By JOHN MARSHALL
GLENDALE, Ariz. — Injuries, inconsistency and the spotlight of playing in Boston weighed on Carl Crawford, even had him doubting himself for the first time in his career.
It also made him question why he ever left Tampa Bay to sign a $142 million, seven-year contract with the Red Sox.
“You hear a lot of talk about how I just wanted money,” Crawford said. “At some point, you just wondered if you made the right decision.”
After bottoming out, Crawford feels as though he has a second chance, ready to show the Los Angeles Dodgers and the rest of the baseball that he can again be the player who was one of the best left fielders in the game before those two lost seasons in Boston.
“Coming from over there to here is definitely a different feel,” Crawford said.
Crawford was a four-time All-Star during his nine seasons with Tampa Bay, a superb fielder and slasher who could hit for average and wreak havoc on the bases. He led the majors in steals four times with the Rays and hit over .300 five times, earning Gold Glove and Silver Slugger awards during his final season with them in 2010.
That set up Crawford for a huge payday on the free-agent market and he decided to play for the Red Sox, hoping for a chance to win a World Series.
Instead, Crawford foundered in Boston, setting career lows with a .255 average and 18 stolen bases in 2011. Then he was limited to 31 games last season due to injuries.
“There definitely was a dark cloud over me when I was in Boston,” Crawford said. “I knew with the struggles I was having it would never get better for me. I just didn’t see a light at the end of the tunnel. It puts you in kind of a depression stage. You just don’t see a way out.”
It didn’t help that he was playing in one of the toughest media and fan environments in baseball, a town where even the slightest slump is overanalyzed and criticized.
Crawford went into the situation thinking he could handle it, but it became unbearable the more he struggled.
“From the outside, you watch guys playing over there and you think you can go and play,” Crawford said. “But you realize, once you get there, it’s a little tougher than you expected.”
Because of his contract, Crawford figured he was stuck in Boston, adding to the this-will-never-end feeling he had.
He got a big surprise last August when the Dodgers pulled off a blockbuster trade to bring him, Adrian Gonzalez and Josh Beckett from Beantown to Chavez Ravine.
Crawford didn’t get to play for the Dodgers last season — he had reconstructive elbow surgery two days before the trade — but feels as though the change from East Coast to West will be just what he needs to get his mojo back.
“I had some confidence problems during that time,” Crawford said of playing in Boston. “When you start to have those problems is when you lose confidence. I had some issues with that, but I’m at a place where I feel a lot better about myself. I just feel like the player I once was right now.”
Playing in Los Angeles should give him a boost.
Yes, it’s a big market like Boston, but more laid-back and without the type of vitriol that comes from fans and media back East.
The Dodgers also have a stacked lineup that will give him the freedom to slash and dash, and Dodger Stadium’s spacious outfield should be a perfect fit for a player who led the majors in triples four times.
“Making the change out here is hopefully something that will be good for him,” Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said.
Crawford will spend most of spring training trying to get fully healthy after having elbow surgery in January 2012 and Tommy John surgery last season.
He’s been swinging a bat for a few weeks and was throwing up to 90 feet at the start of camp, feeling no pain, only a little fatigue.
As much as anything, Crawford is in a better place mentally, ready to put his time in Boston behind him and get the next phase of his career going.
“This is my first spring in Arizona, closer to family and all that,” Crawford said. “It just feels different.”