I missed the first 5 to 10 minutes of the Tigers' press conference in Lakeland held to officially introduce Johnny Damon as a Detroit Tiger. Then I found it on the MLB Network and started transcribing the next 20 minutes or so. My best attempt at keeping up follows the jump. A few takeaways, and then everything I transcribed (as accurately as possible, though probably not 100%, maybe 98%) after the jump. If I get the opportunity to catch the first few minutes, I'll add that to this for history's sake (or something).
The first thing of interest: Dontrelle Willis was acting as a recruiter, as well as owner Mike Ilitch and manager Jim Leyland. Leyland told the press earlier he didn't have a lot to do with it, but I found this from Damon interesting:
I got to talk to Dontrelle Willis a couple days ago. After I got off the phone with him, I said, 'This seems like it's going to work.' ... He said this is a great place to play, you're going to enjoy it. Scott actually called two minutes after that, asked if we were good to go. I said, 'Absolutely.'
Damon also told the press he wanted to be in Detroit "from Day 1." Of course, if he signed with Chicago or Atlanta, I suspect he would have said the same thing. Press conference talk after all. But he pointed out he wanted to sign with Detroit five seasons ago (when he still played center field and when Detroit's center field choices were Nook Logan or Curtis Granderson.)
Speaking of the uniform, he's excited to have his name on the back again. Make of that what you will.
I felt like I knew a bunch of these players, playing all these games against the Tigers during spring training. I always drove down here and always chatted with them. I'd talk to (Justin) Verlander, (Jeremy) Bonderman. Walking out here today, I felt good. I didn't feel like I had to make new friends. It's going to be an easy transition.
Finally, he said he'd probably keep his hair looking neater and he thinks it makes him look younger, so scratch the caveman image off, I guess.
Tigers CEO/President/GM Dave Dombrowski
On Tigers owner Mike Ilitch:
He's not unique in the sense that he wants to win because I know most owners want to win. He is driven to win. (We're) in a position where, compared to other situations i've been in, we have parameters in which we work, but we don't always say 'no.' We approach other things. I use the example of a couple years ago with Miguel Cabrera. ... (There aee) some similiarities in that situation. Once (Ilitch) gave the OK (on Damon), we were thrilled to see if we could make it happen.
(Scott Boras and I)'ve been negotiating with 25 years together. I can say I've never had an easy negotiation with Scott. That's not good or bad, that's just the way it is. To say it's going to be easy at that point, I would never have believed it would be true.
On his conversation with owner Mike Ilitch and why it took so long for him to sign:
I have spoke to Mr. Ilitch, what a great guy. He's passionate about his teams. Everybody I talk to is passionate about the Tgers.So we talked about his playing days. He'd rather talk about the type of player I am. We had great conversations. We discussed possibilties. We eventually came up with a one year thing. I know if you play well and continue to bust your butt playinh baseball and prove you're a winner, there's a good chance to be back for another year.
I think that was the big hangup early on in negotiations. but one year, that's fine with me. I feel really good about this. This is a lot different than the last press conference I had when I switched teams.
I feel like I belong here. I felt like I was a Tiger a month and a half ago. I felt really good about this.
On how he feels about the Tigers going outside of the original budget to sign him:
The fact the owner and GM are on the same page, the fact they knew they wanted me, the fact that we talked, the fact that they both respected the type of player I am, the type of person I am, all that is good stuff. As a baseball player, you love to hear it. This is a tough game. When you have people who support you and who really want you on the team, it definitely makes it a lot easier.
On whether he craves the big market spotlight:
The biggest reason i'm going there is a chance to win. They have a great team with a lot of young players. The lights don't need to be bright for me. I'm a basbeall player. I'm going to go out and do what I can to help the team. KC, Oakland, Boston, New York and now Detroit. Hopefully I can bring a type of attitude. I try to hustle every chance I get, do what I can. That's what I was born to do, to be a ball player, be a decent human being.
On manager Jim Leyland:
Jim Leyland is a hall of fame manager. He warrents respect. You look at Jim Leyland and you say wow. that's whati 'm saying, wow, I get to play for him. just seeing how he talks to his players in the clubhouse. just the first half day that i've been here. it feels really good, the players feel close to him. he did fill me in on the detroit fans. he said they're very passionate fans. and that's what I want. I've been playing around passionate fans almost my whole career. i'm excited about this detroit chapter in my career.
On wearing the Old English D:
I want the Tigers organization to look great. They invested time and money into me. I plan to go out there and give them all that I have, go out and win games.
I get to have my name on the back of my jersey again, which hasn't happened in four years (with the Yankees). That's kind of cool, having the name on the back of your jersey is awesome. I'm not saying when it wasn't on there it wasn't cool. But i'm very happy to be a Tiger. Let's hope the Chinese are right when they say this is the year of the tiger!
On how long he's wanted to be a Tiger:
Day 1 after I knew that the Yankees were not going to work out. I tried to do what any player should do, tried to be as loyal as I can. I had the conversations with them. ...
I wanted to be here five years ago. I felt like I knew a bunch of these players, playing all these games against the Tigers during spring training. I always drove down here and always chatted with them. I'd talk to (Justin) Verlander, (Jeremy) Bonderman. Walking out here today, I felt good. I didn't feel like I had to make new friends. It's going to be an easy transition.
Back to the other question, I got to talk to Dontrelle Willis a couple days ago. After I got off the phone with him, I said, 'This seems like it's going to work.' We're expecting bigger things for him. He said this is a great place to play, you're going to enjoy it. Scott actually called two minutes after that, asked if we were good to go. I said, 'Absolutely.'
On changing teams again, especially after winning a World Series title with New York:
This is my fifth team or so. It seems like I have, I wouldn't say gotten used to moving on but, it's an easier move for me now. It's always great when you can win a world championship. i'm happy we were able to do that. ... I'm with the Tigers and hopefully I have the same success I had with the Yankees and the Red Sox.
I'm absolutely at peace as far as signing with the Tigers. Who knows what happens down the road. I plan to play for theTigers this year, get to the playoffs and win the whole thing.
I knew they were doing everything in their power to get me and possibly keep me away from a division rival. The fact that they were No. 1 on my list. There were other teams it would have been cool to sign with. I had an option with four teams, but in the end it was Detroit and I was happy about that.
What he brings to the team:
I plan to go out there and kick butt, win ball games and get everyone on the same page, get everyone working hard for the championship. That's why you strap it on as a little kid. As you go up through the ranks, winning a World Series is the cream of the crop.
On being a free agent during a tough offseason:
No one could really have anticipated how this market was going to be. I'm very happy with the deal we eventually signed. It's a tough market when you have players like Jermain Dye still out there, Felipe Lopez still out there. Teams are still trying to figure out ways they can win.
With Detroit, they bring in a guy who has a track record of winning. I think any time you have offers out there, from the richest team, saying that's all they can do, it's going to be a tough market.
On whether he will grow out his hair and beard now that he doesn't have to keep it trim as a Yankee:
I was thinking about dyeing my hair orange last night, but I wasn't qutie sure if that would be that great of taste. I saw (former Yankees teammate and now Tigers pitcher) Phil Coke today and I didn't even recognize him. His hair's a bit longer and he's got facial hair. But I kind of like the clean shaven look.
I think that's the quesiton I've been getting the past couple of years. I feel great. i actually think I look great too and look young. I'm ready for baseball. This is great. It's great to be a tiger. I'm glad to get this going.
On rooting for the Red Wings:
For some reason growing up in Orlando, Fla., I started becoming a Detroit Red Wings fan. Steve Yzerman had come up in the '80s and the rest is history. He was kicking butt and they were winning. I'm a huge red wing fan. I'm excited.
(off camera, possibly from Dombrowski): "I can get you great seats."
One of the perks!