Location – A bar in Boston 30 years down the road. A couple of old timers are nursing schooners of beer. It’s pouring outside. The Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees have been rained out so, as is often the case with these guys, they start bitching about the Sox.
“Our starters are gettin’ killed.”
“There’s a kid in Pawtucket that’s ready to come up. He’s got a wicked slider.”
“What the hell is Pedroia waiting for?”
“The kid’s name is Beckett.”
“Oh. Been down that road. Skip it.”
Josh Beckett has stepped in it big time recently. First, he missed a scheduled start for the Red Sox due to a lat problem. Fair enough. Then on the next day, an off day for the Sox, he played golf. Not great, but not a huge deal yet. When he was asked about playing golf a day after missing a start, his response reflected how tone deaf and arrogant he is. Claiming that what he does with one of his 18 days off during the “year” is his personal business, he completely whiffed on his chance to show the world that he has a brain and a heart. Add the less-than-three-inning spanking he endured courtesy of the Cleveland Indians and you’re just begging for getting whipped in the press. Where to begin?
For starters, and at the risk of stating the obvious, counting the 18 days during the regular season that are off days, Beckett gets nearly 5 months during an actual year off. It should have been less last time around, but the well-documented on-field collapse of Beckett and the Red Sox last September (clubhouse beer and fried chicken aside) was so atrocious that Josh was freed up to play golf the entire month of October.
Next, at $15.75 million this year, outings of less than 3 innings while getting testy over questions about a round of golf after a missed start just aren’t going to cut it. Nor will his performance to date – 1.385 WHIP, 5.97 ERA of 5.97, 2 wins and 4 losses – excuse his obvious disdain for all persons not Josh Beckett.
All of the above puts Beckett pretty far down on the hero charts. If he’s not careful, he’ll start getting mentioned in the same sentence as other infamous louts-of-the-game like Jose Canseco. Not the sort of legacy anyone should aspire to.
Maybe we shouldn’t expect so much from Beckett. After all, a number of the game’s greats have behaved in less than admirable ways. Ty Cobb comes immediately to mind. His lifetime average of .366, best in the history of the game, is usually overshadowed by comments about what a jerk he was. Al Stump’s book Cobb, a thorough and unvarnished view of Cobb’s entire life, brings vivid, unflattering detail to a story most fans are generally familiar with. When people talk about Cobb, the negatives of his personality inevitably surface. Compare Cobb to Willie Mays and the result is predictable. Mays is viewed by most as the greatest baseball player of all time. He’s also one of the most beloved. Cobb is one of the greatest of all time, a few even argue he was better than Mays. But he stands alone as the most hated.
Ever since Jim Bouton’s Ball Four, the adults among us have learned to accept the notion that baseball players are, like the rest of us, human beings rather than superheroes. The fishbowl in which baseball players currently operate is relentless and pervasive. Josh Beckett undoubtedly knows that. It seems just as clear that he couldn’t care less.
When I heard about Beckett’s recent troubles my mind flashed on Yogi Berra. There’s a story that still floats around about a Sunday double-header early in Berra’s career. As the story goes, Yogi asked to sit out the second game. After the game DiMaggio gave him so much grief about his request that Berra played in both ends of every double header the Yankees played in for the rest of his career. I’m betting if you searched for anything from Berra about how he deserved time off because of the rigors of catching, or if you searched for complaints from Berra about how few days off he got each year, both searches would be in vain.
Cobb, Berra, and Mays played a long time ago. Beckett’s still playing and is relatively young for a pitcher. If his health holds up, and that’s a big if given the last few years for him, he could end up as one of the game’s greats. Or he could just end up as a guy whose name pisses off a couple of old timers in a Boston pub.
Jonathan Dyer has been a baseball fanatic since playing Little League in the 1960s, and he’s been following the Oakland A’s since moving to the Bay Area in the late 1970s when he watched Rickey Henderson play for Billy Martin. Dyer, the author of three novels, now brings his long-term perspective to writing about baseball, connecting the modern game to its historic context. You may email Jonathan directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @dyer_jp. You can follow his progress on two new novels he’s writing at www.booksbyjonathandyer.webs.com