FORT MYERS, Fla. — Jonny Gomes has become the ultimate gun for hire. Need someone to straighten out your clubhouse for a year or two? Hire Jonny.
But Gomes, now 33, wants to hang around somewhere for a while. He would like to stay in Boston, but (for him) the luxurious and first two-year ($10 million) deal he signed will expire at the end of the season, and then, well, he may have to pack his bags and head to the next challenge.
“I sure hope not,’’ he said. “Tell you what, this game tends to reward you one way or the other in different ways. Looking back, I don’t think I would have appreciated that 2008 World Series [with Tampa Bay] against Philly if I didn’t go through last year. I wasn’t ready yet.
“You hang around long enough, this game will reward you. I’m very lucky. Todd Helton, 17 years, he didn’t get that. Eventually someone will jump on and want to keep me around.”
Gomes doesn’t retain many stats, but the ones he recited Saturday before the Red Sox’ second game vs. Baltimore were telling about his career path and plight.
“Before 2010, I played at 29 years old, and I had hit 100 homers,’’ Gomes said. “Only one other guy in the big leagues had 100 career homers who hadn’t signed a multiyear deal before age of 30. B.J. Upton was the other guy. He was going year to year with arbitration.”
“The other one . . . I was the only one with eight years of service as a position player who hadn’t made $8 million.’’
He also mentioned that, besides veteran players on the Phillies, he is the only other player to have won four divisional titles since 2008.
Last year’s numbers with the Red Sox weren’t eye-popping, but boy were they effective. He had great timing for his hits.
“There’s no stat for winning player,” Gomes said. “So it gets brushed under the rug. They talk about a player’s WAR [wins above replacement]? Well, how about a team WAR? I’ve turned a team around 20 games four different times. Worst to first. I was on a Tampa team that was historically bad in 2007 and then went to the World Series in 2008. The Reds hadn’t been in the playoffs for many years.
“When you’re building a team, I’m last on the list because, when the lights go out, you don’t see the player grind out at-bats or run hard to first base every time. Or see the player respect the game and his teammates . . . or see the way the player approaches the game, the work ethic.’’
He is a team builder, no doubt. Current Marlins general manager Dan Jennings first signed Gomes while with the Rays and to this day raves, “What an incredible presence on a team.”
“Basically, every single team I’ve been on there’s been zero expectations,’’ Gomes said. “I think there were zero expectations here last year. I get a kick when free agents say, ‘I want to go to a contender.’ Who [expletive] is a contender? The Oakland A’s in 2012? Us last year? The Reds in 2010?
“To tell you the honest truth, I’ve never wanted to leave anywhere. I’ve been so lucky because everywhere I’ve gone, I’ve been welcomed with open arms. I think I have a blueprint and a character of what I’m about. I never wanted to leave Tampa, Washington, A’s, Reds, but I think this is the best fit for me truly. It’s not because I’m here saying that. I think I can play that Wall really good.
“I’ve gone from getting pinch hit for six times in the first month and a half to becoming this pinch-hitting guru guy at the end of the year. I batted seventh, eighth, and ninth last year to batting fourth in the World Series.”
And there’s that feel for the moment.
“I’ve always taken the approach that when you’re a part-time player and getting 270-300 at-bats you have to have ability to make important at-bats count. If you’re giving this guy 280 at-bats, what would you want him to do? Get on base and hit with runners in scoring position. You want him to get on. And when someone is on, you want him to drive him in,” said Gomes, who hit .346 with four homers and 39 RBIs with runners in scoring position last season.
Gomes pointed out he’s never burned bridges, so if his Red Sox career ends after this season, any one of the teams he has played for, and many he hasn’t, could bring him aboard.
“I’m not bitter by any means,” he said. “You hope that [going team to team] would turn around. With all that being said, I wouldn’t change it for the world. I haven’t lost a step. I’ve been on the market numerous times in February. I just want to be wanted.
“I was signed by the Red Sox before Thanksgiving. I felt wanted. Not this, ‘We’ll check in and if this happens, we want you.’ If I go to the playoffs this year, it’ll be pretty unique.
“I’ve played for three managers of the year, four executives of the year. I’ve played on the youngest team in Tampa Bay, the oldest team in Cincinnati. I’ve played for my hometown A’s. I’ve seen things work and seen things not work. I’ve played for old-school [managers] like Davey Johnson and new-school like Joe [Maddon] and Bob [Melvin].”
What he brings can’t be measured in stats.
There isn’t a player in baseball who can work a room better than Gomes. He learned it as a rookie in Tampa Bay sitting between Tino Martinez and Fred McGriff when he heard Martinez say, “You know the word you never hear here? Playoffs.”
When he got to Oakland, he said the word “playoffs.” Everyone started saying it. They believed. He said the word “playoffs” when he got to the Red Sox.
Now what? One more year and pack your bags, thank you for your contribution?
If that’s what it is, Gomes will accept it because that’s what he’s known. But he deserves more than that, doesn’t he?Nick Cafardo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.