I have a confession to make. After years on the wagon, I slipped this week back into my old sports talk radio habit.
It was all too easy to get suckered back in. Toucher and Rich on the morning drive here, tuning in for the Whiner Line there, and the next thing you know I'm flying up 128 yesterday listening to Tony Mazz sounding like he's going to pop a lung over Josh Beckett playing golf.
"Your recourse as fans is not to attend!" shouted Mazz. "Not to watch! Vote with your feet!"
I flipped to the Big O show. Glenn Ordway and Michael Holley were taking a much more tsk-tsk-isn't-it-all-so-sad approach, but they were also debating what percentage of fans would boo Josh before he threw a pitch last night. Ordway said 50 percent. Holley told him to get real, that for most people the game was an "event" and they were just (sigh) happy to be there.
Tsk, tsk. What fools, just blithely taking in the entertainment, all but willingly being sold a bill of goods. Ignorance personified. Who wants to be that guy?
Not I, at least not yesterday afternoon, gripped in the spell of all the ranting and demagoguery.
As I've alluded to before, I wasn't fully present for the full pain of 7-20 last September, but I have gotten the impression that Beckett was at the heart of a kind of carelessness within the team, an attitude of disrespect not only for the work, but for the seriousness with which the audience was taking the work.
There is an element of insult in all that, insult which appeared to be continuing with Beckett's flippant press conference after his woeful start last night. Sullenly flat most of the time these days, the only real emotion he appears to express is a kind of perverse enjoyment at how easily he flabbergasts people around him with his behavior.
Meanwhile, like everyone else, I bring a background to this which colors my perception of the jerky pitcher / gigantic Rorschach inkblot that is being turned over in the Boston baseball consciousness. For one thing, I am probably the least athletically inclined person I know. With a background as a musician, I know what it is to perform, but not to perform athletically the way Josh Beckett has. Thus his sheer mastery over his body on his good days utterly fascinates me. When he's "on," he pitches not just with grace but with flourish and flash, with enough magic left over to show off a little. It fascinates me.
But certain formative experiences with alpha males who bore athletic gifts have also made me wary of his type. Let's just say that I know a smug BMOC when I see one. At the very least, most things I've seen and read about the off-field Beckett smack of a person I would, to put it politely, have trouble relating to in any way other than having pursued a craft at a certain level of dedication.
In short, I have had a love-hate relationship with Josh Beckett since he donned a Red Sox uniform. I suspect I am not alone.
Last night, then, I found humor in the guy who yelled "FORE!" as an Indians ground-rule double bounded for the right-field wall. I was frustrated, probably beyond reason, with Beckett's lackluster performance, and when I heard about his press conference this morning, my consternation was real.
Then, I turned away from the radio and back toward the Web, where my fandom has found its home since I quit my three-packs-a-day of WEEI.
The first piece I read today was by Evan Brunell writing for Fire Brand of the American League:
GolfGate was an overblown story before Beckett’s comments that should have died a quick death. But Beckett didn’t do his job, and now he’s created a major issue that will affect his legacy in Boston — all because he lacks simple common sense.
He sent a message last night: He cares more about his off day than his team.
He doesn’t seem to grasp that while his golf game might not have actually been an issue, the perception was out there that he was shirking his duties — compounded by the negativity already surrounding the team, due, in part, to his lack of leadership last season. (Remember, he was more concerned about who “snitched” about fried chicken and beer more than he was about how it affected the team’s collapse.) He should have worked to dispel the perception that he doesn’t care. He should have assured everyone that he did not risk his health, that he’s invested in the team and that he, just like everyone else, needs to step up. All he needed to show was that he cared.
Instead, he — one of the faces of the franchise –created a story where there didn’t have to be, all because he’s Josh Beckett and he doesn’t care what anyone else thinks.
On I read, this time at FanGraphs:
[G]uys with lousy attitudes can struggle for reasons other than their lousy attitudes, and connecting the dots between poor media relations skills and on field struggles requires a leap of faith that we just shouldn’t be willing to make. We saw nearly this exact same scenario play out a year ago, when John Lackey was crucified for his on field struggles and off field attitude, only to have it revealed later that he needed Tommy John surgery and had been pitching with a bum elbow.
Hopefully, Beckett doesn’t have that kind of serious injury, but given his velocity loss, his lousy performance, and the fact that he’s already had to miss one start, it certainly seems like a distinct possibility. And Beckett pitching through an injury would explain his troubles a lot more than some personality defect would. Beckett’s been a prickly guy for his entire career and it has never stopped him from getting hitters out before.
It was at this point that I began to remind myself that I stopped listening to talk radio for a reason.
And then, finally, Joe Posnanski's blog really hit the nail on the head for me:
There’s a feeling many of us have … that if we had been given another person’s talent, we would use it better. Maybe it’s jealousy. Maybe it’s that we feel like we have a better appreciation for talent. But I do think it affects us. I would imagine a lot of people believe that if they had been given the talent Josh Beckett was given, they would have done more with it -- on and off the field. We wouldn’t clown around and drink beer in the clubhouse while games were going on. We wouldn’t play golf a day after being scratched from a start and then snap that days off are days off. We wouldn’t …
But, is that really true? In Josh Beckett’s mind, I suspect, he’s worked his butt off at this game. He’s pitched through pain. He’s delivered in big moments. He was the pitching force behind Boston’s World Series. He’s endured the pains of the game -- the slumps, the boos, the insults, the injuries. So he doesn’t want to sit in the dugout every stinking minute of every game … so he wants to take his mind off things on his day off by playing a little golf … so he doesn’t have the talent to entertain reporters and doesn’t feel like making the game look like it’s the most fun he’s ever had in his entire life … so he doesn’t want to perform Seppuku every time the Red Sox lose a game …
… I’m not celebrating him for any of this. I’m a fan of enthusiasm, and I dislike half-heartedness. I’m just saying it might be a lot more human than we want to admit. I’m just saying we might find a little bit of that in our own lives. I don’t think it’s the Josh Becketts who are unusual. I think it’s the ones who go out every day, every single day, with intensity and spirit and fire who are unusual.
Peter Gammons, a man who has forgotten more about baseball than I will ever learn, has steadfastly insisted Beckett pitched through an ankle injury last September which he never commented on or allowed to be made public, even though it obviously would have helped his cause. It's not too much of a stretch to imagine a similar situation (and the pigheaded attitude that would have to go along with it) going on right now.
Add it all up, and I find that my position on Beckett has taken a 180-degree turn in 24 hours. (It's not the first time.) I'm not saying he's not a Jerkosaurus Rex. But that, I am reminded, is nothing new -- this crapitude between the lines is. And about that, I am increasingly of the opinion that we may not have all the facts, or, perhaps it would be better put that we have been looking in the wrong places.
There was also a lesson here to be (re) learned, for me, about commentary which enlightens vs. commentary which inflames. Now is a time, as a Red Sox fan as frustrated with the team as the next person, to be very careful about whose poison I allow to be poured into my ear, lest I lose sight of the fact that the game is, as always, more about what we bring to it than what is really there.