Damon is different. Damon’s entire Hall of Fame case would be built around 3,000 hits. Oh, Damon — and I’ve been writing about Johnny longer than just about anybody, going back to his young Kansas City days — has been a very good baseball player. He’s been a solid base-runner — and, in his younger days, a fine base stealer. He flashed occasional power. He scored runs — 10 times in his career he scored more than 100 runs in a season, and he could end his career in the Top 20 all-time in runs scored. He was probably an average to slightly above average defender, his weak arm notwithstanding.
But it’s those hits, man. Nobody ever thought Johnny Damon was a Hall of Famer. Few think it now. If I told you that Johnny Damon had 1,893 hits, well: (1) You would probably believe me, because that sounds more right; and (2) You would think of Johnny Damon as a perfectly good player who proudly called his autobiography Idiot.
But 3,000 hits changes the whole picture, doesn’t it? I’ve mentioned this before — I once got into a heated argument about Damon’s Hall of Fame chances if he got 3,000 hits. I said that he probably would not get into the Hall of Fame, even with 3,000 hits. My combatant disagreed furiously and, if memory serves, was willing to bet me a billion-shmillion-krinjillion dollars that Damon would get into the Hall of Fame.
It’s an interesting question. I think the world of Johnny, and would love to see him get into the Hall of Fame — in part just to see what he would wear on induction day. But you can’t kid yourself: He is more or less a case study of how a very good player can get 3,000 hits. He reached the big leagues at a young age, he had the sort of speed that spurred managers to put him at the top of the lineup, he was tough to strike out, he didn’t walk an overwhelming amount (though he was no hacker) and he has been almost indestructible. Damon has gotten more than 600 plate appearances for 14 years in a row.
He’s also hitting .286 — at that pace, he needs 10,489 at-bats to get 3,000 hits. Only 13 players since 1901 have gotten 10,489 at-bats — Rose, Aaron, Yaz, Ripken, Cobb, Murray, Yount, Winfield, Musial, Henderson, Mays, Biggio, Molitor and Brooks Robinson. All are in the Hall of Fame (except Biggio, who will be). I think Damon will get those at-bats, too. And because of that, I think he will get 3,000 hits.
So, back to the question: Does getting 3,000 hits make Damon a Hall of Famer?
Jayson Stark is cited in The Hall of Fame Case for Johnny Damon::
“I never like to make firm judgments on any player until his career is over. But if Damon gets to 3,000 hits, he’s a lock for me. Maybe he wasn’t a great defender. But he was a difference-maker for two teams that won the World Series, and he was one of the best top-of-the-order forces of his generation. So case closed if he gets to 3,000 hits. And he has a great case already.”
Does the fact that he was a "difference-maker" in '04 and '09 when added to a career of about a projected 55 or so bWAR (John Olerud territory)?
Personally, beyond the lack of an offensive resume, somewhat mediocre defense, and an argument largely based on counting stats is the fact that he was perhaps never the best player on any team in his career.
I looked for prior threads but didn't succeed. I suspect the results will be lopsided, but I am interested in both pro and con arguments.