When Sam sent me the above the other day at random, I remarked on how deranged his face looks. "I always draw him like that," she said.
Beckett earned his reputation for fiery vulgarity around here, but the 2010 Beckett so far seems to have mellowed quite a bit from the ornery, dip-spittin', cuss-spewin' bastid the Sox acquired four years ago. After throwing 94 pitches today, the man who became known for dropping on-air F-bombs gave a downright angelic press conference, seeming to actually consider each question before answering it in detail, rather than hucking back a quick bark, as we've seen him do.
And so just as the strange behavior that's had me caught in a love-hate roller coaster with Beckett for years seems to have resolved itself, the suggestion has been creeping in lately that this might be the last Spring Training we'll see him in a Sox uniform.
Gordon Edes cited league sources this week in reporting that the Sox have already decided not to offer Beckett more than four years in his ongoing contract negotiations.
At first, I was bewildered by this, since Beckett is only 29, and the Sox just signed a 31-year-old John Lackey for 5 years. But as Edes points out:
Early in his minor league career, Beckett had evidence of some fraying in his rotator cuff, which led his former team, the Florida Marlins, to limit how much he threw, according to a major league source. And when the Red Sox acquired Beckett from the Marlins in 2005, Sox officials who inspected his medical records were concerned about his shoulder, but not enough to walk away from the deal, according to a baseball source with direct knowledge of those trade negotiations.
We've been conditioned to this around here by now, starting with Pedro and Johnny Damon, right up to this past offseason with Jason Bay -- this ownership does not make emotional decisions, particularly when it comes to potential health issues. In the long run, of course that's good.
Then again, Edes goes on to say:
Lackey has missed six weeks at the start of each of the last two seasons, once with tricep tendinitis, the other with elbow inflammation, and counting time spent in the minor leagues, has pitched nearly 500 innings more than Beckett. But Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein, determining that the market value for Lackey had been established the year before when the Yankees signed A.J. Burnett, gave Lackey the same deal.
Wait. I thought we weren't trying to keep up with the Yankees dollar for dollar...and I had been prepared to accept the potential health issues with Beckett's shoulder as a consequence of his having been in the league longer than most 29-year-olds. And then that paragraph about Lackey made me start scratching my head again.
This week, in baseball withdrawal, I've been watching my 2007 DVDs a lot. And it bears repeating: on the mound in those 2007 playoffs, Beckett was an absolute monster. He commanded his fastball with a sniper's accuracy, and dropped curveballs so devastating they made several opposing hitters go quite literally weak in the knees.
Then, in the footage of the post-World Series celebrations, it is Beckett they hand the World Series trophy to, to stand up on a table with and present to his champagne-soaked teammates. It is Beckett from whom several players call for a speech -- and for all of his balkiness when otherwise asked to speak in public, he obliges.
In this moment it's clear that Beckett didn't just statistically lead the pitching staff that year -- he became a team leader, too.
But then there was 2008, when Beckett, hobbled by an oblique strain, answered the bell when called upon, but didn't dominate in the same way he had the previous year.
He also had a chance to repeat the 2007 performance at the end of last season, and though it pains me to remember, this was the result:
(I always feel like there should be some dramatic, very sad music to go along with this image...)
So if I'm being realistic, I'd say this is probably just another case of my ever-present Sox-fan emotions taking their time catching up with the current reality. After all, when the team first acquired Beckett, I was more concerned with lamenting the loss of Hanley Ramirez than I was looking forward to what we'd see from our new acquisition, whom I was convinced at the time was an injury-prone head case.
Which means that if I'm inwardly kicking and screaming about Beckett's Boston career coming to an end while looking askance at the mouth-breathing John Lackey, whose junk-talking about the Sox will overshadow his pitching potential for me at least until his first official delivery of the season, I can only expect to be writing a similar post about Big John come five years, right?
And yet that knowledge didn't stop me from hoping Josh would come out today loaded for bear, fanning Rays left and right and making all this speculation look foolish.
He didn't -- though he also wasn't bad, he surrendered two home runs in 6 innings while the Sox bats flailed on the other side of the ball and left down 3-0.
After the game, in that surprisingly calm press conference, Beckett's own analysis was that he'd been happy he managed to get into a jam in the sixth, and then get out of it without surrendering any more runs before his outing was finished. His real goal had been to throw more pitches than his last spring start, and make sure he'd recovered enough from his flu earlier this month to be on track for the season.
And so here comes that maddening Spring Training refrain again: it's early yet. Too soon to tell.
Though I know the futility of clinging to any one player, I always seem to do it; Beckett is a prime example. I want that 2007 version of him to come roaring back this season, and I want him in a Boston uniform next year, and that's really all there is to it right now, as far as my heart is concerned, no matter what my brain says.
Which is why it's a good thing I'm not in charge, obviously. We'd be fielding an old-timer's team by 2015.