They took the beer out of the clubhouse, but nothing changed. They switched the man in the manager's office, but he's no better. The rot in the Boston Red Sox organization runs too deep for cosmetic upgrades, and nobody better personifies it than Josh Beckett, the clueless, defiant egomaniac who's poisoning another Red Sox season.
By now, the story is etching itself into Red Sox lore alongside the beer-and-chicken episode of 2011: Beckett gets scratched from a start because of a sore lat May 2, plays a round of golf in the Boston area the very next day and can't make it through the third inning of his next start before the Cleveland Indians fill out his scorecard with a triple-bogey seven. Fenway Park unleashed a torrent of boos, the Red Sox dropped to 12-19 – the fourth-worst record in baseball – and when asked about his golf game, Beckett offered this:
"I spend my off-days the way I want to spend them. My off-day is my off-day."
Far be it for anyone to question Beckett's activity on one of his precious off-days. That is not the point. Nor is it about him playing golf. Nor is it even about his dreadful performance on the mound Thursday. What runs through every incident involving Josh Beckett is the utter lack of respect he has for the franchise that pays him $17 million a year, the teammates who rely on him and the fans who pay his salary. This is about common sense, decency and responsibility.
Beckett still winces privately about how the fact that Red Sox starters drank beer and ate fried chicken in the clubhouse overshadowed the teamwide meltdown of September. He whines that it's a media creation, which, in some respects, it is. The media did report it. But the visceral reactions of the Red Sox fan base – the confirmation that, yeah, Beckett sure had gotten fat over the course of last season, and the perception problem caused when picturing hundreds of millions of dollars worth of arms bonding over Popeye's and Bud Light as the Titanic sank – made the story what it was. The Red Sox didn't lose because of beer and chicken. Their losses just had a face, and it was Beckett's, with extra crispy on his extra chin.
When Boston replaced manager Terry Francona with Bobby Valentine this offseason, hoping to instill some discipline into a team gone wild, word leaked quickly that Beckett was none too happy about the hiring. He led the pitching staff like it was his fiefdom: Jon Lester, the would-be ace, looked up to Beckett, as did young Clay Buchholz, and the injured John Lackey was a running buddy as well. In a rotation of alpha dogs, Beckett was the alpha and omega, the conscience – or lack thereof – that guided the rest.
In Beckett's bubble, it's OK to miss a start because of a perceived medical issue and engage in leisurely physical activity the next day. Because it wasn't like the golf was going to exacerbate his injury. (Which it probably didn't.) And, well, it was his off-day. (Which it was.) And if he had practice swung in his garage, nobody would know or care. (Which is true.)
Beckett's naïveté gleams through such rationale. The beer-and-chicken incident lost him the benefit of the doubt on everything. In his own clubhouse they question his dedication. Never his level of determination. Never his competitiveness. Both of those are legendary. But just how much Beckett cares, when he's willing to miss a start because of an injury that's not severe enough to keep him off the course the next day – well, by now it's obvious that Beckett cares about himself first, and it colors each of his decisions.
If he cared about Francona, a manager who was losing his clubhouse, Beckett would have realized the culture he was helping foster through his actions and called them to a stop. The staff would have heeded his wishes immediately.
If he cared about Valentine, a manager who more than anything needs an ally, Beckett would've recognized just how much the golf outing subverts the manager's authority. Beckett's not well enough to go for the most disappointing team in baseball with the second-worst starters' ERA, but hey: 18 with Buchholz sounds like a fine idea.
Common sense should tell him it isn't, and decency should yank him back from the me-me-me thoughts that pollute his mind, and responsibility should govern his life. Beckett turns 31 this week. He has been in this game more than a decade. He understands what plays and what doesn't.
He just doesn't give a damn.
"We have 18 off-days a year," he said. "We deserve time to ourselves."
Beckett's professional reputation is on the line, his infantile choices – like Manny Ramirez's – threatening to balance out his standing as one of the greatest postseason pitchers ever, and that's his concern: the sanctity of his off-days. Beckett owes nobody an apology, never, because he's Josh Beckett and you're not, and if you don't like it, you know what you can kiss.
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At a time when the Red Sox look like a disaster – the bloated contracts, the fudged sellout streak, the Bobby V experiment getting worse by the day – the team needs Beckett to be a stabilizing force rather than a divisive one. The Red Sox are stuck with Beckett because he can be one of their best pitchers and they've got nothing else. Something has to change, and if history is any indication, it won't be Beckett. Which leaves Boston in a painful state: forced to maintain the dysfunction. Similarly equipped teams have succeeded, so it's not like Beckett will torpedo the season himself.
What his actions suggest, though, and what the responses have shown, is that if you're a Red Sox player – or at least one with a great arm – common sense, decency and responsibility aren't among the necessary tenets. They might as well set up a Popeye's window and tap a keg in the clubhouse. The asylum is broken, and inmate No. 1, Josh Beckett, has no intention of letting the reins go anytime soon.
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