FORT MYERS, Fla. - Lyle Overbay, Stephen Drew and Ryan Dempster are some of the big names in Red Sox camp this spring.
And thanks to Florida Gulf Coast University, the doings at Fenway Park South aren't even the biggest story in town these days.
That should tell us all we need to know when it comes to expectations this season at Fenway Park North. At least we have proof John Farrell has been doing his homework. Watching him in the dugout from point-blank range, even during a game between the Red Sox scrubs and their Tampa Bay counterparts, one sees an immediate difference and upgrade over his predecessor.
Indeed, Farrell literally and figuratively can't do any worse. It's not like the Red Sox are going to finish in sixth place this season. And with the arrival of the Class AA Houston Astros, the Red Sox are assured of not being the worst team in the American League.
Talk around these parts centers on the possibility of 80-something wins and the the best-realistic scenario of contending for the elusive mirage of the "second wildcard." For Red Sox fans, at least the ones that haven't jumped off the bandwagon or the Tobin Bridge following the AFC championship game, this is the age of temperance and prohibition (unless you're Drake Britton or Bobby Jenks) following a 10-year bacchanalia of "Sweet Caroline," headline-grabbing contracts, twice-in-a-lifetime championships and a blizzard of on and off-field self-inflicted wounds that drove fans crazy.
The only survivor scattered among the wreckage of 2012 was apathy. The passion for the Red Sox has been deep-fried in Popeye's, soused in Bud Light and rolled into Bobby Valentine's rap. The Red Sox are looking up at the rest of the American League East these days. This fan base, for the first time since the early 1990s, has been relieved of the burden of expectations and looming threat of disappointment. There's no downside in 2013. This will be a year free of fear or frustration.
Fans have become immune to the Red Sox. They really can't hurt you any more. Those of us who remember 1972, Game 7 in 1975, Game 6 in 1986, Grady Little and the great Collapse of 2011 have all been hardened through experience. But we always fell for it, even after 2004 and 2007. "Now I die in peace" was never enough, after all.
It took the ensuing 18 months after Carl "Poor Me" Crawford's lunge into futility against the Orioles back on that gloomy September night for Red Sox passion to finally reach a room-temperature pitch.
Now one can die in peace without a second thought of what's happening on Yawkey Way. Or at least being really pissed about it.
For most of recent history, the Red Sox have kept things interesting, either by childhood-scarring moments like Aaron Boone's moon shot, or by the happy thoughts we shared at our parents' gravesite after the Duck Boats rolled in 2004.
"Yes, Dad, it all started with a stolen base. Can you f-----g believe that one?"
The Red Sox even gave us the "Greatest Team Ever" just two years ago.
The Red Sox then took a three-step approach to ripping the collective heart from their fan base.
First, of course, was that historic September slide back of 2011. As bad as 7-20 was, it certainly was not unfamiliar territory for any of us over the age of 35. It was simply the return of "our father's Red Sox."
The Red Sox then moved from "chokers" to "jokers" and became the eternal punchline in a never-ending litany of "chicken and beer" memes, talk-show rants and messageboard comments. The comedy tour was extended into 2012 with the hiring of Valentine and the circus that ensued before and after his arrival from Bristol.
The jokes continued - both on and off the field - during last season. There was Youkilis-Gate, Beckett-Gate, Secret-Meeting-In-New-York-Gate, Double-Fisting-Gate and a daily reality show that never failed to disappoint.
The image of Red Sox continued to devolve - overpaid, overweight, ill-prepared, apathetic and lacking in basic physical conditioning or the ability to pitch more than five innings. The franchise bottomed out in the minds of its fanbase when news broke that only four players had attended the first memorial service to Johnny Pesky. This single incident - while downplayed by the same geniuses in State Run Media who told us Bobby V. was the answer - struck a unseen-before nerve with Red Sox fans, especially those old enough to remember watching Jim Rice play, Luis Tiant pitch and Bill Lee pontificate about Fidel Castro in between starts.
Never had the hatred of this team or its players been more raw and visceral that it was at that moment.
All those cliches about the Red Sox were no longer applicable. They had simply become a bunch of first-class a--holes.
Then, at its darkest hour, Boston was able to miraculously hit the re-set button thanks to the Dodgers. The season ended with a final 14-2 baby-seal-clubbing at the hands of the Yankees. Fittingly, the Red Sox closed the season going 7-19 in September and 0-3 in October just for good measure. But they rid themselves of Valentine and even offered Pesky a beautiful and fitting public tribute.
The Red Sox are not a low-budget outfit. This season's payroll is hovering somewhere around $160 million. The Monster is also alive and well, to wit David Ortiz's $26 million lifetime achievement award. Big Papi remains the living embodiment of all that was good and bad during the past decade.
Oritz has said he won't push himself to play in the wake of his Achilles' tendon injury until he's ready. Thankfully his hand and wrist were in good enough shape to sign that new contract. My favorite line of spring training thus far was Ortiz's response when asked if rookie Jackie Bradley, 22, should replace him on the roster. When asked what he was doing at age 22, Ortiz responded: "I was hitting bombs in the big leagues." Big Papi must have meant "steak bombs" since he had all of nine homers when he was 22 and playing for the Twins in 1998.
That old-school "25 players, 25 cabs" Red Soxian dialogue has been thankfully rare this spring. Most of the intel from Lee County and elsewhere up and down the Gulf Coast has been mildly positive. The pitching has been better than expected and the injuries - save for Ortiz - have been kept to a minimum. When expectations are non-existent, all of the things that make baseball enjoyable are noticed and appreciated.
That's what made this annual pilgrimage to Fort Myers such a joy. There's no downside this season as far as the Red Sox are concerned. Watching them this season should be stress-free. The current members on the team - certainly the ones on display during this four-games in three-game swing - played with refreshing hustle while executing solid fundamentals. I even witnessed Jon Lester throw six perfect innings in a game with my own four eyes. It's hard to remember if he threw six perfect innings all last season.
No one is foolish enough to extract anything from spring training when it comes to predicting the future. But athletes don't really change the way they play from one day to the next. Competitive players are competitive, whether it's MLB 2k13 on their X-Box, quarters, spring training or the World Series. Others try when the spotlight is the brightest. Others are Josh Beckett.
From all accounts, tickets sales are at multi-year lows and even Larry Urban Legend is prepared to throw in the towel on the faux sellout streak. When the Astros come to town in April, they might even move the Dunkin' Dugout inside the 617 area code. State Run Media has to launch a drone just to get that shot each night. Tickets for that historic showdown start at $9 on AceTicket.com.
This is as it should be. The Red Sox might even make watching baseball fun again in 2013. But there's no reason for anyone who doesn't like baseball to watch this team. Being a Red Sox fan is no longer trendy. Some of us are burdened/blessed with it as a birthright and will never change. Others were lured in during college, through marriage or other nefarious means. And even a few have stayed on the bandwagon that began rolling nine years ago. (My goodness, it's been nine years since 2004. How did that happen?) Most won't be going anywhere, especially if they were still around at the end of last season.
No one here is bailing on the Red Sox, even though they bailed on us the day Bobby Valentine showed up. The front office, no doubt, is in panic mode because Jenny Pinkhat and her pals are poised to bail the minute Jacoby Ellsbury stops swiveling his hips in the leadoff spot. Good riddance - to both.
For the rest of us, we'll watch the season commence a week from today at Yankee Stadium.
It will be April Fools Day.
But this time, the Red Sox won't be fooling anyone.
March Madness - meet March Road Rage.
Following the finish of Sunday's Auto Club 400 in Fontana, Calif., Tony Stewart and Joey Logano tangled in the pit area. The fun begins at the one-minute mark of this clip.
The race ended with Kyle Busch taking the checkered flag following a last-lap wreck between Logano and Denny Hamlin. The No. 11 Toyota of Hamlin hit the infield wall hard after the wreck. The wall did not have a Safer barrier and Hamlin, who was awake and alert after the crash, was airlifted to a local hospital. There was no immediate word available on his condition.
Logano blocked Stewart on the race's final restart, which may have precipitated their melee. Lagano mixed it up with Hamlin on the track and via Twitter after last week's race in Bristol, Tenn.
"What the hell do you think I was mad about," Stewart told Fox. "Dumb little son-of-bitch runs us clear down into the infield. He loves to (expletive) about everybody else and he's the one who drives like a little (expletive.) I'm gonna bust his ass."
Speaking on Fox, Logano, who is a native of Middletown, Conn., said the his move on Hamlin payback for last week. "Racing for the lead. Going for the win. That is what you’ve got to do," he said.
As far as Stewart: "That's what he gets," Logano said. "I had to throw the block there for the lead ...I wanted to block that because I knew if he put me three-wide that would be the end of my race and I wouldn’t win. I was smart enough to realize that. Then I had to just do what I had to do to get to the front and try to win the race.”
Lip-readers who saw it on Fox have no trouble figuring out what Stewart thought of the entire affair even before his post-race tirade.
NASCAR takes its traditional Easter break next weekend. Maybe tempers will cool by the next Sprint Cup race in two weeks (April 7) at Martinsville, Va. Given Stewart's reputation, Logano had better watch his back - and be careful with his Easter basket.
As the white smoke flew, the Patriots waved the white flag on Wes Welker and replaced him with Danny Amendola.
Welker was gone to the Broncos, John Elway and Peyton Manning.
Horse Power topped horse manure. Robert Kraft proved to be full of the latter when he spoke of wanting Welker to be a "Patriot for life" just a few days ago. Kraft inserted his disclaimers, but the message was clear. Perhaps it was all part of the mixed message that so many "in the know" fell prey to in propagating the party line that the market for Welker was soft? Yes, $12 million over two years smacks of collusion. But countering it with $10 million over two years smacks of disdain.
Speaking of smoke(screens), stay tuned for the papal bull from Foxborough via State Run Media and the NFL intelligentsia about how Amendola is a younger, cheaper and quicker version of Welker. Just because he's another small white guy doesn't make him another Welker. The injury-prone Amendola coming from St. Louis bears an eerie resemblance to the injury-prone Carl Crawford coming from Tampa Bay. No one cares about the Rams until they play in London. There's no guarantee Amendola is going to be able to handle the bright lights and big city of Foxborough, never mind the high performance expectations in Archbishop Belichick's diocese.
The Patriots are set to pay Amendola $31 million over five years, $10 million of which is guaranteed. So it's not as if they are afraid to spend money. They just didn't want to spend it on Welker. Last year, when the Patriots offered Welker two years at $16 million, it was still considerably lower than market price, to wit the fact that it cost New England $9.15 million to franchise him.
The "Art of The Deal' trumped the importance of the player. Front office philosophy and ego defeated talent and guts.This is nothing new with the Patriots. Adam Vinatieri, Deion Branch and Troy Brown - among others - were all excommunicated by Pope Robert for daring to seek fair-market value for their services.
The "Patriot Way" is batting about .250 when it comes to allowing "key players" to walk, if things are judged in the prism of Super Bowl titles. Brown, Vinatieri, Branch, Willie McGinest and Ty Law all departed Foxborough for greener pastures since the Patriots won their most recent Super Bowl. The Patriots had plenty of money and cap room to keep them all, but chose to maintain positional salary discipline rather than a football dynasty.
The infallibility of Pope Robert and Archbishop Belichick has faded with each passing presidential election since New England's last Lombardi Trophy. It's hard to blame the loss to the Giants in Super Bowl XLII on any decisions made by the front office. New England finished 18-1 and not 19-0 primarily because David Tyree caught a ball off his helmet 32 yards downfield on 3rd and 5 with 1:15 left as he was being mauled by the best safety this side of Ronnie Lott.
But the Patriots were just flat outplayed in Super Bowl XLVI, as well as their 2010 playoff loss to the Jets and this past January's AFC title game debacle and fell a player or two short against the Colts in 2006. Welker's drop with four minutes to play at the Hoosier Dome certainly cost the Patriots a victory against the Giants in Feb. 2012, but it was not the reason they lost.
Watching Manning connect with Manningham to beat the Patriots on that Super Bowl winning drive was the stuff of childhood nightmares. Watching the other Manning connect with Welker to beat the Patriots in the AFC championship game won't be less painful. Think Yankee third baseman Wade Boggs on his horse after the 1996 World Series.
How much are the Patriots hated these days outside New England? Well, the rest of the NFL is rejoicing when Peyton "Cut that Meat" Manning and John "He looks like Mr. Ed" Elway got the best of someone else since it was Tom Brady and Belichick.
And after the deal @JohnElway Tweeted: "Holy #@%$ - we got #Welker for $12 million over 2 years! OMG! Thanx, Bob & BB. #SuperBowlXLVII"
Or maybe not. Certainly those thoughts raced through his mind after the Patriots went the extra mile to lowball Welker on his way to the Mile High City.
First, it should have been no surprise that Welker bolted New England once he became a free agent. Nor was it a surprise that a rival team like the Broncos coveted him as soon as possible. Those sentiments about Welker's inevitable exit were shared here last week and here in December.
This foresight was not the result of a secret source, secret sauce, inside information or wiretapped telephone calls. Rather it was the only undeniable logical conclusion to Welker's fate once he was free to kick the NFL's tires, especially given the Patriots' history.
The Jesuits at Marquette knew how to teach logic, whether I was paying attention remains undetermined 30 years later. Pope Francis will have a slew of Jesuit schools to choose from in his NCAA bracket Final Four since five are ranked in the AP Top 25. Perhaps the Holy Father can deliver Ed Reed and Bernard Pollard to the Patriots as penance for the suffering caused by the Ravens.
Welker was Brady's favorite target and he knew how to take a beating, if not make a Super Bowl-clinching catch. Here was a chance for the likes of Elway and Manning, or some other shrewd tandem, to swipe Brady's security blanket, cause rancor in New England and improve themselves in the process, all at a bargain price.
Father, forgive my vanity as I quote myself:
"Welker is not your typical 31-year-old future Hall of Fame slot receiver who made 118 catches last season. He's Tom Brady's target of choice in all the toughest situations. There will be always be a substantial market in the NFL for Tom Brady's favorite target, especially when you can take him away from Tom Brady."
Seriously, why wouldn't they do it?
The Manning brothers already had three of Brady's Super Bowl rings, now they have his binky.
And Brady, or someone close to Brady, or someone who knows Giselle's stylist, or anyone who bothered to speak up about this team was beyond pissed. How could No. 12 not be enraged after restructuring his contract for this? The Patriots stiffed Welker and shafted Brady all at once. Amendola is no cure-all. He's not the poor man's Welker. He's the upper-middle class version of Julian Edelman.
Amendola played under Josh McDaniels in St. Louis. That's going to be portrayed as a positive by the same geniuses who told us Welker would never leave Gillette Stadium. Last time we checked, McDaniels was being crucified after the Patriots put up zero points in the second half against Baltimore. And if Brady was in on this deal from the get-go, he's a lesser man than we thought.
Even working with resident boy genius McDaniels, there's going to be steep learning curve between Brady and Amendola. All this while Brady ages and Gisele fumes as her husband is tied up 3,000 miles away from their Brentwood estate until age 40. She might go after Linda Holliday if given the chance.
Archbishop Belichick was making all nicey-nice via Linda's Twitter account Tuesday night, hitting us with knowledge like this:
Just hours later Patriots fans went into post-Welker apoplectic shock and lost their appetite for the Moules Marinieres at Cafe Des Artistes.
How close were Brady and Welker? Look no further than their trip to Costa Rica last year. Think about this, they went to Central America with their better halves (Welker was engaged at the time) just a few weeks after Gisele tore into Welker and Friends since her husband "could not throw the ball and catch the ball" at the same time.
Football players are people, too. When was the last time you went on vacation with a co-worker and your wife/girlfriend? And did it after your wife/girlfriend inadvertently ripped those same co-worker(s) in public? How about never.
The BFFs are now two time zones apart.
The Patriots allowed Welker to walk and make one of their competitors infinitely better over a lousy $1 million per year. Two years means Manning's biological clock is ticking louder than Brady's.
Patriots fans are justifiably angry today. But there is no justice in the sporting world for players, either. Welker is going to get $6 million this season to get pounded without mercy after each catch. David Ortiz is going to get $13 million to fill in for Jerry Remy this season. Co-hosting "Red Sox Small Talk" can't be far behind.
And $1 million is only $270,000 less than John Lackey gets every two weeks during the season from the Red Sox. While Lackey has gotten the key to the city for showing up in Fort Myers for barely being in shape, Welker caught 118 passes for 1,354 yards this past regular season and was nearly decapitated by Pollard in the AFC championship game. Note to parents: Consider this when deciding whether to give little Jimmy a football or a baseball glove and stocking full of Popeye's gift certificates this Christmas.
Enough fire and grimstone.
In all this fury, Welker's career in New England deserves honor and recognition. He was simply the best and most prolific receiver in the history of the Patriots. He will someday see his No. 83 retired in Foxborough and find a nice spot in the Patriots Hall of Fame, if not the Pro Football Hall of Fame. His drop against the Giants is an undeniable part of his legacy, as was his ooopsie against the Ravens. Welker also caught 11 passes against the Giants in Glendale and was a key reason why New England held a lead when the offense walked off the field with just 2:42 to play on that nightmarish evening. He caught over 100 passes in five seasons and totaled 7,459 yards receiving as a Patriot. And, in the end, he even got to "stick it in Bill's face."
Thanks for the memories, Wes.
Too bad it had to end like this.
Justin Timberlake and Jay-Z have added a second show on Aug. 11 during their 2013 "Legends of the Summer" tour stop at Fenway Park.
But before that tour, he had one last stop as host of NBC's "Saturday Night Live" this week as he joined the shows famous "Five Timers Club."
The first JT-Jay-Z show at Fenway Park, set for Aug. 10, has already sold out. Maybe by then, David Ortiz will be able to run all the way to third base.
That's also proof positive that the only sellouts this season after opening day will be the result of continued front-office hocus pocus, country star Jason Aldean or this pair of pop/rap music icons.
Tickets to see Timberlake and Jay-Z in person at Fenway Park start at $64.50 for "limited view" seats in Section 4B and range up to $225. People who tuned into NBC's "Saturday Night Live" this week got to see them perform for free together.
Timberlake and Jay-Z whetted the appetite of his summer tour audience with a soulful and power-packed performance of "Suit and Tie." And there was no lip-syncing from Mr. Carter.
And there was no shortage of SNL all-stars on the field this week as Timberlake was joined by the likes of Dan Aykroyd, Chevy Chase, Martin Short and Andy Samberg throughout the evening. Too bad the Red Sox won't produce a rotation that strong this season.
Hopes were high for Timberlake to deliver big-time this week - a fact he noted in his monologue. And Timberlake did not disappoint. The first hour of the show, plus his two musical performances, were more than enough to balance the final 30 minutes, which still delivered a nice surprise with a plug for one of NBC's upcoming shows. The episode allowed Timberlake to demonstrate throughout his best-in-the-business ability to simultaneously combine comedy, acting and musical skills. He's come a long way from the all-new "Mickey Mouse Club." Britney and Christina, not so much.
There were many laugh-out-loud moments and some classic SNL odes to its past success, including the return of those horny "wild and crazy" Czech brothers. Samberg appeared in a couple of sketches and got more air time than some of the regulars this week. It appears he's still well within Lorne Michaels' good graces.
Among the others joining Timberlake in the historic "Five Timers Club" on this week's show were Steve Martin, Candice Bergen, Tom Hanks, Alec Baldwin, Paul Simon - and via portraits in the club - Drew Barrymore and John Goodman.
Timberlake's monologue turned into a live intro in the club, and featured Martin, Simon and Chase. Their appearance morphed into a mini "Three Amigos" reunion. The three returned later in the show in "Amigos" attire to introduce Timberlake's second song of the night - "Mirrors."
Hanks and Baldwin also stopped by the monologue join in on the fun to watch a cast member fight between Bobby Moynihan and Taran Killam.
"I always thought if an NSYNC member ever made the "Five Timers Club" it would be Joey Fatone," Martin said. Original cast member Aykroyd, who has only hosted once, was working as a down-on-his-luck bartender. Chase, currently starring in "Community", also stopped by to eat. He was an original "Not Ready for Prime Time Player" who made his comedic bones playing President Gerald Ford and anchoring "Weekend Update" before he showed up at Bushwood Country Club and eventually played "Fletch."
Meanwhile, Bergen reminded her fellow "Five Timers" to leave the toilet seat down.
Check out this clip of Hanks joining the "Five Timers Club" from 1990, which includes a very young and fresh-faced Conan O'Brien helping Hanks on with his special "Five Timers" jacket. Martin and Simon teach him the special handshake.
Martin hinted at what was coming with this Tweet on Friday:
Where are they now? Why, right here. twitter.com/SteveMartinToG…— Steve Martin (@SteveMartinToGo) March 8, 2013
The episode scored huge laughs when Timberlake and his singing "brother" Samberg appeared as bachelor contestants on "It's a Date" in "Lonely Island" character.
They vied for Vanessa Bayer's hand against Martin and Aykroyd, who reunited as Czech brothers Georg and Yortuk Festrunk, those "two wild and crazy guys."
Their perfect date: "We will have many bottles of sparkling wine from Long Island ... and we'll want to spend the night with your big American breasts." They added, "You can't miss our bulges." While Yortuk has maintained his slim physique over the past 37 years, Georg has put on more than a few kilograms.
The two pairs were also up against Moynihan, who was alone and had no chance.
Samberg and Timberlake sang their answers, saying their perfect night-in includes time lying in bed watching Duck Tales. They also offered this answer to their favorite season of the year: "Girls can't get pregnant in the summer time ... science."
The group eventually became "four wild and crazy guys and Judy."
This week's show definitely earned its TV-14 rating. The ancient debauchery and drinking stopped as Timberlake played a repentant Roman emperor Caligula. He was sobered up and tried to straighten out his friends and fellow former revelers but eventually fell prey to his old desires. Timberlake later played a porn star in a Moet and Chandon champagne commercial with pair of somewhat unintelligible female adult film veterans.
Timberlake and Nasim Pedrad "starred" in an upcoming NBC's show about a young couple in love. Unfortunately, for Timberlake, he's found the woman who has everything. And we mean, everything. The show's title gives it away: "She's got a D!%k."
The trio of Kate McKinnon, Bayer and Cecily Strong teamed up to pitch the diamond studded birth-control device "NuvaBling," which is "70 percent effective in preventing pregnancy" but 100 percent effective in "getting dat sawg on." And women can re-use it each month as jewelry!
Timberlake's "Homelessville" Christmas-season singing character was reprized as vegetarian-hawking "Veganville" dance machine who did his best to torment the poor soul (Moynihan) from Sausage Depot. "Bring it on down to Veganville." He even got one last laugh out of the "Harlem Shake."
Old pal Stefon (Bill Hader) stopped by the "Weekend Update" desk to give us an update of what's happening on the Manhattan night scene for spring break visitors. Among New York's hottest night clubs is "Your Mother and I Are Separating." Stefan also provided a memorable interpretation of what Donald Duck would sound like "having a Vietnamese nightmare."
"Maine Justice" was handed out in a sketch that featured Samberg and McKinnon as the litigants and Timberlake as a bailiff. The characters - except for Samberg - sounded more like residents of Baton Rouge than Bangor, which was allegedly the joke. It didn't work.
Timberlake got multiple laughs in the cold opening with an appearance as Elton John performing at the funeral of Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez and singing "Candle In The Wind" with some special lyrics tailored just for Chavez. Citing some actual facts, he sang: "Goodbye, Hugo C ... you helped to make your country the kidnapping capital of the world ... and once said 'Capitalism Killed Mars.'"
Timberlake had a long history on SNL with some classic musical and comedic bits. Timberlake's "20/20" album drops a week from Tuesday (March 19).
"Identity Thief" star Melissa McCarthy, who killed it during her first time as host in 2011, will host when the show returns live on April 6 with musical guest Phoenix.
"And I was thinking to myself...This could be heaven or this could be hell"
Only Carl Crawford could turn signing a seven-year, $142 million contract into the worst decision of his life even though he was all smiles the day it happened.
In the safety and sanctity of Glendale, Ariz., sitting on the bench with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Crawford bemoaned his days in Boston on Thursday, telling CBSSports.Com that it was - get ready - the evil Boston media that turned his usual smile upside down into a frown.
"That smile turned upside down quick," Crawford said. "I think they want to see that in Boston. They love it when you're miserable...Burying people in the media, they think that makes a person play better."
If burying people in the media made them better players, J.D. Drew would have won the Triple Crown with 75 home runs and a .434 batting average in 2011, Josh Beckett would be coming off a 40-win season in Boston, Dice-K and his Gyro Ball would be headed for Cooperstown and Bobby Valentine would be working with all those young ballplayers in Fort Myers as they were being sized for their 2012 World Series rings.
But there was more from Crawford:
"That media was the worst thing I've ever experienced in my life."
If only he mentioned us by name.
Back at you Carl. You're certainly the worst $142 million left-fielder we've ever experienced.
After standing doe-eyed as the Red Sox imploded in 2011 and wallowing through injury after injury in 2012, Crawford admitted he and Boston were not a good fit. Perhaps he's taken a job at The Onion in his spare time, which must be about 23 hours a day as he continues his eternal rehab from Tommy John surgery.
"I think that's the truth," Crawford continued. "It just wasn't the right place for me at the end of my day. I didn't do my homework. Maybe they didn't, either....At the end of the day, it just wasn't the place for me."
But that day in 2010 when he signed that $142 million guaranteed deal, it was Heaven on Earth.
Crawford said the Red Sox didn't do their homework? Come on, Carl. No one thought you'd crumble quicker than the Florida housing market. There was love from both sides.
Here's what Theo told State Run Media in the hours before the Crawford deal was announced:
"Nothing ... was the product of a last-minute idea, It was all a product of -- hopefully -- a well-thought-out plan over a long period of time, and well-documented with lots of scouting, following players over the course of whole half-seasons, white papers written up about how the parts all fit together, a lot of thought and lot of commitment and belief -- and commitment to winning and belief from ownership."
He forgot to add: "We also have drones tracking him 24/7."
The good news is that Crawford is "smiling again," just like he did during his days with the Rays in Tampa Bay. He killed the Red Sox for several years before the Rays became relevant and cracked the 70-win barrier.
Crawford is "smiling again" because he's back in a place where no one gives a damn about how his team finishes. In Tampa Bay, the Rays were contending for the playoffs last season at home in front of crowds in the tens of hundreds.
"It's nice to have that feel, that free-spirit feel," Crawford said of being with the aptly named Dodgers. "I always had that [with the Rays]."
It's always easy for athletes like Crawford to take it easy when the pressure is off. The Dodgers only matter to fans in Southern California when they're winning and that's only after the third inning when they show up. If players like Crawford tank in L.A., no one in Hollywood will even notice. They'll just head to the beach after loading up on Botox and gluten-free, sugar-free, caffeine-free mocha lattes.
When Crawford was in Tampa Bay, the Rays only mattered to fans on Evan Longoria Bobblehead night. Here's my proof: On the day of Game 7 of the American League Championship Series in 2008, I was able to buy two tickets to the left-field pavilion for face value at the box office.
The Rays have become a model, small-market franchise and have the best manager in baseball. They should switch fan bases with the Cubs. Unfortunately, no one in Pinellas County shows up for anything, except jury duty when it comes time to acquit Casey Anthony. And those who bother to watch the Rays only do so only for cowbell practice.
Players like Crawford and his teammates Fan Cave Gonzalez and Josh Beckett never understood this simple difference - fans in Boston actually care more when the Red Sox tank. Especially in a year when they're billed as the "Best Team Ever!"
Media members followed suit because that's where their readers/viewers are. Crawford mistakenly believes the media drives the anger and disdain people feel toward carpetbagging players who sign $142 or $156 million deals and end up sucking. It's actually the other way around.
Crawford talked about the "media" but never really defined them. Certainly the beat writers who cover the team didn't say or write anything outrageous or untruthful about Crawford. Reporting that he went 1-for-5 and left seven runners on base is not being negative. It's called "journalism." He got a pass and plenty of sympathy from the routine scribes and analysts who cover the team on a day-to-day basis.
His biggest critic was perhaps principal owner John Henry, who told Felger and Mazz during that infamous drive-by stop in October 2011 that he "opposed the deal" that brought Crawford to Boston.
Crawford told CBSSports.Com that he felt the Boston media pounced every time he failed to produce. In other words, they actually did their jobs. My guess here is that Crawford didn't like the criticism he was getting from callers on talk radio, columnists and bloggers, and from fans who cursed in frustration as he swung at pitch after pitch outside the strike zone.
"I took so much of a beating in Boston, I don't think anything could bother me anymore. They can say what they want -- that I'm the worst free agent ever -- and it won't get to me," he said. "But it bothered me the whole time there. Look how they treat [John] Lackey. Adrian [Gonzalez] hit 30 home runs (actually 27), and they talked about him not hitting home runs."
I still can't remember one of those 27 (or 30) home runs A-Gonz hit that made a difference, especially since the 2011 Red Sox never saw the postseason. Lackey's ERA in 2011 was 6.41. He did not throw more than six innings in any of his five starts in September and finished 12-12 despite making $15.25 million.
What, Carl, were they supposed to say?
And I thought athletes didn't read the papers/websites/Twitter feeds.
Fans and media in Boston were somewhat understanding toward Crawford when he was hurt. But he was still unable to lay off a two-strike curveball if his mom's life depended on it and was one step short of Robert Andino's low-liner on the final night of the season. Even though Crawford hit .255 in 2011 as the Red Sox went down in flames, he escaped most of the hellfire created by "Chicken And Beergate." He stole a mere 23 bases in his 161 games with the Red Sox. He used to steal that many against Boston in a three-game series at the Trop.
As the Red Sox struggled in 2012, Crawford was able to check out due to his ailing elbow. But when it comes to the Hotel Commonwealth after signing a $142 million contract, "you can check out any time you like. But you can never leave."
The money always comes with a price, especially in a city like Boston and a place like Fenway Park. The greats take the cash in places like Boston, New York and Philly, and perform to the best of their abilities while winning (sometimes a championship) in the process. Others, like Crawford and Gonzalez, cave into the pressure and blame God, the media, fans, bad weather, travel schedules or whatever else comes to mind.
Cue Jake Blues:
(In our video analogy, that's Theo in drag holding the M-16.)
Perhaps there will be a happy ending for Crawford in California. "I feel like I've got a lot of baseball left," he told CBSSports.Com. "But over there, I felt like my career was almost over."
And no doubt he played like it, too.
Adam Vinatieri sat alone at a picnic table.
It was a chilly, windy, sunny Florida winter afternoon in early 2006. The type of day you don't normally associate with a place known for hurricanes, humidity, spring break and Casey Anthony.
He had just finished a promotional appearance. Fun times teaching fans how to kick gave way to the business at hand, which was the business of football. The crowds had dispersed, as had the local TV stations and the PR types who live for these moments.
Vinatieri's foot had provided the margin of victory in three Super Bowls with the Patriots. They might have even won a fourth if he could have run down Desmond Howard. He had the unconditional love of a fanbase that booed the likes of Ted Williams, Yaz and Roger Clemens over the years. There was no end in sight to this Patriots' dynasty.
There was frustration hidden beneath his smile. The Patriots had franchised him once but did not, by agreement, do it a second time. Free-agency beckoned. But Vinatieri had not made his intentions public. He was ready to express himself, if not literally spell it out. And he did. His time with New England was discussed in the past tense. He spoke of his love of fans and teammates and how the NFL had become a business.
Listening to Vinatieri at that moment, it was obvious what his plans were: It was time to see how much money was out there. The "Patriot Way" collided with Adam's wallet. This was his shot at a big-time NFL payday and way to see what others thought of his talents. Sometimes, after winning three Super Bowls, you want a hug. Sometimes, you want a five-year, $12.5 million deal with a $3.5 million signing bonus.
"You say goodbye and I say hello," especially if I'm heading to Indianapolis.
The Colts snapped him up and put an offer on the table the Patriots would never match, especially since the Patriots felt as if they had gone above-and-beyond with the $2.5 million they had paid the kicker in 2005.
Once the Patriots decided not to franchise Welker, Vinatieri's fate came to mind. There's a tremendous amount of validity to the argument that the Wes Welker situation is just an extended replay of what happened to Vinatieri. And, as Tom E. Curran noted Wednesday on Comcast SportsNet New England, once the Colts realized Vinatieri was available, he was a goner.
Here's the kicker. As luck (and Luck) would have it, the Colts will, coincidentally, be one of the leading front-runners in the Welker sweepstakes. They have more than $45 million in available cap room and a spectacular 2nd-year QB whose arm might even remind Welker of another No. 12.
A large chunk of that cap space is available thanks to the dearly departed Peyton Manning and others. Manning might indeed help the Colts get one more win over New England.
Now think about this, the Patriots refused to play footsie with Vinatieri, who won three Super Bowls for the Patriots and was an unquestioned football hero from Portland to West Hartford. The best Welker could do was make 11 catches against the Giants in the gut-wrenching loss in Super Bowl XLII. And that performance has been washed from our memories by his drop with four minutes to play against the Giants four years later and his big oopsie against the Ravens in this year's AFC title game. The Patriots and their fans have become so spoiled/carry such high expectations that Welker's five 100-reception seasons and the fact that he's the first receiver in NFL history with at least 110 catches in three seasons somehow are not relevant in this debate.
The decision to let Vinatieri walk is still mystifying, although not surprising. Since he bolted from New England, Vinatieri has won more Super Bowls than the Patriots have. The Patriots were at the height of their imperial dominance when they decided not to franchise Vinatieri again and granted him his freedom. They calculated he would come back to Foxborough with his best offer and that no team would come at him as fast and high as the Colts did. Vinatieri put his best foot forward and walked to the RCA Dome.
Unfortunately, Bill Belichick missed Dirty Harry's lesson to Lt. Briggs at the end of "Magnum Force."
Since he became a full-time Hoosier, Vinatieri's added another Super Bowl ring and New England has cringed with each Stephen Gostkowski attempt from outside the 20.
There's a lot of public misdirection going on with Welker. He's staying, he's leaving. One thing is clear, if and/or when Welker decides to test the free-agency market and goes public with those intentions, there will be next to zero chance of him playing for the Patriots next season. The Colts, or another team like the Broncos, Bengals, Seahawks, Eagles, Cowboys, etc. will put enough cash on the table and make him an offer neither he nor Mrs. Welker can refuse. Then there's the whole Jets thing. Given what they did to sign Tim Tebow just to not play him, nothing can be put past Rexy and Friends.
Welker is not your typical 31-year-old future Hall of Fame slot receiver who made 118 catches last season. He's Tom Brady's target of choice in all the toughest situations.
There will be always be a substantial market in the NFL for Tom Brady's favorite target, especially when you can take him away from Tom Brady.
And that's a cost the Patriots aren't likely to bear.
Boston's Zdeno Chara earned a 10-minute penalty for instigating his fight with Alexei Emelin during Sunday's Bruins-Canadiens melee at TD Garden. The penalty was unjustified. Conflict between the Bruins and Canadiens was instigated 89 years ago when the NHL went international. Sunday, Chara had no other options if he wanted to look himself in the really tall mirror, keep the "C" on his chest and remind the rest of the NHL that cheap shots and stick-breaking cross-checks on a so-called "highly-skilled" type like Tyler Seguin has been granted "protected status."
And this game was not just a game. It was Bruins vs. Canadiens. And it lived up to its legacy as the Bruins went down fighting.
Every week is "Rivalry Week" these days. Non-existent, illegitimate rivalries are hyped mercilessly by TV networks and desperate ticket-sellers. Just check out anything that passes for an NBA or MLB rivalry these days. Tune in this week on Fox as the Braves and Marlins resume their "Battle for Supremacy in the Confederacy."
There's no reason to believe that passion has faded in the NHL, especially in a regular season mercifully shortened by a lockout. Not even the ghosts of John Ziegler or Clarence Campbell could have found fault with the two games the league showcased Sunday: Bruins-Canadiens and Blackhawks-Red Wings.
The intensity, ferocious fights, hard-hits, one-goal difference, and even the ire of both Claude Julien and Montreal coach Michel Therrien were on display at TD Garden in Boston's 4-3 loss Sunday night. This game served notice again that the Bruins-Canadiens are still as hostile toward each other as they've been at any time since Stan Jonathan and John Wensink beat the hell out of Pierre Bouchard and Giles Lupien, respectively, during the 1978 playoffs.
Kids, watch and enjoy, courtesy of hockeyfights.com on You Tube:
Now, there's no way we'd advocate the re-incarnation of a Jonathan or a Wensink in today's gluten-free, 6th-place Trophy, Participation Award society. The blood isn't really necessary nor desired, although a few shots to the face of anyone in Montreal rouge, blanc et bleu isn't such a bad thing. And neither is "Hating Thy Neighbor," especially when he lives in Montreal and worships at the altar of Guy Lafleur.
Where is the love? Wait until David Ortiz's next hug session with Robinson Cano or just check LeBron's Twitter feed from Saturday:
Somehow, I don't see Shawn Thornton sending man-love Tweets to Max Pacioretty. Shaking hands after a hellacious seven-game series is one thing. That's sportsmanship, which died about two generations ago.
Chara let the rest of the NHL know that Tyler Seguin is off-limits when it comes to "Hey, What Are You Looking At Me For, I Dropped My Stick?" cross-checks in the neutral zone and paid for it with 17 minutes of off-ice time. He rolled Emelin after the Russian clipped Seguin. The 17 minutes nearly matched his on-ice time (17:16).
Chara came at Emelin just slowly enough to give Emelin time to turtle and possibly soil himself. The Bruins began the third period with both Chara and Lucic in the penalty box.
The Canadiens only have one loss on the road in regulation this season. That run remains in tact. Tuukka Rask had not given up more than three goals in a game since January. Entering Sunday's game, he led league with 11 victories, along with a 1.82 goals against average and a .933 save percentage. Well, he still has 11 victories.
Pacioretty's screened shot tied the game at 3-3 at 5:31 in the third. Rask won't see that one until he checks the replay on NHL.com. Same with the game-winner. Andrew Ference was lying face down on the ice in the crease, Rask had completely lost sight of the play and Chris Kelly, who was closer to the back of the net than Rask, wasn't even looking at the puck when David Desharnais gave the Canadiens a 4-3 lead. Ugly stuff for sure.
Until that point, the Bruins has survived a 5-on-3 and several other extended disadvantages.
The Bruins and Canadiens have played more than any two teams in the history of the NHL - including the postseason. So much of what passes for rivalries these days outside the SEC, the Premier League or the NHL has been sustained despite thanks to marketing and sales, as opposed to complete disdain between the participants or their once-feuding locales.
For instance, Kobe Bryant probably hates Dwight Howard more than anyone on the Celtics or Heat these days. The most headed rivalries in the NFL (not counting Patriots-Jets, Packers-Bears or anything involving the Eagles and their mentally dysfunctional fanbase) are taking place on Twitter. See: Richard "U Mad Bro" Sherman or anything posted by Terrell Suggs.
Then there's the Red Sox and Yankees. That storied rivalry continued on Sunday in Fort Myers when the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders paid a visit to Fenway South and held the Red Sox to two runs over nine innings. Yes, this was spring training and the real Yankees were spread from Tampa to where-ever the World Baseball Classic is happening these days.
But the biggest rivals the Red Sox have these days are themselves. They've got multiple internal issues to settle before they or their fans can legitimately turn their hatred back toward the Bronx. These days, the chants of "Boston Sucks!" at Yankee Stadium are greeted by "that doesn't even begin to describe it." No doubt, the Evil Empire will never disappear, even when the Red Sox are 26 games out. Remember the glee you felt watching the Tigers emasculate A-Rod last October. But Red Sox Nation is still too wound up about John Lackey and bewildered by the likes of Stephen Drew and Big Papi's $26 million deal to get genuinely ticked off about Kevin Youkilis in pinstripes.
Back to the stuff that mattered Sunday.
The penalty on Chara and his mandated 17-minute absence left Julien's bald head glowing. He laid into the referees and NHL in general for allowing too much embellishment, targeting everyone's least-favorite Canadien, P.K. Subban.
"The frustrating part is that you end up 17 minutes in the penalty box when we should have been on the on the power-play," Julien said. "Tonight, as everybody saw, there was a lot of embellishment. This is embarrassing for our game, the embellishing. Right now, they’ve got over 100 power plays so far. It’s pretty obvious why. We’re trying to clean that out of our game. It’s got to be done soon ... The embellishment embarrasses our game. We’ve got to be better about that. It’s pretty obvious when P.K. [Subban] gets hit, he throws himself into the glass and holds his head. You know what? We start calling those things for embellishment, maybe teams stop doing it. Until we take charge that, it’s going to be an issue.”
And Gary Bettman thought we hated him during the lockout?
Lucic was sidelined after winning his 2012 rematch with Brandon Prust with a convincing TKO late in the second period. The absence of Boston's two biggest physical threats allowed the Canadiens to go small and fast, arguably wore out the Bruins and led to Montreal's two quick goals at the start of the period.
One might say this was done by design and the Canadiens pulled one over on Claude and the boys.
That assessment would probably be correct. The Canadiens have always played this way against the Bruins. It's cross-generational. It was on display 35 years ago and again during the 2011 playoffs. Except during that miraculous series, Nathan Horton's OT and double-OT goals left the Habs crying in their Molson.
But Chara had no choice here. There's no doubt the cross-check on Seguin, who remains the future marquee star of this franchise, cried out for a timely and reasonable response. (Note: We said marquee star. Doubt if State Run Media wants to see Brad Marchand's pretty face as a key to winning over the 18-34 female demographic.)
Chara's response was hardly out of the Stan Jonathan School of Unadulterated Thuggery. It was tempered and even done in a clean way. Julien said after the game he had no problem with what his captain did. And why should he?
In a technical sense, Chara instigated the fight. He threw the first punch (and the second, third, etc...) and went out of his way to deliver the initial blows. But like any investment, it often takes money to make money.
In this case, it cost the Bruins two points to make a point: "Don't screw with No. 19."
Whether you're a rival or not.
Quvenzhane Wallis began the week as a long-shot candidate for an Oscar as best actress. While she certainly stole the hearts of Oscar viewers with her trademark smile and dual-arm pumps, she couldn't stop the Jennifer Lawrence Express.
The 9-year-old star of "Beasts of the Southern Wild" then unwilling was drawn into a controversy courtesy of "The Onion's" Twitter feed. No need to go into details.
On this week's "Saturday Night Live," she found herself in a new and unexpected role as head of the Roman Catholic Church and Bishop of Rome after being selected as the next Pope during a "CNN Special Report" - complete with the mumbling Wolf Blitzer (Jason Sudeikis). Host and comedian Kevin Hart (most notably of "Scary Movie" series fame) played Wallis after she assumed the Papacy. Hart also sported some impressive guns of his own while mimicking Wallis' signature pose in greeting his/her flock.
The sketch was both a harbinger and pretty good summary of this week's effort - lots of potential and originality, but nothing much on the back end when it came to laughs. The idea was certainly original enough - a 9-year-old, female, African-American Pope who may or may not be Roman Catholic. The effort was there, especially with the very funny and dynamic Hart playing Wallis playing the Holy Father (Daughter?). Put the real Wallis into something like this, and you're looking at comedic gold. Instead, we were asked to make one leap of faith too many. In real life, the only qualifications for Pope are that he must be a Roman Catholic male. So that leaves the field open for lots of surprises, just not little Quvenzhane.
There's plenty of room here for Catholics to feel angered or insulted, especially with the demeaning remarks about the Church made throughout the sketch. No need here. In this case, the sketch landed in its own version of comedic purgatory thanks to a lack of laughs, as did this week's show. Perhaps it was some sort of heavenly payback for "Djesus Uncrossed" two weeks ago.
Hart's opening monologue told the tale of his unsuccessful audition for "SNL." Sometimes something that should be funny and could be funny just isn't funny.
The comedic highpoint came with the cold opening - as President Obama (Jay Pharoah) detailed some of the impending doom-and-gloom cuts coming our way thanks to sequestration. The President opted to discussed to sequester in "human" terms since "I have no idea how money or budgets work."
Among the austerity measured planned by the White House, cutting Michelle Obama's weekly national TV appearances down to four their current level of "75." Air traffic controllers will have to watch a 20-second Doritos commercial before turning on their screens. The address concluded with an ode to the "Village People." We also learned that American astronauts will be heading into space without glass on their helmets (even though there are no more American astronauts heading into space from this hemisphere) and that several horses from the National Zoo in Washington were being sold to Taco Bell and Ikea.
Starbucks was also torn to shreds (Note: In a spot that had aired previous). It's Verismo home system was pitched in a commercial that featured the single-brew machine that came complete with the attitude of a typically apathetic barista. This one didn't care when the machine produced tea instead of a latte and had a co-worker to add a few insults to the customer in her own home. Anyone who grew up in Massachusetts knows that you never have those problems at Dunkin' Donuts, whether via a machine or in person.
BFFs North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un (Bobby Moynihan) and Dennis Rodman (Pharoah) stopped the "Weekend Update" desk to talk about Rodman's recent trip to North Korea. But even that one threw up a brick. Hart joined Seth Meyers for a "Really" segment trashing Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia's reference to Voting Rights Act act as a "racial entitlement." Hart's best line: "Having one black friend is more racist than no black friends."
The satirical and political impact was dulled a bit thanks to the fact that Hart flubbed several lines straight off the cue cards. It's hard to ignite passion or indignation in the audience through sarcasm when you're given the words to say and still get can't them straight.
Hart got a few more laughs as a zombie who played off the white guilt and misunderstandings of his white friends in a "Walking Dead" sketch that saw him take a few bites out of Maggie. Again, another great idea that just didn't click. Hart's "loud-angry-slightly-hyper-guy" act was a staple in every sketch he appeared in, whether it fit or not.
The music guests were You Tube sensations Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, who should have stuck to You Tube.
Justin Timberlake sings and hosts next week. We will expect a quick recovery.