Beckett not living up to ace status or salary
Questions about performance, motivation pervade for Boston star
Josh Beckett pitched like a true ace for the Boston Red Sox -- in 2007.
Since then, Josh Beckett has been paid like a true ace. The four-year, $68 million extension he signed in 2010 was in the ace range for the market at that time. What have the Red Sox received for their top-of-the-rotation money?
Injuries limited Beckett to 21 starts in 2010. When he did pitch, he had an ERA of 5.78.
His overall health and his overall numbers were much better in 2011. But down the stretch, during Boston's epic September collapse, Beckett gave up six earned runs in each of his last two starts, both of which were losses.
This season, in six starts, Beckett is 2-4 with a 5.98 ERA. He has been part of the problem, not the solution, for the extremely disappointing Red Sox, who are currently last in the American League East.
But even the numbers that Beckett has posted are not what constitute the current case against him by Red Sox Nation.
Last September, as what had been a fine season disintegrated, there were Red Sox starting pitchers, on their off-days, in the clubhouse drinking beer and eating fried chicken. Beckett was reportedly one of those pitchers. There might be a leadership role involved with being a top-of-the-rotation pitcher. Grabbing some yuks in the clubhouse while the season goes down the drain on the field probably doesn't qualify in that category.
More recently, of course, there was the golf outing. One day after the Red Sox announced that Beckett would miss a turn due to tightness in the latissimus muscle behind his right shoulder, he was spotted playing golf.
Then, when Beckett made his next start against Cleveland on Thursday night, the Indians teed him up, you might say. Beckett surrendered seven earned runs in 2 1/3 innings. The chain of events -- injury, golf, missed start, shelling -- left the ticket-buying public at Fenway Park with thunderous booing as the only alternative.
When Beckett was asked if people had a right to question him for playing golf, he responded:
"Not on my off-day. We get 18 off-days a year. I think we deserve a little bit of time to ourselves."
There are two things wrong with that statement. Yes, everybody understands how grueling the six-month, 162-game Major League schedule is. But the "18 off-days a year" doesn't quite factor in the 3 1/2-month offseason. And that becomes a 4 1/2-month offseason if your team doesn't qualify for the postseason.
More than that, Beckett's statement drips arrogance. How can a mere civilian even question him about his off-day activities?
No, as an off-day endeavor, golfing is not like cliff diving or disarming land mines. But what Beckett's arrogance apparently won't allow him to confront is the serious mistake he has made, simply in terms of public perception. If you aren't healthy enough to pitch, then you aren't healthy enough to golf. If you don't see that connection as a professional athlete and a public personage, that is part of your problem.
Look, nobody can deny Josh Beckett's immense talent, or his competitive fire, on those occasions when he is well enough to compete. As a 23-year-old in 2003, he won the deciding Game 6 of the World Series for the Florida Marlins, shutting out the Yankees -- on short rest, to boot.
In 2007, Beckett had a splendid regular season (20-7, 3.27) and followed that with a dominant postseason (4-0, 1.20 in four starts). That was a time when Josh Beckett defined the term "ace." He led by the force of his example. He gave his team the definitive edge by performing the way a top-of-the-rotation pitcher is supposed to perform on the game's biggest stages.
That is what the Red Sox thought they were paying for, but that is not what they have often enough received from Josh Beckett.
That is also a long, long way from missing a start but still hitting the links. It is apparent from Beckett's response to the golfing queries that he views himself as a private person in a job that is unfortunately public. The unwillingness to see that there might be another viewpoint from the fans -- who are, after all, paying the freight -- is a drawback.
Two questions that need to be answered, but can't be answered yet: Is it too late at age 32 for Josh Beckett to change his mind? And, is there somebody big enough in the Boston organization to tell him that he has made a mistake?
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.