EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

February 26, 2008

Coco can't cut it in Boston

By Bill Burt

I've got two words for the handful of people in this great nation who believe playing baseball in Boston is the same as playing baseball in, say, Minneapolis.

Coco Crisp.

And for the other handful of people who believe general manager Theo Epstein and manager Terry Francona when they say Crisp is still the starter in center, I've got two more words.

White lie.

The Red Sox are playing this game of "respect" because they are not willing to give Crisp away — at least not today.

Everybody with eyesight, pro-Red Sox or not, saw the difference last fall between Crisp and his replacement, Jacoby Ellsbury.

One guy folded like an accordion when the pressure was on, at least with a bat in his hands, and the other was a lightning rod, which is exactly what a leadoff hitter is supposed to be.

The problem is the Red Sox expended too many resources (players and cash) and too many scouting hours professing Crisp would be a very good replacement for Johnny Damon.

The Sox couldn't have been more wrong.

The only part of Damon he replaced was his arm, which was equally as bad.

This is the tough part of picking players to play for the Red Sox. You can't pick players who don't care about the game as much as the fans do.

This is not to say Crisp didn't care. He just didn't care enough.

I didn't get to know him enough because he wouldn't talk for much of last season, at least with any depth. From what everyone in the organization says, he was a nice guy who didn't ruffle feathers.

I might challenge that a bit as he was not the consummate pro during his early playoff demise (six hits in 33 at bats, five of which were singles) and eventual benching. He was ticked off, which is human nature, and wasn't afraid to show it to those in the locker room.

I liken it to Drew Bledsoe during the Super Bowl celebration in New Orleans. There wasn't much celebration on his part, if you know what I mean.

Lately, Crisp has been talking like he's in denial. But he is not. Players know, at all levels, when their time is up. He is simply greasing the tracks for a quick exit.

Could you imagine if the Red Sox did start Crisp over Ellsbury, the key guy the Sox wouldn't trade for the best left-handed pitcher in baseball (Johan Santana)?

Theo, Francona and especially Crisp realize this isn't a match.

Crisp couldn't handle the pressure of being at the top of the order of a World Series contender, which is the reason the Sox worked so many hours planning and pulling off the deal to acquire him.

Of course, the other caveat is ... Boston isn't a baseball city, but a "nation" of nuts. If you don't believe me, ask your nearest travel agent.

A North Andover family couldn't get tickets to see the team at their spring training home in Fort Myers, Fla. Every game is sold out.

So you know what they did?

They decided to go 3,500 miles away, to Los Angeles, to see Boston's three preseason games with the Dodgers at the end of March.

"They were the only tickets we could get," the dad told me.

They don't do that for spring training games in, well, almost anywhere else.

The leadoff spot Crisp never owned was a messy spot for a while in 2007, or at least until Dustin Pedroia, who is much too free swinging to be that leadoff guy, surprised everyone and settled into being the A.L. Rookie of the Year.

But when the rookie Ellsbury was finally inserted into the lineup in late October, at least a week later than he should have been — this was Francona's only blunder in the playoffs — we realized the importance of the first inning.

Crisp did add value here. When he got on the bases (he walked only 50 times in 526 at bats), he was as good as anyone. And in the outfield, even with a spaghetti arm, he played some of the best centerfield Red Sox fans have ever seen.

Unfortunately, it wasn't close to the value the Red Sox needed or projected.

It isn't often you make a mistake that big and still succeed, but Theo and his slew of twentysomethings did (See: Josh Beckett, Jonathan Papelbon, Kevin Youkilis, Pedroia, etc.).

It would be nice if Crisp could have accepted his plight as a short-term back up. We all know how injuries crop up when you least expect it.

But Crisp can't and won't.

Expect him to be elsewhere by mid-March. And unless some team is hurting, expect the Sox to write off the loss and officially move on.

You can e-mail Bill Burt at bburt@eagletribune.com.

 

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Tale of the Tape

Coco Crisp%Jacoby Ellsbury

28%Age%24

2007 regular season

141-526, .268%Avg.%41-116, .353

85%Runs%20

60%RBIs%18

6%Homers%3

28 for 34%Steals%9 for 9

2007 postseason

6-33, .182%Avg.%9-25, .360

3%Runs%8

2%RBIs%4

0%Homers%0

2 for 2%Steals%2 for 2