02/22/10 3:00 PM EST
Yanks begin life A.D. -- after Damon
Former pinstripe mates wish veteran well in Tigers stripes
By Bryan Hoch / MLB.com
Damon was officially introduced on Monday at Detroit's camp in Lakeland, Fla., claiming uniform No. 18 and saying all the right things about being a Tiger after inking a one-year, $8 million contract that finalized his winding journey through free agency.
The Yankees had interest in bringing back Damon for their defense of the World Series title, but not at all costs. Curtis Granderson was instead imported via trade from the Tigers, with speedy Brett Gardner now challenging to claim Damon's left-field vacancy.
"I'm happy for him that he has found out where he's going to go," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said of Damon. "I think, for players, that's an anxious time -- trying to figure out where you're going to be.
"I wish Johnny luck. Johnny was good for us here, and we all miss Johnny. This is the hard part of the game, when those relationships change a little bit. I'll root for Johnny, except when he's playing against us."
Damon, 36, was a major contributor to the 2009 championship club, batting .282 with 24 home runs and 82 RBIs in 143 games.
Damon had expressed interest in returning to New York, but after completing a four-year, $52 million contract, he was hoping to score at least a two-year, $22 million deal from the Yankees.
The closest the Bombers would get was two years at $14 million, and when Damon and agent Scott Boras passed, general manager Brian Cashman essentially considered the case closed.
Cashman had no interest in rehashing the offseason jockeying with Boras on Monday, saying only, "The Tigers got a great player. He's going to help them."
The locker Damon had occupied during camp at George M. Steinbrenner Field was reassigned to non-roster catcher Mike Rivera, and when position players report for physicals on Tuesday, Damon -- and the pumping bass of the portable boombox he lugged with him -- will be noticeably absent.
"Once Spring Training starts, it's real," catcher Jorge Posada said. "We're going to miss the guy in the clubhouse and on the field. A professional guy and a guy that was really key for us throughout the years and especially last year."
Not that the Yankees won't get their chances to renew acquaintances. New York visits Detroit on March 10 and March 27 in Grapefruit League action, and the Tigers play three exhibition games in Tampa this spring as well. The two clubs also meet eight times this year during the regular season.
"I think it's good for him," Joba Chamberlain said. "It's an opportunity to play the game again and get back out and do the things that he loves. It's obviously a loss for us, but we understand that we've got guys who can help us.
"We'll meet him down the road. He's your friend, but when you get between the lines, he's not your friend anymore."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.