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Old wounds

Candid Crawford talks about disappointing year

By Nick Cafardo
February 21, 2012
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FORT MYERS, Fla. - John Henry probably shouldn’t have said it so openly and honestly because Carl Crawford reacted to the Red Sox owner’s offseason comments that he did not favor signing him with hurt and disappointment yesterday.

Henry told me he made an “off-the cuff’’ comment in reaction to what he felt was a “false assertion’’ by 98.5 The Sports Hub hosts Michael Felger and Tony Massarotti, who questioned if the signing was for public relations purposes when Henry appeared unannounced on their show in October.

That sentiment made Henry angry.

There’s no disagreement here on Henry’s rationale for stating his opinions.

“Again, this wasn’t about Carl,’’ Henry texted. “At the time I was opposed due to too many lefties in the lineup and particularly in the outfield. Also, our two best prospects were both lefthanded hitters.’’

He was right on the money.

There was not an overwhelming reason for signing Crawford when the Sox really needed a righthanded hitter. And then spending $142 million for a player who is similar to Jacoby Ellsbury? Seemed like excessive spending.

Henry was right. Yet, as he pointed out, “This was a baseball decision I ultimately backed it.’’

That’s because his general manager, Theo Epstein and his staff wanted Crawford. Henry didn’t stand in the way.

The first year of the seven-year deal was disastrous. Crawford hit .255, the lowest of his major league career, and was a shadow of himself at the plate and in the field from his first nine seasons in Tampa Bay.

It’s great that Henry was so honest. And it was great that Crawford reacted publicly. We are casting stones at no one. Both Henry and Crawford reacted like human beings.

Asked if he thought he needed to meet with Henry and get on the same page, Crawford said, “What page? You know, I don’t know, if he wants to meet with me we’ll have that meeting. I’m not too sure. I don’t know if he has plans.

“I can’t do nothing about what he said, just go out and play. It was unfortunate he feels that way. It’s nothing for me to say to him. I wasn’t happy about it. I was a little surprised to hear the comments, but you know it’s unfortunate he feels that way. Wish those words hadn’t came out.’’

Henry certainly doesn’t feel that way now. He has a $142 million investment and he’d certainly like some yield on it.

Crawford had left wrist surgery and may be behind the rest of the players in camp. He has taken the brace off the wrist and he’s throwing, and said he should be able to swing the bat soon, but he has not been cleared to swing.

“It’s been better. I really don’t know when it will be all the way healthy but it definitely feels better than what it was and I’ll continue to build up the strength. Bobby [Valentine] saw me throwing today, he didn’t even know I could throw. I’m not going to rush it. I’m only going to do what feels good. I definitely want to be back on the field as soon as possible so I got to make sure I do the right things.’’

Could he make it back by Opening Day?

“I don’t know. In my mind the odds are good. I definitely don’t want to miss any games. My goal is to make it for Opening Day.’’

Crawford said he didn’t have surgery sooner because he usually begins to hit at the same time every offseason, and when he started to hit he felt soreness that wouldn’t subside. That’s when the decision was made.

Was the wrist a factor last season?

“I don’t know,’’ Crawford said. “I was out of whack in so many ways that the wrist thing was minor. I got a few shots in it so it was fine. I think I was just so far out of whack that I’m not sure it had anything to do with it.’’

Crawford was very frank about his horrible season, his problems adapting to a new environment, and the final play of the season, in which he couldn’t reach Robert Andino’s sinking liner on the last play of the game in Baltimore.

“Last year was one of the toughest things I had to go through,’’ he said. “For whatever reason, I struggled. It was really hard to deal with. I had a lot of time to think and make corrections and I think it’ll be better. I watched tape, worked with the hitting coach more. Just try to clear your head and put last season behind. That was bad. The main thing was to let that go and try to start over and do what you normally did.’’

He said he was unaware of the team’s clubhouse issues.

“I didn’t know about that [chicken and beer]. I always thought team chemistry was good. Me, personally, it was fine. I got along with everybody. It was always a fun time. I thought it was a cool place to be.’’

He added, “I’m on the field so I didn’t know what was going on with that. It was a surprise for me but like I say, pitchers have so much time on their hands and they’d been successful with how they’d done it. Who knows what they might have done. It didn’t really impact us. It wasn’t really like guys complaining. I don’t think it had a big role. When I heard the story, I couldn’t believe that you guys [the media] knew about it. That was a surprise but it’s one of those things that was unfortunate it had to happen and you try to move on.’’

He later said, “Guys are going to rally around that chicken and beer thing and rally together. Stay positive. Hope for the best.’’

Crawford acknowledged his swing was a mess.

He said his stance was “too wide and too open and I think I shortened that a little bit. Seems like I was late all the time on the ball. Just trying to do a better job of getting ready. Little stuff like that. Compared to last year, it’s definitely different. It should help.’’

And he thinks last season will motivate him to be better.

“It’ll definitely be a key factor and one of the reasons why I’m here [early]. I’m motivated to play well this year. I don’t want to think about last year because it was so bad. Nothing you can do will make up for it, ’’ he said.

He chatted with Valentine in the outfield upon his arrival. As a color commentator at ESPN last year, Valentine was critical of Crawford’s swing.

“I just met him today, actually,’’ Crawford said. “Upbeat guy. Real smart guy. Actually looking forward to learning as much as I can from him. He’s been very positive and talks about stuff we can and can’t do. I’m looking for Bobby to have a real good impact on us.’’

As for Valentine’s criticism, “That’s his job to say things on TV,’’ Crawford said. “I understand I’m playing for him as a manager now and I’m sure he doesn’t feel that way. It’s just stuff you have to say when you’re on TV, so me and Bobby have no hard feelings. We share a common goal to help the Red Sox win.’’

Is he excited to show fans the real Carl Crawford?

“Definitely excited to do that. Like I said, I put a lot of pressure on myself last year. I just need to stay relaxed and stay focused.’’

He said that perhaps the big contract had an effect. He said that perhaps batting so many different places in the order, mostly at the bottom, might also have had an effect.

“You never know until you sit back and think about it. It probably had its effect on me. You want to show you’re worth the money. The pressure builds up playing in Boston. This year I have to find ways to get over that and play my game,’’ he said.

And the one year of experience should help that.

His wrist has been fixed. He needs to fix his swing. He needs to fix his game, where he’s the old, aggressive Crawford who can utilize his speed.

He may need to fix his relationship with the boss.

Or certainly prove to him that the investment was worth it.

Nick Cafardo can be reached at cafardo@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.

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