If Johnny Damon had come back to the Red Sox this week, he would have been wearing a new number. No. 18, after all, belongs to one Daisuke Matsuzaka--and according to WEEI's Alex Speier, he's got it in writing.
"The number actually harbors tremendous significance for the member of the Red Sox rotation, to the point where his right to wear it was written into the six-year, $52 million deal he signed with the Sox in December 2006.
"Growing up, I played baseball with the goal of one day wearing number 18 as a professional ballplayer," Matsuzaka said through translator Masa Hoshino yesterday. "When I signed with the Red Sox, I wanted to keep wearing the same number I had always worn, and the number was available. I've never worn another number since I went pro, even in international competition."
While Matsuzaka hasn't exactly been the ace hoped for or, indeed, promised, it's nice to know he's at least trying. Still, when you consider Daisuke's motivation for the number ... well, doesn't it seem like something that should perhaps be earned instead of guaranteed in legalese?
It's hard to really think of an American analog aside from perhaps Michael Jordan's number 23, and even then it's mostly contained to just a couple of players who are interested in making the comparison. But just imagine if a player had something like "must bat cleanup" written in? I guess Daisuke hasn't complained about starting game three or four in playoff series when he didn't deserve better, but it just rings a little hollow.
Maybe the Sox could get more out of him if they gave him 22 and made him work his way up?