NEW YORK—Continuing a Yankee tradition that dates back to the teams of the early '80s, owner George Steinbrenner formally appointed recently signed centerfielder Johnny Damon as the team's new scapegoat.
"This position comes with a lot of responsibility, as the scapegoat will be held personally accountable for every loss this season," Steinbrenner said in a statement Tuesday. "Even though he is new to the city and organization, and he is coming over from our division rival Boston Red Sox, and he has yet to play a single game in a Yankee uniform, I am confident that these factors will only facilitate Johnny Damon's transition into this role."
"If the Yankees start losing—God forbid—then at the very least, the players, the fans, the New York media, and myself can take comfort in knowing the exact reason why," Steinbrenner added.
According to Steinbrenner's statement, Damon exhibits all the qualities he looks for in a Yankee scapegoat, including lofty expectations, high salary, and a controversial personality that can be construed as being bad for the team's dynamics should the Yankees fall into second place.
Damon, whose jersey will be adorned with a small bulls-eye stitched below the left shoulder, said he welcomed the opportunity to be the most important fall guy on the Yankee ballclub.
"It's a privilege to be singled out in this fashion, especially when there are so many other deserving candidates on this team—Randy Johnson, Alex Rodriguez, Carl Pavano, the list goes on," Damon said. "To come here and immediately have such great expectations thrust upon you to the point where every error, weak throw, or strikeout is viewed as the be all and end all of this team's entire season is a true honor, and…well, I guess the reason I joined the Yankees in the first place."
"But I do want to reiterate that this is still Derek's team as long as we're winning," Damon added.
Although Damon admitted that his natural reaction was to "just run out there and get injured on a stupid play in spring training," he decided he would take his new all-encompassing responsibility one loss at a time.
"Anyone can come up with a clutch detrimental incident that the fans and media will remember all season and point to as the reason for the Yankees' demise, such as a bases-loaded double play in a playoff game, a season-ending injury that occurs during an off-the-field basketball game, or even a steroid scandal like with [former Yankee scapegoat] Jason [Giambi]," Damon said. "But a real scapegoat will be out there for every single loss, playing a key role in every bonehead play, and truly leading the sports section of the New York Post day in and day out."
Damon said he intends to evenly distribute instances of lackadaisical defense, mental errors, and baserunning miscues, stressing that, although they will be harmless blunders that every player makes, they will come at the "worst possible times," such as right when the Yankees appear to be embarking on a winning streak, during nationally televised Yankee-Red Sox matchups, or in playoff-implication games down the stretch.
Other members of Yankees, upon hearing the news that Damon received the title of scapegoat, reacted with excitement and relief.
"I think Johnny will make a great scapegoat—I know I would crumble under all that responsibility," said Damon's teammate Alex Rodriguez. "I couldn't be happier."
"Even though Johnny's off-the-wall persona will likely appear to be refreshing at first, particularly if we get off to a hot start, it's very possible that his clubhouse presence could be damaging to the Yankees' playoff hopes, especially if Boston's pitching stays healthy and the Blue Jays' big spending this winter pays off," manager Joe Torre said. "It's admirable and convenient that he's accepting responsibility for this ahead of time."
In response to Steinbrenner's move, Red Sox GM Theo Epstein retaliated by also naming Johnny Damon as the new Red Sox scapegoat, saying that, should the Red Sox fail to make the postseason, the Boston media and fans should pin the blame on Damon for leaving the team for the rival Yankees last December.