It’s long been a cliché that baseball is a team game. If The Untouchables taught us anything, it’s that Sean Connery is a hilarious bad cop. But if it taught us two things, it’s that you “get nowhere unless the team wins.” (Also, Robert DeNiro’s dinner parties always break up early for some reason.)
And you can’t win a World Series with just one championship caliber player. Believe The Common Man, Barry Bonds gave it a shot. But Babe Ruth needed his Lou Gehrig. Mickey Mantle needed his Roger Maris. And Kirby Puckett needed his Kent Hrbek. What a championship team needs, aside from its superstars, are complementary players, guys whose effectiveness will throw the performance of these stars into sharper focus. After all, Babe Ruth could have hit 80 homers a year, but if no one is on base in front of him, the Yankees aren’t going to score a lot of runs. Earle Combs on base skills at the top of the New York lineup magnifies Ruth’s performance, making it so that even the commonest fan can appreciate the effort.
All of which is to say, The Common Man went out to dinner last night at The Boy’s request (he wanted a hamburger) and enjoyed his Capitol Maibock with dinner last night. While the real star of the meal was the prodigious steak sandwich with mushrooms, onions, and provolone, and the beer-battered mushrooms he got for an appetizer, the Maibock was a perfect compliment to the meal. While stronger beers (such as The Uncommon’s Wife’s Scotch Ale) might have proved too powerful or too bitter so as to overshadow the dinner, TCM’s choice was potent, without being obtrusive. It tasted like a beer should, mind you; there was no danger of mistaking it for the water. But its understated flavor, and lack of an aftertaste, made it a refreshing choice. While The Common Man wouldn’t choose this beer to be the foundation of an evening or plan a meal around it, he would absolutely order it again with dinner.
Last year, when the Yankees won the World Series, they did so on the backs of their superstars: A-Rod, Teixeira, Jeter, Sabathia, etc. But setting the table for these players, allowing them to excel even further, was Johnny Damon.
Damon’s played at least 140 games per season since 1996, has had an OBP north of .345 every year since 2002, has scored at least 90 runs every year since 1998. Despite the relative hype he’s received over his career, Damon has never been an elite player. His high OPS+ was last season, at 126. He has had one season with a WAR over 5.0. He’s been a good, solid contributor to every team he’s been on, but he’s never been their best player. But Damon’s effective work at the top of the lineup, and solid defense, first in CF, now in LF, has propelled his team, making the production of his team’s heavy hitters all the more impressive.
By virtue of playing in Boston and New York, Damon’s garnered far more notoriety than a normal complementary player might, and certainly his struggles to find a job this offseason have certainly thrust him into the limelight. But if Johnny Damon was named Rajai Davis or Ryan Sweeney or Denard Span, he would be quietly and unobtrusively facilitating your offense, and playing good defense. Making those around him better (he would also cost a lot less, meaning he would have little trouble finding a team). And helping the team to win games, and enjoy their seasons, on the sly. Only afterward, when the champagne has finished flowing and the hardware has been handed out, will you look back and appreciate their effect on the team. As it should be for the Capital Maibock of baseball, the cog you never appreciate until you lose it.