by user Benjamin Kabak

When Johnny comes marching home again,
Hurrah! Hurrah!
We'll give him a hearty welcome then
Hurrah! Hurrah!
The men will cheer and the boys will shout
The ladies they will all turn out
And we'll all feel gay,
When Johnny comes marching home.

There's a song from the Civil War Era that rings true today as the Yankees travel to Boston for their first of 19 games against the Red Sox this year. While first place in the AL East is on the line, many fans don't care as much because Johnny is marching home again.

For the first time, Red Sox fans will see their idol, Johnny Damon, wearing the pinstripes of the hated Yankees. And the Nation doesn't know how to respond. Should they give him a hearty welcome then? (Hurrah! Hurrah!) Or should they boo him for Business As Usual in the baseball world?

Damon's Judas-like appearance in Yankee pinstripes (or in this case, their road grays) is tough for the Boston faithful to swallow. When Wade Boggs jumped ship to sign with the Yanks, the Fenway crowd had nothing but kind words for Boggs. He had played 11 seasons for Boston and was always a professional on the field. In his last year, he hit just .259, and no one expected a career resurgence that come with the move to the Bronx.

Still, the rivalry was different in 1992-1993. The Yankees were the bumbling fools of the American League in the early 1990s, and the Red Sox were still suffering from a World Series drought made worse by Bill Buckner in 1986 and a Roger Clemens meltdown in 1988.

When the Rocket left Boston, everyone's feelings were downright acrimonious. Dan Duquette and Roger had a bitter falling out. And Clemens' two seasons in Toronto helped cushion the blow. He was booed in Boston, but eventually, the Fenway Faithful cheered for Roger during his final few appearances in Beantown. Now, they've forgiven him enough to want him on the team when he finally decides to play this season.

But Damon is different. Damon, along with Kevin Millar, was the heart and soul of the Idiots. He delivered the crushing blow that capped the Comeback in 2004 and send the Red Sox to the World Series. He was always front and center during the last few seasons as the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry has taken on epic underpinning.

The Red Sox could have signed Damon, and as Johnny tells it, he was just waiting for that phone call to come from Theo. He wanted to stay in Boston. But King George really wanted his Benedict Arnold. He wanted him badly enough to throw $52 million at him for four years. Meanwhile, the Red Sox landed a 26-year-old with the name of a breakfast cereal who could be better than Damon in short order.

So Sox fans are in a tough position. They are sad that Damon left, but many New Englanders cannot applaud for a Yankee no matter who he is. Damon is dead to them until he signs with another team in a few years. But these fans also know that just maybe the Yanks did them a favor. Damon is 32 now, and it is doubtful that he'll still be producing at the same levels at the end of the contract.

Coco Crisp, on the other hand, will just be hitting his peak when Damon's deal runs out. Sox fans know their baseball. They know that Crisp could turn out to be the better investment over the next few seasons. But there is as yet no emotional attachment. Damon was a character on a team that won over New England and will go down in baseball history for years to come.

So as Damon steps to the plate this evening at 7:05 p.m., I think he'll be booed and he'll be cheered. The ladies won't turn out, and the boys probably will be shouting a few things not appropriate for ears of all ages. But some people will go hurrah, hurrah.

In the end, the feelings in Boston may be better summed up by the song that provided the basis for that Civil War tune "When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again." It's name? "Johnny, I Hardly Knew Ye."


Mon 05/01/06, 10:57 am EST

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