The disdain recently directed toward Tim Thomas would've been unfathomable in the late hours of June 15, 2011, when to most of New England he was simply the superhuman goaltender whose brilliance had helped restore Boston as the Hub of Hockey, and whose incredible path to a skate with Lord Stanley projected an inspiring hero who could -- and would -- be hailed in this region for all time.
It was reverence similar to that in which Josh Beckett had been held almost four years earlier, when the righty plowed through baseball’s postseason with a 1.20 ERA, dominated in winning all four of his decisions, and helped pitch the Red Sox to another World Series title at age 27 -- with his approaching prime promising more pennants and a lengthy love affair between the city and the hard-headed Texan.
But as venom spews toward Thomas for his decision to support Chick-fil-A in its denouncing of gay marriage, and as many among Red Sox Nation seemed to be rooting for Beckett to be dealt out of town at Tuesday’s trade deadline – before booing him off the mound when he was forced from that night’s start by back spasms – we're reminded once more that, no matter how amazing the gilded memories he gives the fanbase, rare is the Boston athlete whose legacy lives beyond the reach of what he subsequently says or does once out of uniform.
It's a tale Curt Schilling can tell, too, his bloodied sock and two championship rings sometimes seeming mere trinkets to those annoyed by his political interjections or angered by his failures as a tax-subsidized businessman. Like Thomas and Beckett, Schilling's contributions were the stuff of legend in this unprecedented age of Boston sports. And, like Thomas and Beckett, Schilling's only crime was openly -- and stubbornly -- sticking to his beliefs as controversy swirled.
Yet when -- or if -- Thomas returns to TD Garden after his faith, family, and friends-fueled sabbatical, the guess here is that he'll be greeted by some level of appreciative applause, though those hurrahs will hardly befit typical expectations for the homecoming of a conquering hero. It's the same reason why the reaction to Schilling had he shown up for Fenway Park's 100th birthday party would've probably been blown away by the thunderous roar Pedro Martinez received, even though Schilling won twice as many titles in Boston, and played a more significant role in the ring they won together.
And it's the same reason why the scene that played out at Fenway on May 10 of this year was so predictable. Pitching for the home team that night was a guy who followed his championship celebration by making the All-Star team in two of his next four seasons, to that point had won 62 percent of his career decisions in a Red Sox uniform, and who enjoyed pitching in Boston enough that he twice signed extensions with the club before bothering to reach free agency.
Pitching for the visitors was another right-hander who won a title with Boston, but who then followed the money to Los Angeles three months later. He was below-average in both of his final two seasons with the Sox, and had made his unhappiness openly known when sent to the bullpen at the start of a curse-busting postseason, though the same Sox administration still tried to bring him back three years ago -- only to this time be rebuffed when the money led him to Atlanta.
Each hurler was reportedly prone to some of the same baseball-distracting behaviors during his time in town -- be it golf or beer -- yet Derek Lowe was welcomed back to Fenway with a warm hand before taking the ball as Cleveland's starter.
Beckett heard mostly boos, even before getting hammered for seven runs.
The lesson there may be to leave town on top, like Martinez, Lowe and Dave Roberts all did soon after being paraded through the city back in 2004. Leave town before the fans have a chance to change their mind based on provincially unpopular politics, a disagreeable stance, or unapologetic smugness. Leave town while it’s still the athletics, not the attitude, they remember first.
Because, as thankful as the fans may be for the memories, it seems in Boston that even the most legendary of sporting feats still doesn't afford a star -- or his legacy -- any level of immunity off the field.
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