"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.
The author is solely responsible for the content.