Some athletes take to retirement well. It’s just a new phase of their life when the old one is over. Others don’t. They were born to play baseball — and do what ballplayers do off-the-field as well — and don’t know how to function when the game has ended for them.
Pat Jordan’s fantastic story about Johnny Damon reveals Damon to be part of the latter group. It’s a sad read, actually. Drawn from both Jordan’s interview with Damon and stuff from Damon’s autobiography, it paints a portrait of a man who is still reeling from no longer being a major league baseball player and, perhaps, in denial about the need to find out how to live the next 40 or 50 years of his life. Here’s how Jordan describes that generically:
The game has always been an escape from real life for ballplayers, which is why so many dread leaving the game. The game offers a kind of constant certitude; wins and losses are fathomable in a way that real life’s problems aren’t. Real life’s problems aren’t clearly defined and don’t ever seem to get resolved. They linger, frustratingly. After baseball, nothing in real life will ever be as completely, simply and viscerally gratifying.
And his story about Damon reveals that he fits that mold pretty exactly.
Johnny Damon was a great, great ballplayer. Quite underrated, actually. He’s a borderline Hall of Famer, though he won’t get much consideration. Unfortunately, he just doesn’t appear to know how to it into civilian life.