The 36-year-old outfielder decided to pass up a chance to return to the Boston Red Sox, rejecting their waiver claim and choosing to remain with the Tigers.
”These guys really like me here,” Damon said Tuesday, adding he spoke to each of his teammates individually to be sure he was wanted in the Tigers’ clubhouse.
Damon was popular in Boston when he helped the Red Sox win the 2004 World Series and end an 86-year drought. With his long hair and beard, he was part of the group of Red Sox players who called themselves the ”Idiots.”
He fell out of favor, however, with many Boston fans when he later became a free agent and joined the rival New York Yankees.
Damon’s contract gives him veto power over trades to all but eight teams. Because the Red Sox weren’t one of those clubs, he was able to block the move.
Damon said he was leaning toward staying put from the beginning. He texted former Red Sox teammate Jason Varitek and talked to David Ortiz, and both tried to persuade him to return to Boston.
”They told me they wanted a spark,” Damon said.
The banged-up Red Sox began the day 5 1/2 games behind New York and Tampa Bay in the AL East. Detroit started 10 games behind Minnesota in the AL Central and far out of wild-card contention.
Damon is hitting .272 with seven home runs and 41 RBIs in 111 games. This is his first season in Detroit.
”I feel like we’re not out of it yet,” he said. ”At least we can make some kind of run.”
Damon said he’d like to play in Detroit next year, too, but ”there’s no guarantee.”
Tigers star Miguel Cabrera welcomed Damon’s decision.
”It’s good for us. He stays here and we can play more together and see what happens. We can do a lot of things,” Cabrera said. ”We can win more games, we can get more support in the lineup. If he stays here for some reason, it’s because he likes it here, he believes in us. That’s good.”
Said Damon: ”I’ve said Miguel Cabrera was the best hitter I’ve ever seen and I wanted to see it for a whole year.”
Damon talked to Detroit general manager Dave Dombrowski on Monday night before he made his decision and spoke to assistant GM Al Avila and manager Jim Leyland on Tuesday.
”I told him to do what your heart tells you,” Leyland said. ”Don’t worry about the Detroit Tigers, Boston Red Sox, Jim Leyland, Terry Francona or anybody else.”
One of Damon’s concerns about remaining with the Tigers was his playing time. He was concerned the team might want to look at younger players.
”Yes, he’s going to play,” Leyland said. ”Is he going to play every game? No. He hasn’t played every game to this point.”