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Red Sox Lead Parade of the Impossible

“There’s no use trying,” said Alice. “One can’t believe impossible things.”

“I daresay you haven’t had much practice,” said the White Queen. “... Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

It was a very good week in sports for the White Queen, with impossible things happening on a daily basis.

Augusta National welcomes its first women members. Lance Armstrong abandons his fight against doping charges – his official fight, anyway. Roger Clemens pitches 31/3 strong innings for the Sugar Land Skeeters at age 50.

And the Red Sox hit Ctrl-Alt-Del, sending a $261 million albatross of obligations to the Dodgers for a bag of shells and a fresh start.

Let’s deal with the first three quickly.

Augusta was never as anti-women as it was portrayed. Women have played golf there for a long time, just not as members. As the good ol’ boys aged out and were replaced by a power elite more accustomed to sharing boardrooms with the opposite sex, change became inevitable. Billy Payne knew it. For that matter, Hootie Johnson knew it. Hootie never said it wouldn’t come, just that it wouldn’t come “at the point of a bayonet.” It was a great day for half of the 1 percent of the 1 percent.

Armstrong had no chance of winning a USADA hearing. He wanted a trial conducted on the basis of proof beyond a reasonable doubt, one weighing Guilty or Not Guilty rather than Guilty or Innocent. He was well advised to give up the battle while blasting the process, a public relations strategy known by the adjective “Nixonian.” He is free to keep proclaiming his innocence while forfeiting his opportunity to cross-examine those who say otherwise. Wanna buy some yellow wristbands, cheap?

Clemens didn’t stop pitching at 45 because he couldn’t get people out. Even in his disappointing return to the Yankees in 2007, his ERA was 4.18, substantially better than the AL average of 4.82. Pitching in the majors was too much of a physical toll on him, even with extra days of rest. He got 10 outs Saturday, allowing one hit and no walks to a team of players deemed nonprospects by all 30 major league organizations. He’s still Roger Clemens, but this outing qualifies him to pitch against the Houston Astros, not for them.

Now about that trade …

Boston’s signing of Carl Crawford had been an unmitigated disaster, the Chernobyl of free-agent busts. For its $142 million commitment, it received 161 games of barely replacement-level baseball. His offensive output (using baseball-reference.com's OPS+) has been roughly equivalent to that of Jamey Carroll, Brent Lillibridge, Russell Martin and Alexei Ramirez.

Even if you thought Crawford wasn’t worth the money when he signed with the Red Sox, nobody expected this kind of crater. In December 2010, he was coming off career highs in on-base and slugging percentages. Crawford appeared to be the perfect guy to step into the void with the Red Sox's expected trade of center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury, a move widely anticipated after Ellsbury’s injury-riddled and contentious season. Signing Crawford also took a prime player away from division rival Tampa Bay.

Along with recently acquired first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, Crawford seemed to guarantee a long and successful run for Boston.

We all know how well that worked out.

With a nine-figure contract, two disappointing seasons and an elbow requiring Tommy John surgery as he turned 31, Crawford had become the most untradable player imaginable. It was surely impossible to find a team willing to take him off Boston’s hands, and his lingering presence and performance questions would hang over the squad for many years to come.

Until Friday, that is.

The Dodgers, flush with billions of TV dollars and a new ownership team cleaning up the toxic waste of the McCourt regime, sent word around baseball last month that they were willing to take hundred-million-dollar players from teams looking to dump such contracts.

Hello, Boston.

In addition to Crawford, the Red Sox were able to send away Josh Beckett, their up-and-down starter with an ace’s ego and a teenager’s consistency, ridding the clubhouse of an unrepentant reminder of the fried-chicken-and-beer brigade. They also gave up Nick Punto, who is Nick Punto, and Adrian Gonzalez, the prize of the deal for Los Angeles. Gonzalez was only a disappointment to those in Boston who expected exponential improvement when he moved from San Diego’s hitter-hostile Petco Park to Fenway Park.

In return, the Red Sox received perennial underperformer James Loney; some prospects, the most notable of whom is Rubby de la Rosa, a 23-year-old flamethrower coming off Tommy John surgery; and a reprieve from their long-term outlook of mediocrity and unlikability that seemed impossible just a week ago.

It’s a great trade for both sides, whatever happens from here.

Oh, there was one more mini-firestorm last week. Skip Bayless suggested that in the wake of the ongoing performance-enhancement era in baseball, with Melky Cabrera and Bartolo Colon suspended for inflated testosterone levels, Derek Jeter’s surprisingly potent comeback season at 38 just might be the product of something more than workouts and Wheaties.

His statement was based on no specific evidence, just the fact that many things that seem too good to be true have proved to be exactly that.

But that’s certainly still impossible, right?

Go ask Alice.

Jeff Neuman's columns for RealClearSports appear on Monday and Thursday. Follow him on Twitter @NeumanJeff. His collected golf writing and blogging can be found at www.neumanprose.com.

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