Jonny Gomes never wanted to leave the Rays, so he's a little curious how it will feel returning to the Trop with the Reds this week as a visitor. "I never thought I'd come back on the other side," he said. "Guys who earn their stripes, you think you're going to stay forever. It's like a brotherhood." The fans should cheer, and there's no question how he'll be received by the Rays he played with, who still rave about how tremendous a teammate he was and how big a role he played in their stunning 2008 success. Here's a look at what made Gomes so special:
What a guy
Gomes had his moments on the field, including a three-homer game and a walkoff blast, but is the kind of player whose contributions far exceeded his numbers, from the assorted and creative ways he'd keep the clubhouse loose to the confidence and support he provided.
"Great teammate," CF B.J. Upton said.
"Unbelievable teammate," RHP James Shields said. "One of the best."
"I can't imagine having a better teammate," RHP Andy Sonnanstine said. "He brings so much to a club that doesn't show up on a stat sheet. Having that guy on your team makes you feel invincible."
Gomes was also quite entertaining: unpredictable and unbridled in what he'd say and what he'd do at any moment, from strolling through the clubhouse in his Rays robe to leading the celebration for each 2008 clinching by pouring shots of Patron tequila into a chalice for manager Joe Maddon.
But his highlight moment came in 2007, when he got to live a dream — and perhaps sample a future career — by joining The Nasty Boys in the ring for a postgame wrestling exhibition.
"You haven't lived," Gomes said, "until you're able to smash someone over the head with a garbage pail and not go to jail for it."
The Rays let Gomes go after the '08 season, wary of his ability to catch up to a fastball, as he was in line to make about $1.5 million through arbitration. They ended up signing Pat Burrell for $16 million to fill the DH spot and that, as you might have heard, didn't work out too well. In retrospect, keeping Gomes would have been a much better deal:
Gomes (2009-10 for Reds)
.266, 38 HRs, 137 RBIs in 246 games, made $1.4 million
Burrell (2009-10 for Rays)
.218, 16 HRs, 77 RBIs in 146 games, made $16 million
"About the surest bet in the universe" is that the new Astros owners approach Rays executive VP Andrew Friedman about coming home, writes the Houston Chronicle's Richard Justice, and "maybe the second-surest bet" is that Friedman declines. … Rays senior VP Gerry Hunsicker, who used to be the Astros GM, is a more realistic possibility for a top-level job. … Seven years later, an unnamed former Mets employee claims to ESPN that the Rays misled them in the 2004 Scott Kazmir trade by omitting pages from the trainers' log on the condition of Victor Zambrano's elbow and said there was talk of seeking an annulment. … Derek Jeter's delay in rejoining the Yankees increases the chances he gets his 3,000th hit vs. the Rays, either July 7-10 in New York or July 18-21 at the Trop. … Attendance for three midweek Red Sox-Rays games at the Trop: 63,855. Attendance for three midweek Rays-Brewers game in Milwaukee, which is half the market: 115,206. … That didn't include commissioner Bud Selig, who was too busy with other issues to drive 10 minutes from his downtown office to drop in.
Got a minute? Jeff Niemann
Must-see TV? I can't stand all that reality stuff; let's say any hunting show that's on.
Big night-out meal? Fuddrucker's Pound Burger.
Worst job? Putting up signs and door hangers for a city councilman.
Favorite place when you're home in Houston? The restaurants are great. Something I get here I can't get anywhere else is 100% Taquito — it's real authentic Mexican food.
With your girlfriend Annie's permission, dream date? Jennifer Aniston.
Gomes hit only .182 with eight homers in 2008, but he was actually one of Rays' most valuable players, specifically for the contributions he made in what Maddon calls "two seminal moments" in their development. In the spring training dustup with the Yankees, Gomes memorably beelined from rightfield for Shelley Duncan, who had just blatantly taken out 2B Akinori Iwamura in retribution for Elliot Johnson bowling over C Francisco Cervelli a few days earlier, and admonished teammates who didn't want to tangle. (Gomes jokes now that it was a good thing the baseball gods made sure he tripped over second base because he might have delivered a "Ray Lewis hit" on Duncan.) And in a June brawl with the Red Sox, above, Gomes sprinted off the bench after Coco Crisp charged Shields and led the defense by delivering a beatdown on the mound. ("The fastest I'd ever seen him run," Shields said.)
"Huge moments," Maddon said.
"He was an integral part of what went on in '08 in terms of the attitude, in terms of the identity of the club; we were scrappers, we were fighters," pitching coach Jim Hickey said. "I miss him, that's for sure."