LOS ANGELES — There are players who should never have left Boston.
Fred Lynn, Carlton Fisk, Nick Esasky, Bruce Hurst, Victor Martinez, Jason Bay, to name a few. And there are those who didn’t leave fast enough, or should never have come to begin with.
You can put Carl Crawford in that category.
The seven-year, $142 million deal he was signed to by Theo Epstein and Ben Cherington never made sense. The Red Sox needed a righthanded-hitting outfielder (a Cody Ross type) and instead got a lefthanded-hitting speed guy, which they already had in Jacoby Ellsbury.
Crawford was a shadow of himself in Boston. He struggled all season in 2011. He loved the comfort of Tampa Bay, where there aren’t many fans or media bugging you. Then he signed a monster contract with the Red Sox and felt the weight of the world on his shoulders.
Rays manager Joe Maddon saw it coming. The Red Sox said they did exhaustive research on their investment, but they were the only ones not to know that Crawford was a creature of comfort.
His superb defense was gone. He swung and missed badly, chasing pitches out of the strike zone. He was never able to take advantage of his speed because he didn’t get on base enough; when he did, he was tentative.
To be fair, he was hurt. From wrist surgery to Tommy John surgery.
Two years of pure hell for both the Red Sox and Crawford.
Crawford, who on Friday made his first appearance in Los Angeles since the Aug. 25 megadeal between the Sox and Dodgers, said he was “chasing a big contract” two years ago. When asked whether he regrets the decision to sign with the Sox, he said, “No, I don’t regret nothing. At the time I thought it was the right decision.”
Crawford was taken around Dodger Stadium by team president Stan Kasten and general manager Ned Colletti, both of whom strongly believe Crawford will rebound. He seemed to like his new digs and he said he hoped that he would fit into this high-profile market because he sure didn’t in Boston.
Crawford, who insists he will be recovered from elbow surgery by spring training, said he was in disbelief when he learned of the trade.
“You hear a lot of rumors. I just didn’t believe it. I didn’t believe it for two weeks,” he said.
Crawford had a no-trade clause, but he quickly waived it because, “I’m the type of person, if someone wants to trade you, it means they don’t want you there or they’re thinking about getting rid of you.
“It was time to move on. I was really shocked because I definitely didn’t see it coming. From what I heard, they were working on it for a while. I’m happy I’m here now.”
Crawford said he wasn’t pressured by the Red Sox to keep playing this season even after Dr. James Andrews had told him he needed Tommy John surgery. Crawford’s season lasted only 31 games and ended Aug. 19.
“Nobody said I should keep playing, that was just me,” Crawford said. “I didn’t want anyone to say I’m not sitting on y’alls’ money. That was the biggest thing, people on the radio shows saying he makes 20 million. I’m a hard worker and I wanted to show that. I wasn’t performing well. I know Boston is a blue-collar town, so I just wanted to have the same attitude that I was working hard to be on the field. At the end of the day, I should have listened to the doctor and helped myself out.”
Would he have preferred to have the surgery sooner?
“I wish I’d done it, because I’d be better now,” Crawford said. “With the Boston fans, you have a big deal made about my money and trying to play for the team. Maybe I shouldn’t have done that and taken care of myself. I pretty much put pressure on myself to play. You get looked at as being soft and as somebody just trying to take money. I wanted to prove that wasn’t the case. That probably cost me a little time for next year. You live and learn from it.”
Crawford said the way the trade was presented to him was that it was time for both sides to start anew.
“They just said this is best for both sides,” he said. “They thought it was best to move on. It just wasn’t working. They just wanted to start over and start from scratch. It wasn’t a bad split or anything like that. ‘This is good for us and this is better for you’ is the way they kind of said it.”
Crawford said he’s motivated to prove his doubters wrong.
“It definitely motivates me,” he said. “It’s like I have a fresh start. Like I said, things didn’t work out in Boston for whatever reason. I’m happy to have a second start.”
Were injuries to blame for his failed Red Sox tenure?
“I’m the kind of guy who doesn’t make excuses. I wasn’t 100 percent all the time. For some reason I had issues up there that didn’t let me be the normal person that I was. Toward the end I was feeling better, but I still had an arm issue and that was wearing me down physically,” he said.
Crawford said his worst time as a Red Sox was the team’s September collapse in 2011.
“[It] for me was one of the worst years I ever experienced in my whole career,” he said. “I just didn’t seem to have one good day. I can’t really explain why that was the case. Just couldn’t get it going. We were in first place for most of the year but we had that bad fall. I took a lot of the blame for myself. That offseason was the lowest offseason I had in my life. It took a lot for me to come back and start all over.
“That first year was more mental for me, realizing I was in a place that was totally different and making those adjustments mentally. A little bit harder than I expected. It was tough to adapt to that lifestyle and focus on playing baseball at a high level.”
There were lineup issues. Terry Francona and Bobby Valentine felt they had to handle him with kid gloves.
There were issues about his physical condition. For the longest time the Red Sox would not acknowledge that Crawford needed surgery.
Then the Dodgers came along and bestowed a great gift upon the Red Sox: We’ll take Carl Crawford and Josh Beckett, just give us Adrian Gonzalez.
And so Crawford is happy to be wearing his new jersey, No. 25 in Dodger blue.
“I feel like it’s a second chance,” he said.
Crawford feels he can return to the player he used to be. He’ll soon be free of injuries and pain. He still has his legs and a will to succeed.
You should root for Carl Crawford. He’s a good man. He’s a great athlete.
Boston was just the wrong place at the wrong time.Nick Cafardo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.