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The Questionable Legacy of Josh Beckett

josh beckett
josh beckett

Phoenix, AZ, USA: Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Josh Beckett in the dugout in the fourth inning against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field. Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Things just keeping getting better for Josh Beckett. There was a time when he was one of the most clutch pitchers in baseball, but, more recently, he became the poster boy for a Red Sox team’s downward spiral and was a burden the Dodgers were forced to absorb in order to acquire Adrian Gonzalez. Now, that may not be all.

Beckett was placed on the disabled list on May 14th with a left groin strain and he says he has legitimate concerns that his start the night before might be the last appearance he makes in his career, albeit for an entirely different reason.

Beckett says he has been dealing with numbness in his pitching hand since early in the season, but that it hasn’t been causing him any pain. He said he continued to pitch through it because of the injuries to the Dodgers’ pitching staff. But, now, he wonders whether that will prevent him from ever throwing another pitch in the Major Leagues.

Even with his recent struggles, hearing talks of retirement is hardly something one would expect from a pitcher who is still just 33-years-old, especially one who has had some great success during his career. So, Beckett visited with a nerve specialist on Monday to learn more about his prognosis. He was diagnosed with nerve irritation and has been instructed to not throw for at least four weeks. If that fixes the problem, he may be able to pitch again. But, if it is something that lingers and forces his career to come to an end, what will be his ultimate legacy?

Will it be as the young, brash kid who spent five years in south Florida highlighted by blister problems and a World Series MVP trophy in 2003? Beckett began his career in Miami from 2001-2005 and pitched to a 41-34 record with a 3.46 ERA. While pretty successful, he was also notorious for having blister problems, which landed him on the disabled list six times in those five seasons.

His most memorable stretch came in the 2003 World Series, when he started twice, threw 16.1 innings, allowed just two runs, struck out 19, and turned in a complete game shutout in the clinching Game 6. Baseball fans will always remember him tagging out Jorge Posada on the first base line for the final out, giving the Marlins their second World Series title. He was an ace in the making.

Will he be remembered most as the experienced anchor of a Red Sox pitching staff that helped the team become a perennial playoff contender and win a World Series in 2007? The Red Sox acquired Beckett in a trade in November of 2005 and was very reliable atop the rotation, pitching more than 200 innings in three of the next four years and posting a record of 65-34 while making two All-Star teams.

During that championship 2007 regular season, he finished second in the American League Cy Young voting and won 20 games. In the postseason, he won each of his four starts, allowed just four runs and struck out 35 in 30 innings, and won the ALCS MVP Award. His run from 2006-2009 earned him a 4-year, $68MM contract extension through the 2014 season.

Will Beckett instead be remembered for his worse moments, including his performances and attitude from 2010 on? In 2010, he missed more than two months with a back injury and managed just a 6-6 record with a career-worst 5.78 ERA. He followed that up with a much better 2011, but failed to deliver when needed most in September when the Red Sox were in the midst of an epic collapse that kept them from the playoffs. During his disastrous 2012 season, Boston management shipped him to Los Angeles where he has since gone 2-8 and has been winless in 2013.

Worse, still, than his numbers over the last few years, was his attitude during that time. He was never one to be very friendly with the media, which became very apparent to fans and turned him into one of the least popular players in Boston. When he did speak with reporters, he often came off as someone who was indifferent and unconcerned about how he and his team performed, like when he went golfing the day after sitting out a start with an injury in early 2012, which only further sullied his reputation. The low point of it all was that he was allegedly the architect of Chicken and Beergate, in which he and other teammates ate fried chicken and drank beer in the clubhouse during games for two seasons, including during the ill-fated postseason push of  2011.

Despite these lowlights, Beckett still had a stretch during which many considered him among the best postseason pitchers of all-time. Will this be his ultimate legacy? During his teams’ World Series runs in 2003 and 2007, Beckett made nine starts and won six of them. He had a 1.73 ERA during that time. He won three series-opening games, a World Series clincher, and even gave up just one run in a four-inning relief appearance during Game 7 of the 2003 NLCS. While his more recent postseason appearances have been less successful, he still owns a 7-3 career record in the playoffs with a 3.07 ERA and two series MVP awards.

If Beckett does end up having to hang up his cleats now, he will have finished with a 132-100 record with a 3.94 ERA and his career could very well have a two-fold legacy. In the short-term, many will probably remember him more for the on and off-field disappointments in both Boston and L.A. and wonder how good he could have been if he could have played longer and been more committed during his prime years.

But, over time, those stories will likely take more of a backseat to his career performance. He was a fireballer who, when pitching to his potential, was among the best in the game and had some great postseason success. His shortcomings, both on and off the field, will never be forgotten, but there will come a time when they are not the headline. If his career is over now, though, that time is not the present.

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