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When someone decides to write The Big Book of Baseball Aces, Josh Beckett will be nothing more than a footnote. His win-loss record of 89-58 and 4.17 ERA over his six and a half year stint with the Red Sox has been totally mediocre, compared to both the premiere starting pitchers of his generation and of Red Sox history. He allowed a disgusting 36 home runs in 2006, can boast exactly zero Cy Young awards, and has only three All-Star appearances to his name.
To further his cause, Beckett quickly became one of the least likable people in New England and the closest thing to a real-live pirate any of us will ever see. By unloading him to the Los Angeles Dodgers (for the price of Top-5 first baseman Adrian Gonzalez), the Red Sox are almost guaranteed to be less terrible, regardless of who replaces him in the rotation this year or next. Things can really only go up. And yet when it comes to the departure of Josh Beckett, I can only be disappointed.
In the MLB (where being less exciting than the Discovery Channel is encouraged), Josh Beckett was preemptively disqualified from reaping the honors and glories received by pitchers less talented than him. Instead of being loved by fans like Pedro or Curt Schilling, he’ll be hated nearly as much as Roger Clemens. Had he remained with the Red Sox, regardless of how well he performed, nothing Josh Beckett could do would ever impress anyone. And to be honest, that’s how it had been from the start of his time in Boston.
When the Red Sox acquired Josh Beckett on Thanksgiving 2005, he really hadn’t done anything to merit Ace status. Yeah, he pimp-slapped the Yankees and was World Series MVP in 2003, but baseball is the only sport where it is possible that absolutely anyone can rise to greatness at any given moment. You have to be able to do something really cool twice for it to mean anything (which Beckett did in 2007, but that’s not important right now). Prior to joining the Red Sox, Beckett had only won more than 10 games once and had never pitched more than 190 innings. That’s not very Ace-like. So when a big market franchise trades its hyped-up shortstop prospect for that pitcher, it’s simply impossible for him to meet expectations.
But regardless of what the numbers, fans, or anyone says about Josh Beckett, the expectations were certainly met. He’s 7-3 in the playoffs with a 3.07 ERA (for what it’s worth, CC Sabathia’s postseason ERA is 4.81). If he were a basketball player, he would be received with sheer awe until the end of time.
Three of his seasons in Boston were flat-out awesome. He was robbed of a Cy Young in 2007 and could have been in the running 2011 if it weren’t for the collapse (he ultimately would have been written off for the low win total, even though “experts” claim they don’t care about win-loss records). His 2009 line of 17-6, 3.86 ERA, 212.1 IP, 199 K, and 1.192 WHIP wasn’t too shabby either. Sure it wasn’t vintage Pedro, but 29 other baseball teams would have been cool with having that guy on their roster.
The even year myth doesn’t completely hold up either. People have selectively forgotten that the Red Sox essentially saved Beckett as their secret weapon for the playoffs in 2008 and he really wasn’t that bad anyways. In 2010 he was constantly injured (Just like Dustin Pedroia was. But he smiles and looks friendly so it was totally acceptable in that case). Yes 2006 and the 2012 were horrendous, but who doesn’t have down years? It’s only permissiable when those players are Jacoby Ellsbury or Jon Lester.
By August 2012, there was one reaction to Josh Beckett that always baffled me: He’s not pitching like a No. 1 Starter. Then why can’t he be No. 4 or 5 starter? He’s 32, it’s not inconceivable that he’s on the decline. It’s not his fault he was still being called an ace…in 2012 that just isn’t who he is anymore. Why couldn’t he still hold the ceremonial honors of being a front line starter, but simply bear the responsibilities of a back end one? Greg Maddux, Randy Johnson, Tom Glavine…all of these elite pitchers eventually met that fate. So why not Beckett?
Because Lester couldn’t make “the jump”? Because John Lackey pitched like John Lackey? Because the Red Sox front office stopped doing its job and failed to bring in quality pitching? Does Beckett really deserve an onslaught of hate because the Red Sox experienced a systematic breakdown on all levels? I don’t think so.
Josh Beckett was the definition of swagger. He’d spit on your mama’s grave, just because he felt like it. Remember what happened when the Cleveland Indians brought in his ex-girlfriend to sing the national anthem? He reminded them that they were the Cleveland Indians. Josh Beckett believed in apologies like Tennessee believed in evolution circa-1920. He could care less about whether NESN thought he was cuddly and he had an insatiable desire for beer and fried chicken. And he could hit home runs. That’s patriotism if I’ve ever seen it.
Beckett was a fashion guru, his taste in necklaces was impeccable. He stood up the legendary Heidi Watney because Josh Beckett doesn’t have time for stupid questions. His ego was as big as Texas, which coincidentally is his birthplace and where his rookie baseball card will probably the state flag in 50 years. He likes the fact that you hate him, and probably hates the fact that I like him.
The Dodgers are getting a ballin’ starting pitcher who treats his playoff opponents like little leaguers. The most exciting player left on the Red Sox is Vicente Padilla. Thanks, but no thanks. Without Josh Beckett, Boston goes from a nice, cool orange soda to room temperature orange juice…without the pulp.
The Red Sox have a replacement for Adrian Gonzalez, albeit in the mediocre James Loney. The same can’t be said for Josh Beckett.