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Sox couldn't afford him but still pay

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Got out of town to find shelter from A-Rod fallout. Didn't work. The entire sports world wants to talk about the most dramatic transaction involving the Red Sox and Yankees since George Herman Ruth was shipped to Gotham for cash in the winter of 1920.

Sorry to say that the Red Sox are taking quite a beating on the national stage. The story line is that the Sox wouldn't pay the freight and are left with the embarrassing prospect of Alex Rodriguez beating them for the next decade. Yeesh. Even the president weighed in from the Daytona 500 infield. Is there no end to the Sox indignities?

Baseball commissioner Bud Selig made it official yesterday, announcing that the dreaded deal had cleared its final hurdle. You didn't think Uncle Bud was going to balk at having MLB's signature star move from Death Valley Days to the House That Ruth Built, did you? Later in the day, those liars from Texas ("Alex is now our captain and will be our Opening Day shortstop") held a nationally televised news conference to rub more salt into the Hub's gaping wound.

Meanwhile, there weren't many souls at the Red Sox spring ballpark in this strip-mall town without pity. New manager Terry Francona should be on hand to answer questions today, and Boston's pitchers and catchers report Friday for Saturday's first formal workout.

Sox CEO Larry Lucchino was traveling on Presidents Day, but took time, via telephone, to answer some of the charges that have been levied regarding his handling of the A-Rod fiasco.

Did Lucchino blow up the negotiations by insulting Players Association counsel Gene Orza? Was he trying to drive a wedge between Rodriguez and the union?

"That's ludicrous," said Lucchino. "The only issue was expense. The deal was what we could afford and what we couldn't afford."

Some of the typists in New York insist the Sox broke off talks over $12 million. Depends on how you view the numbers. Lucchino's version is that there was a $30 million gap between what it would have taken and what the Sox would do.

One New York-area paper reported that Lucchino got wind of the Yankee deal late last week and called Texas general manager John Hart and owner Tom Hicks, begging the Rangers to let Boston match any offer.

"Absolutely not," said Lucchino. "I first learned of this Saturday when I got an e-mail from Theo [Epstein]. Before that, none of us knew anything about it."

Ultimately, it is John W. Henry's money and he's the one who has to explain how the Yankees pulled off the deal when Boston could not. Does Lucchino think the Sox fulfilled their obligation to baseball's most devout fans -- people who pay the highest prices in the majors?

"That's for our fans to decide," said Lucchino. "We certainly think so. Only one team could do this and that's the Yankees."

Never one to gloat, George Steinbrenner compared the A-Rod signing to bringing Reggie Jackson aboard in 1977. Tossing in his two cents, Jackson said Rodriguez now will have the chance to compete against the history of the game. (Even Mayor Menino weighed in on ESPN; is there anyone who has no opinion on this?)

The Red (faced) Sox certainly regret that things became so public in their pursuit of the new Yankee star. The entire sports world knows that the Sox were willing to lose both Manny Ramirez and Nomar Garciaparra.

"I do regret that," Lucchino answered when asked about the massive publicity that accompanied the Sox' pursuit of Rodriguez. "But we did our best not to make it public [like John W. Henry's lunch date with A-Rod?]. I think anything with regard to A-Rod this winter has been overcooked. The media magnified it enormously."

Does he think history will be harsh on the Sox when this all plays out?

"You can't tell that in mid-February," said Lucchino. "Let's see what transpires on the field. In the last three winters, the odds-on favorites were not the Arizona Diamondbacks, the Anaheim Angels, and the Florida Marlins. Some people may beat us up over this, but in our situation the deal was too expensive. We stretched as far as we could go, but we couldn't take on that extra $25 million-$30 million."

And now the Sox are in a position where they must come to agreement on a contract extension with their own shortstop. Imagine letting Nomar play out his deal, then watching him sign a longterm pact to become second baseman of the Yankees, alongside Derek Jeter and A-Rod? That would have sounded silly a week ago. Not now. Garciaparra should be Boston's big winner in the A-Rod disaster (some Sox fans already have suggested calling the Rangers to trade for Alfonso Soriano).

And it's not too early to start salivating over those 19 Red Sox-Yankees games this year. It'll be like 19 Michigan-Ohio State jousts.

The bottom line is this: Last week in Las Vegas the Red Sox were favored to win the World Series. This week, it's the Yankees. That's oddsmakers. That's gamblers. On paper, everything has turned in favor of the Yankees.

Babe Ruth to the Yankees was the deal of the last century. And now we have a new deal of the century: Alex Rodriguez to the Yankees. Instead of the Red Sox.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is

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