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Advantage, LA

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Oh, my goodness, what a fearful public relations drubbing the Red Sox -- and, by extension, Henry and Werner -- have taken at the hands of, well, at the hands of just about everyone in the baseball world.


Dumb and Dumber. That's how a lot of folks around baseball are describing John Henry and Tom Werner, the chief owners of the Red Sox, in the wake of Mookie Betts' leading the LA Dodgers to the World Series championship. I don't know if you've heard, but Mookie used to play for the Red Sox.

Oh, my goodness, what a fearful public relations drubbing the Red Sox -- and, by extension, Henry and Werner -- have taken at the hands of, well, at the hands of just about everyone in the baseball world.

Wait a minute. Aren't those the same two guys who, until this year, everyone was saying were the smartest owners in the game? You know, the only guys whose team had won four championships in this century? Weren't they both brilliant enough to become super-rich in business before ever getting into baseball, Henry in hedge funds, and Werner in TV production? Those two guys, right?


What in the name of Harry Frazee happened? Well, what happened was that, faced with a financial crisis, they made a smart business decision. The problem is that it also turned out to be a lousy baseball bet. At least, that's the evidence so far.

The Sox were looking down the barrel of draconian luxury-tax penalties as a result of exceeding the major league salary cap for three years in a row. One way -- maybe the only way -- of reducing the payroll to get under the limit would be to offer Betts and David Price for sale as a package; thus, saving a boatload of money in one fell swoop. It had to be a package because the only way of getting anyone to take on Price's huge contract was to make it a condition of getting Betts, who was scheduled to become a free agent at the end of the 2020 season. Betts was determined to test the free agency market, and he and his representatives would not negotiate or consider any Red Sox offer before then.

So, John and Tom rolled the dice and they took their chance.

The Dodgers were willing to make a bet on the Betts-Price deal in the risky hope that they might be able to sign Mookie to an extension. So the deal was done. But it wasn't over.

Betts moved on to Los Angeles, still determined to test the free agency market at year's end. The Red Sox, who received Alex Verdugo and a couple of top-of-the-line prospects as part of the deal, and who were now back under the salary cap, might very well have been in on the bidding.

Then, before spring training was over, the coronavirus hit, and everything changed. At first, it looked like it would benefit the Sox because LA would only be guaranteed Mookie's services for a shortened season before he hit free agency. But then Mookie changed his mind about going on the open market. He and his representatives concluded that, with every team taking a financial bath as a result of coronavirus-related shutdowns, this would not be an optimal year to be a free agent. So, they opened negotiations with the Dodgers, who had plenty of money and room under the salary cap.

Thus, it was announced during the World Series that Mookie wouldn't be a free agent after all. He and the Dodgers agreed to a massive 12-year contract worth a total of $365 million, huge money but less than he could have commanded in a normal year. John Henry and Tom Werner, along with the rest of the Red Sox Nation, were left to face the stark reality that all hope of ever getting Betts back was gone. Twelve years is a long time, and as we have all been reminded this pandemic season, anything can happen. But for now, at least, let's face it -- it's advantage, LA.

Meanwhile, Mookie was showing the world why the Dodgers had committed so much of their future to him. In the deciding sixth game of the Series, he accounted for every one of the runs they scored in a three-to-one victory. Trailing by a run in the sixth inning with a man on first, he laced a double down the left-field line, sending the runner to third. That runner then scored on a wild pitch to tie the game, with Mookie moving to third. Then, he scored with a daring dash to home on a routine grounder to first. The Dodgers now led, two to one. In the eighth, he put the icing on the cake with a home run.

For the Dodgers, it was their first World Series championship in 32 years; for Mookie, it was his second in three. There's no denying that the guy is a winner and that he's at his best when the pressure is on. Oh, did I mention that he used to play for the Red Sox?

His very last act as a member of the Sox will always stick in the memory of anyone who saw it. Mookie drew a walk in the bottom of the ninth inning of a tie game against the Tampa Bay Rays, the same team the Dodgers and he would vanquish a year later for the title. Rafael Devers, the next hitter, singled to right and Mookie, who was off with the pitch, headed for third. The right fielder, knowing he had no chance to cut Betts down, casually lobbed the ball back to the infield. Big mistake. When Mookie saw the lazy lob he kept on running, beating the relay throw to the plate to score the winning run. Our last image of Betts in a Red Sox uniform is of him standing at home plate and pounding his chest in triumph after having scored all the way from first base on a routine single.

A minute or two later, he was back in the clubhouse and removing his shirt with the old English lettering on it for what would be the last time.

There is a haunting line from an Irish ballad that comes to mind: "What's done is done and what's won is won, and what's lost is lost and gone forever."

Ain't that the truth?

- Dick Flavin is a New York Times bestselling author; the Boston Red Sox "Poet Laureate" and The Pilot's recently minted Sports' columnist.

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