Josh Beckett Golf Story: The Media Got It Wrong

In his last start, Josh Beckett did not pitch well for the Boston Red Sox and he was booed, loud and long. He deserved that booing. The Red Sox highest paid pitcher has been terrible this season. He has a 5.97 ERA and that isn’t the result of bad luck; his FIP is 5.78. His nine home runs put him fifth in the majors in that category, just behind teammate Clay Buchholz. He has given the fans reason to boo and he knows. When asked about the booing, he said, “it was directed at me. I pitched like ****. That’s what happens. Smart fans.”

Beckett’s performance this year is not the only reason that fans were booing, however.  Yesterday, before the Beckett had the chance to disappoint the Fenway Faithful with his pitching, the media was cursing his name for playing golf on his day off. The narrative that was being brandied about was this-

On May 2, the Red Sox announced that Aaron Cook would start in place of Josh Beckett- history’s greatest monster. The reason Beckett would be skipped was stated as “soreness” or “tightness” in his right lat muscle. On May 3, an off-day for the Red Sox an uncaring and unmotivated Josh Beckett decide to play golf despite being too sore to pitch, an unforgivable sin, proof positive that he doesn’t care about baseball, America or Freedom. Did I get that right?

Here is what we actually know about this incident-

- Aaron Cook had to be called up before May 1 and he was not, so he was able to opt out

- Josh Beckett wasn’t injured. (Call it semantics, but a sore or tight lat is not an injury, it is the result of pitching. Pitchers are sore all the time after 100+ pitch outings)

- He was able to pitch and he wanted to pitch.

- The team decided his start would be skipped to keep Aaron Cook around.

- Josh Beckett played golf.

- Josh Beckett was awful in his next start.

The reality that is now becoming clear is far less dramatic. Having failed to call up Aaron Cook by May 1, the Boston Red Sox needed to give him a start to prevent him from exercising his opt-out clause and leaving. With the off-day Thursday, they could pitch him in place of Daniel Bard Friday night, Josh Beckett Saturday or Clay Buchholz Sunday. Bard had been skipped once already after a rain delay and between Buchholz and Beckett, the team picked Beckett, likely because he had thrown 126 in last outing. Beckett was ready and willing to pitch and the team decided not to pitch him, offering the shoulder soreness as an excuse. It was the team’s excuse, not Beckett’s.  The decision may have been a bad one, as he looked very rusty, but it was not his decision, so that is not on him.

Of course, that isn’t the end of it. Many writers like the Boston Globe’s Chad Finn and Nick Cafardo (just to name two prominent ones), still want to push their anti-Beckett narratives. Pressing Becket on the question of whether or not fans have the right to question his decision to play golf, Beckett said, “Not on my off day. We get 18 off days a year. I think we deserve a little bit of time to ourselves.” That isn’t what Cafardo wanted to hear. He wanted to hear Beckett say, “Yeah, given that I missed a start with the lat muscle, I shouldn’t have gone out and played golf. I know now how that looks to the fans and I need to exercise better judgment in the future.’’ We know what Cafardo wanted to hear because he actually wrote the response he thought Beckett should have given him. Apparently, questions about how you spend your own time are simple multiple choice. Good to know.

Beckett’s response isn’t great, granted- as Finn points out, he does get 4 1/2 months off- but his frustration with this situation is justified. From the beginning, the reporting of this story has been terrible. Josh Beckett can’t be expected to say he missed a start because of his lat muscle, when he was told he would miss a start. He didn’t offer the excuse and the true reason for the missed start was Aaron Cook’s opt-out clause. By why let inconvenient facts interrupt a good anti-Beckett narrative?

Simply because Josh Beckett would rather be combative with the media instead of playing their preferred role of the repentant man doesn’t mean he is guilty of anything. His performance on the field is a major concern for the Red Sox right now, but this issue is just not real. Earlier today, David Cameron of Fangraphs suggested that Beckett may have been pitching hurt this entire year, as evidenced by his lower average velocity since the season began. If that is case, you can be sure you won’t be reading any narratives about how he toughed out an average of 102.3 pitches while his shoulder was hurting him. At this point, if Josh Beckett ran into a burning building to save orphan children, a large segment of the local press would chastise him for putting himself at risk and use it as further proof that he doesn’t care about the game.

Josh Beckett may not be the most likable player on the Boston Red Sox. For all I know, he really may not be dedicated to his game the way a Dustin Pedroia or a Jon Lester. However, as of yet, there is no proof that is the case. All we know for certain is that the media loves to paint Beckett as the problem child and he too defiant to just say what they want him to say. If Beckett turns things around, the same people will probably spin weak stories about how he has changed his attitude. More than likely, the reason then will be an improved fastball. Real explanations aren’t as sexy as loose talk about heart and dedication, though so this is what we will continue to get. That’s fine, but I don’t want to see the people pedaling these weak narratives playing golf on their days off.

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