(This is another column from our very own Kazzy who is soon to become an Official Mindless Diversionary in his own right!)
When Jaybird and I discussed the possibility of me writing some sports posts for MD and I settled on the “What’s the Matter with…?” approach*, I knew it was only a matter of time before I wrote about my favorite baseball team, the Boston Red Sox. They doubled down on a putrid start to the 2011 season with a historic collapse to miss the playoffs in September. They then twisted the knife by engaging in worse-than- normal off-season drama and added a nice sprinkle of salt with another poor start to this season. There was PLENTY to write about, both in terms of what was really wrong with the club (a dysfunctional institutional culture that starts at the top) to what wasn’t really an issue (a bad week of baseball happens to even the best teams). However, none of these issues really stuck in my craw and the column was never written.
Then the Josh Beckett thing happened. For those not in the know, Josh Beckett is a sometimes-phenomenal pitcher for the Sox who recently got himself into hot water when it was reported that he went golfing during a team off-day after previously being scratched from his next start due to a pulled lat. Beckett was roundly criticized for playing golf when he was supposedly unable to pitch. His manager, Bobby Valentine, claimed to be unaware of what the pitcher did on his off-day and his golfing partner and fellow pitcher, Clay Bucholtz, took the always useful “No comment” approach.
Fast forward to Beckett’s next start, when he got rocked and booed off the mound. The post-game press conference only added fuel to the fire:
“Facing ridicule from fans and media, Beckett admitted that he was not at his best that day. Despite that fact, when asked whether his golf outing was a good decision, Beckett had no problem with his choice to enjoy a day off.
“I spend my off days the way I want to spend them,” Beckett said.
When probed further by ESPNBoston.com‘s Gordon Ede’s, Becketts responses regarding his decision in question seemed even more unapologetic.
“Given that you were skipped a start with what was described as a tight lat muscle, do people have the right to question why you were golfing?” asked Ede.
“Not on my off day” replied Beckett.
“Do you understand the perception that leaves when the team is playing as poorly as it is?”, continued Ede.
“We get 18 off days a year. I think we deserve a little time to ourselves.” said Beckett.”
This was the final straw, I thought. I’ve rooted for bad teams, inept teams, and incompetent teams. But the Red Sox seemed to cross a line recently, becoming a corrupt team that doesn’t seem to know what the word “accountable” means. The Beckett situation summed it up perfectly. I’m done, I thought. That’s it, I thought. These guys are morally flawed in such a way that no amount of home runs or strike outs or World Series victories can make up for, I thought.
I thought all these things, mind you, as I cut out of work two hours early to rush home to finish making bacon bourbon for my buddy’s bachelor party. Crap.
How many of us have had a few too many beers during Sunday football and were not on top of our game at work on Monday morning? Why do we tend to see this as excusable but folks were ready to chase Beckett out of town? Is there an appreciable difference between athletes and non-athletes that makes one behavior receive a wink- and-a-nod while another leads to days of derision on talk radio?
As I touched on in my post on LeBron James and the Heat, there seems to be a tendency to expect way more of athletes in terms of how they approach their craft than most other professions. I think this is because we imagine that we would never handle such a magical situation with the lack of gratitude we attribute such behavior to. WE would never blow off practice if we were a pro ball player. WE would never accept anything less than 110% from ourselves. WE would never take for granted what we have. WE would never waste our talents.
And we think this despite all evidence to the contrary, despite most of us having several days a year that we mail in at work, despite the fact that most of us are not professional athletes precisely because we did not give 110% of ourselves to realizing that dream.
So, what is wrong with Josh Beckett? I’m sure plenty. There are ample stories that he was a cocky narcissist before he was even drafted and remains one to this day. He probably should have handled the aftermath better, knowing the maelstrom that the Boston sports media and fan base can become. But all-in-all, Beckett did what most of us have done countless times in our life: taken his work less than 100% seriously. Thankfully, his job involves throwing a baseball instead of performing surgery or teaching children or driving an 18-wheeler, all professional tasks that can have dire consequences if done shoddily.
As for what is wrong with the Red Sox? They still suck. But we’ll save that for another day…
* It looks like this column might become a regular feature. If people are so inclined, please feel free to start a thread in the comments section about the “What’s the matter with…?” format. Thanks!