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Eric Wilbur's Sports Blog

Why Does John Lackey Hate Boston?

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USA Today Sports


We’ve got a criminal investigation on our hands, folks.

It’s about high time that we found the person who held the gun to John Lackey’s head when he signed a six-year, $82.5 million deal with the Red Sox back in 2009. Word is the wanted has a similar build and same indistinguishable features as the fella who bound, gagged, and made Carl Crawford take $142 million only one year later.

Poor Lackey. You have to feel for the man, stuck playing for only a half million dollars next season after stealing most of the $82 million that Theo Epstein and the Sox promised him. After all, accountability is but a foreign word in most baseball circles (ask Clay Buchholz). Why should Lackey have to break the mold?

But in St. Louis, where Lackey has been a member of the Cardinals for six whole days, things are different. The righty has already come out and said that he would honor the stipulation in his contract that states he would play for the league minimum in the final year if he missed significant time due to injury. It's a clause Lackey bristled at while he was still in Boston earlier this season, hinting that he'd rather retire than take what amounts to a $14.75 million pay cut from his 2014 earnings. Of course, Lackey made $15.25 million in 2012 when he didn't throw a pitch following offseason Tommy John surgery, but is being forced to the poor house next season as a sort of makeup class.

Who could blame him for walking away, especially when he'd have to cut down on things like private jets, a new yacht to replace the old yacht, and that island he's had his eye on for some time now? But apparently, it's different in St. Louis. Mainly because it's not Boston, a place he clearly despised with a passion that was mutual.

"Honestly, this is a good place for me to be," Lackey said Tuesday during a dugout session at Busch Stadium with hungry Boston reporters who, at the sight of the former Red Sox pitcher, likely resembled a drooling Norm Peterson with his stool in targeted, clear sight. "I was pretty happy with where it happened. I’m happy with what happened.’’

If the Red Sox are looking for another promotion idea, here's one; set up a "John Lackey Confessional" at the ballpark so that fans may be able to wash away their sins for falling for the guy over the last two years. Gee, Lackey had a Renaissance in 2013 coming off surgery, was a main reason why the Red Sox won the World Series, and was having another solid season in 2014, making him an attractive trade target at the deadline, particularly considering the potential for next season. But you have to wonder if Lackey's threats of taking his ball and running home scared some teams to the point where Ben Cherington had to settle for Allen Craig (already on the disabled list) and Joe Kelly, who makes his Boston debut Wednesday against his former team. Frankly, based on what Lackey might have brought back elsewhere, the trade garnered a collective shrug. Was it Lackey's final "screw you" to Boston? Maybe he intended to play in 2015 all along. Just not here in a city where - gasp - fans and media still tend to hold players accountable.

“Honestly, I’m focused on being here right now and trying to help this team win. Where (the Sox) are is where they are right now. I’m not a part of that anymore,” Lackey said. “You could see it kind of heading in that direction for sure. I’m happy to be here and happy with what happened, and the way Ben handled it was first-class, so everything was cool.”

But what about the contract, the $500,000 that was so below Lackey only weeks ago?

“You guys are trying to stir stuff up,” Lackey said. “I don’t know what you want me to say.’

Right. It took less time for Lackey to verbally commit to the Cardinals than it takes your average toddler to choose between watching Nancy Grace or Peppa Pig. The man had yet to even throw a pitch for his new team and he was all set with playing under next season’s terms. What gives?

In hindsight, signing Lackey was a good deal for the Red Sox. He was horrendous in 2011, when he had a 6.41 ERA and allowed 114 earned runs, the most in the league that season. But there was probably also a misjudging of him that year, when he made 28 starts, all with a ligament tear in his elbow. He never used it as an excuse, but instead pitched through it, perhaps in detriment to his team and manager Terry Francona, who lost his job in the wake of one of baseball’s most epic September collapses. Some might call it admirable the way he gutted it out. Some might call it stupid. It’s probably a bit of both.

But he helped win the World Series in 2013, enjoying a 180 in perception in the process. It still didn’t change how he felt about Boston, a place where he suffered both professional and personal lows. There was another title to add to his résumé. There was also the time TMZ texted his cell phone during a game to inquire about his pending divorce. There was the Popeye's on Brookline Avenue.

“There was definitely some ups and downs, for sure," he said. "Some fun and some not so fun, I guess.”

The result of his time in Boston was a far cry from when the Red Sox surprisingly brought him into the fold. "I definitely had to have my agent really let (the Red Sox) know I was serious about this,” Lackey said only a few months after he and the Los Angeles Angels swept the Red Sox in the American League Division Series in ‘09.

"I was always interested in coming here. Winning was definitely my first priority of a team to go to . . . There's been a lot of emotion both ways in regard to this team. You get knocked out of the playoffs, there's not much worse than that.

"When you compete against a team that many times, you see what they're about, and it will be a good fit for me, I think."

Five years later…

“I’ve moved on.’’

For better or worse, so has Boston. Finally.

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