Lackey Takes Red Sox Deal – And a Midnight Train Out of Anaheim


John Lackey pitched the first game of a double-header between his Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park back in 2007.

The Angels’ ace had looked good, dominant even, all season long. But that just wasn’t his day.

After surrendering five runs in the first inning, Lackey walked off the back of the mound and muttered to himself, glaring up at the outfield bleachers and shaking his head as he did: “F*** this place.”

That was then. This is now: John Lackey is the newest addition to the Red Sox’ parade of aces.

On Monday, Lackey reportedly agreed to a five-year deal in the neighborhood of $85 million.

My, how things change.

It seems like only yesterday that Angels fans were marveling in joyous disbelief at Lackey’s 7 1/3 innings of shutout ball against the Red Sox in Game 1 of the ALDS.

The Sox had trounced the Halos in every postseason meeting beforehand, but Lackey set the tone for a three-game sweep of Boston that this team and its fans won’t soon forget.

At least, we won’t forget the sweep. We may, however, discard our feelings for Big John.

Some might have us believe that professional sports is just like the mob. It’s not personal, it’s just business. Lackey isn’t out to hurt the Angels, he was just looking for the best deal.

But there is a serious flaw in that argument because, you see, for fans, it’s always personal.

We invest our emotions in our players. We pay our hard-earned money to scream and cheer and see them do what they do best. We revel in every win, and we reel in every loss.

And for four of the last six years, we reeled with the Angels as they feel time and again to the Red Sox in the playoffs.

Sure, the team finally broke through to beat Boston this season, and Lackey was a big part of that. But that’s not the point.

To see him don the uniform of perhaps our fiercest rival over the last decade will be more than sickening. It’ll be a slap in the face.

When you do indeed leave Anaheim, John, you better do it Baltimore Colts-style—in the middle of the night and in one fell swoop. No coming back for little trinkets you might have missed, no long goodbye’s or tearful departures.

Get your stuff and get out.

There is something to be said for loyalty, and I’m sure I speak for most of the Angel faithful when I say we are appreciative of the work he’s done here for us. But loyalty is not a one way street.

How about showing a little loyalty to the team and the fans who made you what you are today? How about showing a little more character than simply taking the money and running?

Mark Teixeira did the same last year. Now he gets booed at the Big A every time he steps to the plate. And he was only with the team for three months.

Lackey’s been here since 2002.

What kind of reception can he expect when he returns to Anaheim bearing the word “Boston” across his chest?

Of course, Lackey’s slinking away to the frigid northeast isn’t entirely his doing. After all, it was up to the Angels to at least make the effort to keep him.

These offseason negotiations for Lackey, as well as the amount he’s reportedly signing for, only serve to highlight a deep flaw in the Angels’ way of thinking.

Like amateur stock traders, they put all of their eggs in one basket. In this case, the basket was in the shape of Roy Halladay.

One way or another, the Angels are going to need another starting pitcher before the 2010 season begins. But instead spreading the wealth around a little and taking a serious look at multiple candidates, this team went full bore after Halladay while relegating everyone else to the back burner.

Now it seems they’ve missed the boat on both.

With a reported blockbuster, three-team deal in the works between the Mariners, Phillies, and Blue Jays, the Angels have lost out on Halladay and Lackey, as well as a surprise newcomer to the trade block in Cliff Lee, who will likely go to Seattle.

This is what happens when players forget where they came from, when teams undervalue their free agents, and overvalue their prospects.