What’s the Matter with… Josh Beckett?

(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!


Jaybird is Birdmojo on Xbox Live and Jaybirdmojo on Playstation's network. He's been playing consoles since the Atari 2600 and it was Zork that taught him how to touch-type. If you've got a song for Wednesday, a commercial for Saturday, a recommendation for Tuesday, an essay for Monday, or, heck, just a handful a questions, fire off an email to AskJaybird-at-gmail.com


  1. > I knew it was only a matter of time before I wrote about my
    > favorite baseball team, the Boston Red Sox.

    Well, now we have a problem. I don’t know that I can share a blog with an AL fan.

    At least you hate the Yankees. So there’s that.

    • You’re still holding to the ol’ AL/NL rivalry? Sheesh man… you are old school! What are you going to do next year when we have interleague everyday?!?!


        This is unnatural in the eyes of the baseball gods. UNNATURAL, I SAY.

        • (cough)

          Sorry, belay that last.

          No religion.


        • Heh. I never said I was a fan of the DH. Or the AL for that matter! I’m a Sox fan. And a baseball fan.

          Must you make EVERYTHING partisan???
          (FWIW, I’d prefer to see both leagues do away with that silliness. But it’ll never happen, with all signs pointing toward both leagues adopting it.)

  2. Not really having partisan feelings on baseball, I completely support Beckett’s right to screw around on his off day, no matter how he got the day off. It sounds like his problem in his next outing wasn’t due to his golf game, but to the fact that fans and reporters couldn’t let it go and got under his skin.

    • HH-
      “Not really having partisan feelings on baseball, I completely support Beckett’s right to screw around on his off day, no matter how he got the day off.”
      If I am reading you correctly, this is an area of confusion that I think has wrongly exacerbated the case against Beckett. Beckett’s “off-day” was a team off-day. His team didn’t have a game that day and did not have practice. The team gets 18 of those during the course of the season. Many people seem to be operating under the assumption that Beckett was free to play golf because he wasn’t pitching because of a supposedly injured lat. This is not the case.

      “It sounds like his problem in his next outing wasn’t due to his golf game, but to the fact that fans and reporters couldn’t let it go and got under his skin.”
      I’m increasingly thinking that many “sports controversies” say a whole hell of a lot more about us as fans than it does about athletes or the games they play.

    • It should be noted that the quoted section doesn’t really capture how douchey and smug Beckett was during the press conference. Which doesn’t make what he actually did any more wrong or right. But there is a certain obtuseness there and, as I indicated about the organization as a whole, a complete lack of accountability from top to bottom.

  3. Joshin’ about the AL aside, welcome-near-officially to the crew. I haven’t forgot about the coach post.

    • I figured as much… thanks! Glad to be a part. I’m just happy to contribute… and hope that whatever I do hear is actually a contribution and not just a dump I left in the corner (I do that sometimes… figuratively and literally)…

  4. I am utterly unqualified to offer commentary pertinent to the bulk of the OP. However, I am super-pleased to know that Kazzy will be joining as an official blogger.

    • Thanks, Russ! I am in good company and hope that I can represent you all well. And I’d venture to guess that you could weigh in on the broader themes discussed. One of the goals here is to make sports-centric posts that aren’t for sports fans only. You might not know anything about Beckett or his curveball, but surely you have a perspective on professionalism, “fandom” in general, and other related factors. Please don’t let the theme hold you back!

      • Well, OK then…

        First of all, I have never understood sports fandom. I just don’t get it. I don’t understand why people invest so much of themselves in rooting for a particular collection of professional gameplayers simply because of an accident of birth as it relates to geography. I don’t understand why people care if their team loses or wins. I mean, I understand why people might care a bit in good fun, but not to the degree that people seem to really care in ways I find totally confounding.

        That said, I agree that we all phone it in from time to time at work. I try to be at my best every day, but I won’t pretend that I have days when I’m in a bad mood or slept poorly the night before or am distracted or whatever. I’m human.

        But I feel that if you’re paid an astronomical sum to play a game, then the very least you could do is be a gracious good sport. If your success as a multimillionaire rests in no small amount on the goodwill of your fans, then the very least little bit you could do is maybe not be a gigantic prick and openly flaunt your obligations to your team and the people whose asses fill the stadium.

        Me, I don’t love the Red Sox. I don’t love how my points of entry into Boston for work that I cannot avoid become impassable nightmares whenever there’s a home game. But I know lots and lots of people who do, and they deserve something better than open contempt from someone whose grossly inflated salary is financed by their ticket prices.

        • I think your honing in on Beckett’s salary is a very real part of the deal here. Would you extend this line of thinking to others who are paid astronomical salaries? Should we respond the same way to a CEO who makes equally unwise and unprofessional decisions and tells folks to shove off if they question him? In many ways, that seems worse, since those folks may very well have a financial stake as well as an emotional stake in him performing his job to the best of his ability.

          Or is it the unique interaction of folks getting paid millions to be a “professional gameplayer” (as you call them)? Is it the line of work in conjunction with the salaries that makes everything these guys do seem to resonate differently with the public than when regular folks do much the same? If you didn’t read my post on LeBron and the Heat, I touched on a similar idea about folks deriding James for taking a slight salary cut to play with his best friend in a city that is a great place to be young and wealthy… as if most of us wouldn’t do the same given the opportunity. There is something broader going on here, which I think you touch on in your comment on fandom.

          I don’t know the answer. I know what I see. I’m trying to figure out the why. Which isn’t easy because there is a part of me susceptible to this line of thinking because of my own irrational (and it is indeed irrational) fandom.

          • Would you extend this line of thinking to others who are paid astronomical salaries? Should we respond the same way to a CEO who makes equally unwise and unprofessional decisions and tells folks to shove off if they question him?

            We should respond much, much worse. As obnoxious as Beckett’s behavior may be, the worst outcome possible is that one group of multimillionaires loses a game to another group of multimillionaires, and their fans are disappointed. A CEO screws the pooch and responds with arrogance and contempt should be fed to the Kraken.

            I don’t know much about Lebron James. I think it’s perfectly understandable that he’d prefer to live in Miami (right? Miami?) instead of Cleveland. My impression as a total sports nincompoop is that he announced his decision to leave in the most dickish way humanly possible.

            Anyhow, I do think it plays into people’s feelings how much these people are paid to do something so otherwise useless beyond making their fans happy. If they obviously can’t be bothered by making their fans happy, then what good are they and what justifies their preposterous wealth?

          • “If they obviously can’t be bothered by making their fans happy, then what good are they and what justifies their preposterous wealth?”

            I think there’s a lot of truth there. I also think that I’d be bored out of my mind if every athlete was a “company man,” set on making the fans and the front office happy.

            Part of what makes sports fun is that it blows up and makes public what it’s like for people to be under stress operating at a very high level of talent and training. It’s fascinating to watch how people handle that level of stress and see how they perform both on the field and off the field. As sports fans (and I do count myself as one, even though I’m not emotionally involved in baseball) the joy and disappointment and frustration are only tolerable because in the end it is mostly meaningless. If I knew people with life-and-death responsibilities were behaving badly, that would really mess with my head. But a pitcher? BOOOOO! YOU SUUUUUUUCK! Man, that feels good.

          • “If they obviously can’t be bothered by making their fans happy, then what good are they and what justifies their preposterous wealth?”

            A broader question you may or may not have implied here is: What is the purpose of sports (not “What’s the point?” but “What ends are we seeking?”)? The more I think about this, the more I question why I watch and follow at all. Which makes me sad. VERY sad. I don’t like feeling that way or thinking those thoughts or pondering those questions.

            Damn you, doctor!

          • After further consideration, doctor, let’s just go back to pretending you have nothing to offer here. You just broke sports. You happy now? YOU HAPPY?!?!?!

            (These are actually exactly the types of conversations I was hoping for. I hope this is living up to JB’s expectations! There will be some X’s-and-O’s type posts, but I’m far more interested in the human element of sporting and fandom in general. Thanks again for contributing!)

          • Dude, this is awesome. I may have said before that the only lens through which Professional Sports makes any sense to me is through the lens of Professional Wrestling.

            Pick a guy. Cheer for him if he tells you to cheer for him and boo for him if he tells you to boo for him. Make an appropriate sign. (There was an AMAZING interaction between Jericho and a fan back in the 90’s when he was a heel who kept getting cheered anyway (because he was so AWESOME): Walking down to the ring, he saw a sign for him along the railing, he grabbed it, ripped it in half, gave it back, and yelled “DON’T PATRONIZE ME!”)

            As such, I see watching football as an interesting enough hobby… but Tim Tebow? Oh, I understand football so long as the Donkeys have Tebow as their QB.

            It’s a darn shame that he went to the Jets or whatever, I tell you what.

            On the topic of baseball, I really haven’t paid attention since John Rocker.

          • Call pro wrestling a sport one more time and I quit.

          • In retaliation, I’d invite you to ruin the Oscars for me, but unfortunately the Oscars seem hell-bent on doing that one their own.

          • That presumes I *could* ruin the Oscars for you. I’d probably just sit there and say things like, “That is a stupid dress”, “How much money do they spend on patting themselves on the back?”, “It really is true that a movie about gay Nazi’s would win every single award,” and “Why is Billy Crystal wearing black face?”

            Would that do the trick?

  5. 1. Welcome aboard. Glad to have you.

    2. Bourbon bacon. Strong opening play, sir; you have announced your presence with authority. Well done.

    3. If a person worked in a blue-collar job requiring physical labor — a construction worker, for instance — and claimed that his lower back hurt so bad he could not work, and the next day went golfing, I would say that his boss would be within his rights to presume that he had been malingering. You use your lats when you golf.

    4. Beckett acts as though he does not owe his fans, or at least Red Sox fans, anything. Which in a strict sense is true. But he neglects the dynamic that feeds the beast and therefore puts money in his pocket — the team serving as a focus for the city’s public identity and persona.

    • 1.) Thanks!
      2.) Hey, man, ya gotta do what ya gotta do, amIright?
      3.) The physical labor part of the job is indeed a factor that changes things. Which is why I attempted to invoke a drinking analogy, since that impacts both motor and mental functioning. More to the point, I’m not saying that Beckett did the *right* thing. What he did was surely unprofessional to a degree. The question is, why does it seem to be received differently than the regular doses of unprofessional most of us indulge in?
      4.) And here you touch on the last point and in a really important way. Beckett’s handling of the affair was atrocious. If the Sox organization had a brave soul in it, they would take him to the woodshed behind closed doors, saying something to the effect of, “Look, we don’t care if you golfed on the off day. But don’t bite the hand that feeds you. Right or wrong, people are pissed off. And without those people, you don’t make millions to throw a ball.” But the organization is cowardly top to bottom at this point, so his behavior goes without reprimand in any sort of meaningful way. Beckett has proven himself pretty impervious to public criticism, for better or worse. This allows him to throw a shutout in the World Series at Yankee Stadium. And to do a press conference like he did here.

  6. Kudos to everyone involved on adding a regular sports commentator, and on adding Kaz in particular. Great moves all around.

  7. Here’s the thing: He gets paid insane amounts of money to play a game. He flakes out on one of his “work days” but is well enough the next day to go off and play golf. He gets paid those insane amounts of money for the days he DOES work because of fans willing to pay nearly insane amounts to go see him play.

    Tell you what.

    He takes a pay cut to an average school teacher. Then he can pull his “no comment” just like we do when we take a sick day. Otherwise he should fishin’ know better.

    • You get to pull “No comment”?!?!?! My old division head wanted to hear the vomit hit the water before she’d call a sub!

      • So far we only have to produce a doctor’s note when we’re “Sick” alongside a vacation. However due to the massive increase in used sick days (and budget cuts to subs) they’re changing this over time.

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