said to Jason, “because I’ve got no clue where I am right now.”

Jason, being the great player he is, had to clear some guys off, but he kept coming back to me, making sure I was all right. While Jason and I ...

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