John Craig “Sonny” Dixon was already a good enough pitcher at the age of sixteen to be signed to a contract by the Washington Senators just before the 1941 season started. At that young of an age you would expect him to struggle during his first couple of seasons of pro ball and he did. But instead of being allowed to mature on a minor league mound, this big right-hander from Charlotte, North Carolina was called into the Navy and spent the next three years of his life battling the Japanese in the Pacific. He was still only 21 years of age when he returned from Service and put together an impressive 19-11 season for the Senators’ Class B affiliate in his hometown of Charlotte, in 1946.
You’d think that performance would have been good enough to put Dixon on a fast track to the parent club, especially since Washington was a pretty bad ball club back then. The post WWII Senators never found themselves in a Pennant race so one would have expected them to give their top minor league pitching prospects plenty of chances to pitch at the big league level. Dixon, however, would end up spending another six full seasons in Washington’s farm system, finally making his big league debut in 1953. He posted a 5-8 first year record in 20 appearances that included 6 starts. He went 6-9 in his sophomore season during which he was traded to the Philadelphia Athletics.
In 1956, Yankee GM George Weiss was on the prowl for relief pitchers who could shore up Casey Stengel’s bullpen for the second half stretch drive. In May of that season, he sent 37-year-old Johnny Sain and 39-year-old Enos Slaughter to the A’s in exchange for Dixon. The Yanks then kept their new pitcher down in Richmond until the very end of the season, when he was called up so that Stengel could rest his best arms for the postseason. Dixon made three appearances in ten days, losing his only Yankee decision during his final performance in pinstripes. His final pitch as a Yankee turned out to also be his final pitch as a big leaguer.
Dixon spent the next five seasons pitching back in the minors before returning to Charlotte where he worked as a convenience store manager. He passed away at the age of 87 in 2011. Folks might wonder how a guy who lived the life of a Major League ballplayer could feel happy and satisfied working the rest of his life in a convenience store in his home town. Sonny Dixon signed a professional baseball contract as a 16-year-old and fought in WWII while still a teenager. Perhaps Old Sonny felt he had enough excitement just in those five years to last him a lifetime.
Dixon shares his birthday with this former outfielder who helped end one memorable Yankee postseason and win another.
|WSH (2 yrs)||6||10||.375||3.61||59||6||26||3||0||4||149.2||149||72||60||16||43||47||1.283|
|KCA (2 yrs)||5||7||.417||5.04||40||6||24||1||0||4||109.0||142||66||61||9||27||42||1.550|
|NYY (1 yr)||0||1||.000||2.08||3||0||2||0||0||1||4.1||5||3||1||0||5||1||2.308|
I could not help it! Whenever I saw or thought of Johnny Damon, the first thing that popped into my head was that grand slam dagger he drove simultaneously into both the right-field upper deck of Yankee Stadium and my chest, during the final game of the disastrous 2004 Yankees-Red Sox playoff series. Since he signed as a Yankee free agent , nothing he did on-the-field during his first four seasons wearing the Pinstripes erased that nightmare from my mind. In fact, he just didn’t seem to be as comfortable playing for New York as he did for Boston.
He was able to put good back-to-back regular season offensive performances together in 2008 and ’09, but that would not have been enough. Whenever I’d see Damon, I’d see him nailing that first pitch from Javier Vasquez high and long into the Bronx night and my stomach would start to churn.
But that vision of Damon was officially replaced on the evening of November 1, 2009 in Citizens’ Bank Park in the City of Brotherly Love. It was replaced by a series of images that began with Damon’s incredible nine-pitch grinding at bat with two outs in the top of the ninth against the Phillie’s Brad Lidge, continued with his base-hit and brainy double-steal and concluded when he crossed home-plate after A-Rod’s double. That sequence of plays was just as much of a dagger to the Phillies’ chances to win that 2009 Fall Classic as Damon’s grand slam was to the Yankee hopes of winning the 2004 ALCS. I finally became a fan of Johnny Damon on that night because of that play.
The Yankees probably made a mistake letting Johnny Damon sign with Detroit for $8 million in 2010, choosing instead to sign Nick Johnson for $3 million less. Damon probably made a mistake by not asking Cashman for his best offer, early on in that year’s signing period. Johnny’s numbers dropped that year with the Tigers and he failed to reach the 90-run mark for the first time in thirteen years. But he could have helped the 2010 Yankees and I wish he had stayed in pinstripes for at least one more year. He then went to Tampa Bay in 2011, after the Rays lost Carl Crawford to free agency. Damon actually did much better in Tampa than Crawford did in Beantown, hitting .261 while collecting his 2,700th career hit. But he also turned 38 years old at right about the same time he found out the Rays had no intention of bringing him back for 2012. Last April, for the first time in 15 years, a Major League Opening Day came and went without the name “Johnny Damon” on a big league roster. The Indians would sign him a month later and in 2012, he appeared in 64 games for Cleveland, hitting just .222.
I’m pretty certain Damon has played his last big league game. The ironic thing is, I think the guy can still hit better than some of the players in the starting lineups of some AL and NL teams. But he turned 39 year’s old today and the only reason he would want to go on would be to reach the hallowed 3,000 career hit mark. I don’t think he’s going to make it to 3,000 but I will never forget that game in October of 2009, when he did make it safely to third.
Damon shares his birthday with this one-time Yankee relief pitcher. I also want to wish my daughter Michela “Mitchie” Hugo a wonderful birthday today.
|KCR (6 yrs)||803||3407||3057||504||894||156||47||65||352||156||275||350||.292||.351||.438||.789|
|BOS (4 yrs)||597||2782||2476||461||730||136||29||56||299||98||262||284||.295||.362||.441||.803|
|NYY (4 yrs)||576||2525||2231||410||636||125||15||77||296||93||268||344||.285||.363||.458||.821|
|TBR (1 yr)||150||647||582||79||152||29||7||16||73||19||51||92||.261||.326||.418||.743|
|OAK (1 yr)||155||719||644||108||165||34||4||9||49||27||61||70||.256||.324||.363||.687|
|CLE (1 yr)||64||224||207||25||46||6||2||4||19||4||17||27||.222||.281||.329||.610|
|DET (1 yr)||145||613||539||81||146||36||5||8||51||11||69||90||.271||.355||.401||.756|