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There’s not much to be excited for heading into the regular season for the Red Sox. A potential power struggle is brewing between Valentine and Cherington, the starting shortstop is a utility player acquired from the Kansas City Royals, and the fifth starter is a relief pitcher with two pitches. Additionally, almost everyone on the team has been branded as dislikable, alcoholic malcontents. Who wouldn’t want to root for these guys?
Nevertheless, no member of Boston’s squad seems as hated as Josh Beckett. His poor September showing is still what anyone has to say about him (never mind the fact that without his prior five months of pitching, the Red Sox would have been way out of contention by September). In a world where our athletes are supposed to be cuddly, friendly, and Twitter happy, Beckett does not fit in. Along with these alleged personality flaws, there is also the fact that Beckett does not seem to pitch well in even number years (Oh look 2012 is an even number, how convenient!). In short, there’s a whole lot on Beckett’s plate this year. So what does No. 19 have to prove in 2012? Nothing.
It’s been talked about time and again how much Boston loves its aces, from Clemens to Martinez, to Schilling, to Lester. For some reason, Beckett never made the cut. Despite an impressive resume including two World Series rings, the Red Sox continuously smack Beckett in the face. Remember last year when they slotted him as the number four starter? I doubt Beckett cares, but how many other teams would do that? And behind John Lackey? That’s harsh.
But a better example would be the whole 2011 collapse palooza. If I recall correctly, two other pitchers were involved in the festivities. John Lackey obviously got his fair share of criticism, but Jon Lester seems to have gotten off the hook. No one complains about Lester. In fact, he is so incapable of doing wrong that he was the named the Opening Day starter, an honor which typically belongs to the best pitcher on the team with the longest tenure (See: Beckett, Josh). This isn’t to slam Lester, but he is coddled and beloved to such a bizarre extent. Never mind the fact that he can have a mean streak himself because that would ruin the perception we’ve created. It’s understandable why people may be upset with Beckett, but perhaps blame should be assigned to everyone who deserves it.
Another strike against Beckett is that he has even an ounce of personality, a trait which MLB adamantly prohibits. In a league where players, especially pitchers, are these quiet men with “respect for the game,” the brute and standoffish Beckett doesn’t fit MLB’s preferred mold of boring.
Think about the prototypical aces of the MLB: Roy Halladay, CC Sabathia, Chris Carpenter…good pitchers, but none of these guys are particularly known for personalities. As a result, Beckett stands out, opening windows for greater criticism. Despite the fact that all pitchers take an absurdly long time between pitches, isn’t it easier to single out a more unpopular player? Because no one in their right minds would single out Justin Verlander, who has been unofficially proclaimed as baseball’s golden boy.
And keep in mind that all these short term events have long term consequences. If good players want to make a case for the Hall of Fame, they have to have the accolades to back it up. Beckett got slighted to the MLB favorite, Sabathia, in 2007 for Cy Young. Had the Red Sox not broken down last year, he still would have been overlooked because he didn’t have a flashy, high win total (an extremely limited statistic). Things like these add up. No one in their right mind would consider Beckett a Hall of Famer right now. Throw in a couple more awards though, and maybe he would have the recognition one of the better pitchers in baseball since 2003 should deserve. If I had to guess, Johan Santana is still probably viewed as having the better career, even though no one remembers the last time he pitched. Oh well.
Beckett has his World Series, All-Star selections, and everything else most pitchers can only imagine. To make themselves feel better, the fans scream that Beckett needs to redeem himself, continuing to live in foolish delusions where Mr. Beckett is on a mission to re-earn the respect of the noble and majestic fans of the Boston Red Sox. Despite these notions of grandeur, Beckett can have a lousy 2012 campaign and stay unaffected…he can’t really go downhill and his achievements have already been overlooked. It’s a funny position, really.
I can’t help but look at the NBA and NFL and watch the smack-talk galore that fills the headlines. It’s something that’s absent from the MLB. In a league where respect and honor are prized characteristics, Josh Beckett is a symbol of immorality and swagger. He’s a glimmer of hope and excitement, in a sport that so desperately needs it. The type of guy who can call out the great Curt Schilling, or dismiss Heidi Watney, or refuse to apologize for eating fried chicken because he doesn’t care. Unwanted by his team, his fans, and the league itself, who else is better suited for the job?