The news last week that The Boston Globe was sold was not a great surprise. The New York Times had been shopping the newspaper for a couple of years and various bidders had been mentioned in a number of stories. The news that John Henry, principal owner of the Red Sox, was the winning bidder also was not a great surprise. He has become part of the fabric of the city, a 63-year-old rich man about town, a close-lipped maker and shaker, lives in a mansion, is married (again) to a younger local woman. This was another addition to an interesting business portfolio.
The price that he paid for this addition was the great surprise.
"I can't believe he bought our newspaper for $70 million," I, a one-time sportswriter at The Globe, said to another one-time sportswriter at The Globe. "He gets all that real estate. He gets all of those trucks. He gets the rights to all of the stories, all of the pictures, the 22 Pulitzers, all of the past, plus the computer present and future of the pre-eminent voice in all of New England. The Times paid $1.1 billion for The Globe 20 years ago. He gets it for $70 million? The stories say that's about four percent of what The Times paid."
"He just gave Dustin Pedroia a $110 million contract extension for eight years," the other one-time sportswriter said. "So he's paying $50 million more for the starting Red Sox second baseman than he is for the pre-eminent voice in New England…"
This fact made the two of us feel very old.
The newspaper of our youth was worth less than two-thirds the price of the starting second baseman for the Red Sox?
"Well, at least he's a good second baseman," I suggested, perhaps with a piece of tongue inside a piece of cheek. "He can really hit…"
"Yeah," the other sportswriter said. "And he plays hard…"
The next step of logic was taken simultaneously. Funny how that happens sometimes. Wheels turn in different heads at the same speed and deliver the same thought, the same words, at the same time.
"John Lackey," he said.
"John Lackey," I said.
The Red Sox player whose mega-contract to play baseball best approximates the price the Red Sox owner paid for the newspaper, the buildings, the trucks -- did I mention that the Worcester Telegram and some smaller newspapers that also were included? -- is 34-year-old starting pitcher John Lackey. Right-hander, 6-feet-6, 235 pounds, born in Abilene, Texas, October 23, 1978. He is in the fourth year of a five-year contract he signed for $82.5 million to join the Red Sox in 2010.
His other numbers do not crunch very well. He has won 33 games during his time in Boston. He has lost 32. He has been a controversial character, all grimaces and snarls on the mound, outspoken at times, a contributing member of the fried chicken and beer collective that was singled out after the Sox' late collapse in 2011. He missed all of last season after Tommy John surgery. He has returned this year, thinner and stronger, more positive, but still has a 7-9 record despite a 3.21 ERA. He is -- basically -- a .500 pitcher. He will earn $15.25 million this year. His five-year contract is worth $12.5 million more than the price of The Globe.
"Wow," the other sportswriter said.
"Wow," I agreed.
There have been subsequent mentions in newspapers and on the local airwaves about this Lackey/Globe comparison, most of the comments with the same sense of wonder. Something is wrong in the equation. It seems like a trick question on a test. John Lackey plus $12.5 million equals The Boston Globe. Explain.
Forget the Curse of the Bambino. Maybe this is the Curse of Ted Williams. Theodore Samuel Williams, Red Sox legend, hated the sportswriters, called them the Knights of the Keyboard, cursed them on a daily basis. Is all that cursing working in the afterlife, making a newspaper worth no more than a .500 pitcher? What would the starting outfield be worth? What would Ted Williams be worth? What -- gasp -- is LeBron James worth? Could he buy the entire city of Detroit or something? By himself?
Players always have looked down on that unkempt tribe of journalists that appears out of a bad dream at the end of games to push and prod in the locker room, to get an answer to exactly why that baseball skipped through your legs or you hung that slider or, three-and-two, two outs in the bottom of the ninth, you flailed and missed by a good country mile. What now? Will the questions come from the opposite direction? Do you know I can buy or sell you and your family with my weekly paycheck? Do you know I now can buy your entire newspaper if you don't play nice? How do even approach me, you miserable wretch? I am worth more than your entire business.
"Here's all I can say," I said to that other one-time sportswriter at The Globe. "Shortly after I left the paper, it was sold to The Times for $1.1 billion. I don't know what happened after that."
"Shortly after I left the paper, too, it was sold to The New York Times," the other sportswriter said. "You could have got a whole fleet of John Lackeys for that $1.1 billion."
Two days after the latest sale of The Globe, The Washington Post was sold for $250 million to Amazon poobah Jeff Bezos. This also seemed like a discount purchase. Someone mentioned that Alex Rodriguez was still working on a 10-year contract for $275 million that he signed with the New York Yankees in 2007. This means -- if he can successfully fight his suspension from baseball -- Alex Rodriguez will earn $25 million more in the end than Bezos paid for The Post.
That is probably a subject for another day.