Idiot: Johnny Damon’s Legacy

A few years ago I had the pleasure of getting to know an elderly woman who was one of the sweetest, most gentle people I’ve ever known. She was the old lady who gives everyone a hug when she shows up, who calls everyone “sweetheart” or “sugar.”

She lived alone, her children grown and living in other parts of the country. I got to know her pretty well, and at one point I found out that she had been married to a professional baseball player, but they had divorced decades ago.

Of course, being a baseball fan, my interest was piqued, so I had to ask her about her ex-husband. She was gracious and polite, but it didn’t take a lot of asking to learn their story.

He’d had a few seasons in the major leagues in the 1950s, but had been a long-time minor league player and coach. They had lived in California, mainly, but the game had taken him all over the country.

The thing was, the woman didn’t seem at all enamored with the glamour of being a ballplayer’s wife. She didn’t care if he had been a good player or not. She could care less what famous players he’d taken the field with. After all the years, the only thing she knew – and so delicately divulged – was that he’d been too busy, too absent, too unfaithful to marriage, and too poor a father to their children.

I grew up dreaming of being a professional ballplayer, and to this day I still feel an emptiness of not having that dream fulfilled. But I’m a father now, a husband. I have a job, a house, a normal life. So those dreams of being a professional athlete have faded, and that life seems more like fantasy than reality.

That’s why as story after story of athletes and their marital infidelity find their way into the news, I become more and more incredulous. Hearing the story of that sweet old lady who looked back on her shattered marriage and fatherless children, and knowing myself what having a family is like, I just don’t see how ballplayers can be so reckless, so arrogant, so callous.

While any mention of cheaters will immediately bring Tiger Woods to mind, I can’t shake from my memory the exploits of Johnny Damon. Damon brazenly revealed in his 2005 autobiography Idiot: Beating “The Curse” and Enjoying the Game of Life his wanton infidelity and his desire to shake loose the bonds of marriage because he “wanted to live, have fun, not pick out furniture.”

I’m just glad I didn’t know anything about Damon’s personal life while he was wearing a Royals’ uniform. All this came to light when he was winning a World Series in Boston, and I didn’t need any more reason to despise him. He’d rejected my beloved team for greener pastures, and it only seemed fitting that he’d abandoned his wife and children as well.

But now I’m older. And so is Damon. He’s 37 and is looking for a team to pick him up as a free agent. He hit .271 for Detroit last season, but he had a WAR of just 1.6 as his physical abilities, particularly on the defensive side, have deteriorated.

Damon is also remarried. He has children with his second wife. As age has changed my perspective on what’s important in life, I hope it’s changed Damon’s as well. His career may be over, but his life isn’t. Damon, and his wife, and his ex-wife, and his children – they’re all going to grow old. And the glory will fade.

I hope they don’t look back with sadness like my elderly friend does on what became of her life. To an 80-year-old woman, batting averages, wins and losses, money, fame – none of it seemed to matter. I hope I learned something from that woman. I hope Damon, along with a lot of other men, learns about what’s important in life as well.

For an interesting article on athletes and marital infidelity, click here to ESPN.

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