EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Sports

August 16, 2011

Johnny not-so-rotten any more

BOSTON — Tampa Bay Rays designated hitter Johnny Damon was wearing a T-shirt underneath his uniform yesterday that makes a pretty brash statement:

"There's no safety on these guns" with arrows pointing at each of his biceps.

At 37 years old, Damon's body could easily be mistaken for one a dozen years younger.

The former Red Sox center fielder entered yesterday's doubleheader versus Boston just 314 hits shy of 3,000 hits for his career, and he should be able to play long enough to reach the 3,000-hit milestone because of his superior physical shape.

That brings up an interesting question: Is Damon a Hall of Famer if he reaches 3,000 hits?

"It's going to be widely debated," Damon said. "I've got some numbers that are going to definitely qualify for it. But I think with everyone, it's about how you finished on an MVP vote and all that stuff. But a bunch of those guys who won the MVP vote used (performance enhancing drugs). And it definitely takes away from how high I possibly could have been being a clean player in our generation."

Damon told The Eagle-Tribune he prides himself on being a clean player during this generation.

"It's probably the most important thing," Damon said. "I've always been like, 'You know what? Never needed it.' Never knew it was in baseball or belonged in baseball. So I'm happy that I never went down that road."

Only 28 players in Major League Baseball history have reached 3,000 hits during their careers.

"When he reaches 3,000 hits, to me, that automatically makes him a Hall of Famer," said Don Zimmer, a Tampa Bay Rays senior advisor who managed the Red Sox from 1976 through 1980.

Damon, who likely will join the elite 3,000 hit club someday, entered yesterday with a .286 career average, .353 on-base percentage, .434 slugging percentage, .788 OPS, 225 home runs, 1,098 RBIs, 506 doubles, 105 triples, 396 stolen bases, 1,623 runs and 2,686 hits.

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