Beantown is in a snit over Jon Lester.
  • Jason O. Watson
  • Beantown is in a snit over Jon Lester.

The way sports are set up, there’s got to be a winner and a loser. Back in the golden era of the NHL, a lot of those games ended in ties—a sentimental nod, I thought, by the cluster of six cities surrounding the Great Lakes to the war once fought in those precincts. The War of 1812 ended in a draw and then in the “world’s longest undefended border”—thus fulfilling a biblical prophecy I’d never heard of until five minutes ago when I googled “longest undefended border.”

But hockey’s come around and now the NHL has overtime and shootouts. In the zero-sum world of big-time sports, there’s no place for mutual satisfaction. If one city celebrates, another must be miserable.

At the moment the north side of Chicago is celebrating. That’s because the Cubs just signed free agent hurler Jon Lester, a Boston Red Sox careerist before he was traded to Oakland midway through the past season. “Somebody good finally took the Cubs’ money,” Steve Rosenbloom exulted in the Tribune. “No, somebody terrific took the Cubs’ money. Somebody who was the best free-agent pitcher on the market.” Added Gordon Wittenmyer in the Sun-Times, “. . . their biggest haul in eight years.”

The Cubs reeled in Lester by offering him $155 million over six years—more than the Red Sox were willing to pay to bring him back to Boston. “Extremely difficult decision for me and my family. . . ” tweeted Lester. “Boston will always have a big place in my heart. . . ”

Given their separate circumstances, both teams might have done the smart thing. But zero-sum is just as alive in the press box as it is on the playing field. First a snarky cartoon from Boston sports station WEEI FM showed up in my email, letting me know Beantown was in a snit. Then I read Dan Shaughnessy’s take in the Boston Globe on what he called the “Lester debacle.” Negotiations with Lester were “botched,” “bungled,” and “ham-handed,” wrote Shaughnessy. He said the Sox bargained in bad faith because Lester’s 30 and they didn’t want to sign him to an expensive long-term deal in the first place.

Which is probably true, putting the Sox in a tricky situation, the kind the Cardinals were in a few years ago when they didn’t resign Albert Pujols. That debacle was nullified by consensus two years later when Pujols was sidelined by injuries with the Angels and the Cardinals went back to the World Series.