The Detroit sports fans are an easily scorned bunch.
When they’re happy and when it’s moved them, the Detroit sports fans have long cheered the miscreants, the black sheep types. They’ve leaped from their seats to yell themselves hoarse for pugilistic, alcoholic, drug-taking hockey players. Players coming off suspension have been greeted like returning war heroes.
They’ve also booed mightily at some of the most talented athletes to ever roll through this town.
The basis for this is quite simple.
Work hard and show that you want to be here, want to be one of us, and we’re behind you through thick and thin.
But display a desire to be elsewhere, and you’ll get a swift kick between the back pockets.
The Detroit sports fan is fiercely loyal, maybe to a fault. And he/she expects that same loyalty from the athletes wearing the city’s uniform colors.
I’ve seen them go mad for Bob Probert, when Probie was living in an apartment near enough to Joe Louis Arena so he didn’t have to drive—because he couldn’t, thanks to legal issues. I’ve seen them rise and roar for him when he battled the Blackhawks and the bottle, and cocaine.
I’ve also seen them mercilessly boo Sergei Fedorov, a player infinitely more talented than Probert and who defected from Russia and who helped the team win three Stanley Cups, because Fedorov had the temerity to flee as a free agent.
Because of this insecurity that the Detroit sports fans have ingrained in them, Johnny Damon should forever be a member of their fraternity.
Damon has rejected a trade to the Boston Red Sox. He’s turned his back on a better playoff race, and playing for a higher profile team. He’s said no to chasing the Yankees and the Rays and being on ESPN every week and a chance to rekindle old, strong teammate relationships.
Damon has pulled a reverse from the playbook. Normally it’s the Detroit teams that lose players to the brighter lights of fame and relevance.
Damon, 36, was placed on waivers and the Red Sox claimed him. He had about 48 hours to approve a trade to Boston, since the Bosox were not one of the eight teams to which Damon would consent being traded.
The Red Sox wanted him for real. They say it wasn’t merely a procedural move to keep the Yankees and Rays from making a play for him. Red Sox players of the magnitude of Jason Varitek and David Ortiz reportedly reached out to Damon, campaigning for him to return to Boston, where he spent some of his finest years.
This is where it usually goes against the Detroiters. This is where the celebrated player is wont to tell us it’s been nice and all, that we have a decent town, but that the allure of the Red Sox or the Celtics or the Lakers or the Patriots is too damn much to resist.
Except when it comes to the Red Wings.
But these are the Tigers, and they’re 63-63 and nine games out of first place and seem to be nothing more than destined to finish Show to the Twins and White Sox’s Win and Place.
This is Detroit with its hard-scrabble town and its beleaguered, unemployed fans and a baseball team that’s never on ESPN and which has fallen out of the playoff race faster than a sinking lead balloon.
No matter. Damon is staying.
“I’m not jumping ship,” he says.
Damon loves the city and the organization and the fans and being a mentor to all the Toledo Mud Hens surrounding him.
“I’m almost a player-coach,” he said recently, and it was with pride, not prejudice.
Damon likes the Tigers so much that he is making early overtures to come back in 2011, putting some pressure on the front office. He even went so far as to say that had he been traded elsewhere this season, he’d still like to come back next year. And he’d only agree to a trade to a team not on his list of eight if he could be guaranteed that the Tigers would get good young prospects in return.
When was the last time you heard a player say that?
Damon says in his heart he’s a Tiger. And he’s only been a Tiger since February.
The Detroit sports fan eats that stuff up. Damon is exhibiting that desire to be here in spades, belying his relatively short time in town.
What Johnny Damon did this week, nixing a trade to a better team with a more grandiose near future just so he could stay in Detroit and play as a Tiger, won’t soon be forgotten by the sports denizens in this town.
The love he gets here from now on ought to be the 180 degree opposite of the vile he has gotten from Red Sox fans ever since leaving Boston for New York some five years ago.
Damon left a good thing once, and it’s come back to haunt him.
He’s not about to make that same mistake again.
And Detroit will forever love him for it.