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Josh Beckett missing the point

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff  February 10, 2012 08:55 AM

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Josh Beckett is missing the point, though there is the possibility that he is simply trying to avoid it. This is not about chicken. This is not about beer. This is not even about on-field failure, because the Red Sox and their followers have endured a good deal of that before, too.

What this is about, quite simply, is the seeming absence of commitment from a man whom the Red Sox once regarded as a model of dedication.

Now, as spring training rapidly approaches in the aftermath of a Red Sox season that ended with a truly historic collapse, Beckett and his mates are poised to get back to work with a new manager, a renewed purpose and another chance. Months after the cataclysmic end to the 2011 Red Sox season, Beckett went on a talk show with former Red Sox infielder Kevin Millar last week and lamented the breach of trust that took place within the Red Sox organization last fall, never once accepting responsibility for the nonsense that took place inside the clubhouse walls at 4 Yawkey Way.

Fine, so Beckett is stubborn. Whatever. But instead of wondering how information leaked to the media last year, Beckett should probably be spending more energy wondering why.

His answer?

Because he let the team down with his attitude, not his performance, and he lost their trust in the process. Someone wanted people to know that.

Let's back up here for a moment. Since the day he arrived in Boston in the deal that sent Hanley Ramirez to the Florida Marlins, Beckett has been something of a lightning rod, the heir to a line of Red Sox kings that ran from Roger Clemens to Pedro Martinez to Curt Schilling. In his second season with the team, Beckett won 20 games and anchored the team's run to the 2007 World Series title. Beckett was such a model for the club that the Red Sox all but tucked Jon Lester under Beckett's wing, instructing Lester to work as Beckett did, care as Beckett did, commit as Beckett did.

Four years later, the move backfired. Beckett allowed himself to get terribly out of shape during a 2011 season that began with great promise and ended in utter disarray. Beckett showed up in camp saying he had never played on a team that won 100 games, then left town stigmatized from having played on a team that suffered the worst late-season collapse in the history of major league baseball.

In his final eight starts of 2011, Beckett posted a 5.06 ERA. In his final two outings - against the Baltimore Orioles - Beckett allowed 12 runs and four homers in 13.1 innings. Truth be told, Beckett's performance was not much worse than most anyone else who pitched for the Red Sox down the stretch, though there is one obvious difference between Beckett and everyone else.

On the pitching staff, at least, he is supposed to be their leader.

Here's the truly disturbing part: love Beckett or hate him, he has generally been accountable during his time in Boston. Nobody beat himself up more after losses. Particularly during the early part of his tenure with the Red Sox, Beckett took credit for nothing, blame for everything. He embraced the responsibility that came along with his talent. Privately, Beckett spoke of his desire to win 300 games and treated his job with the utmost professionalism, an approach that earned him the respect of his teammates, coaches and bosses.

When Terry Francona and John Farrell were here as manager and pitching coach, they most often spoke not of Beckett's talent, but of his work ethic. The spoke of his attitude. One year, when a Sox official appealed to the players to assist a team employee in need, Beckett immediately stepped up and wrote a check for $5,000, sending a message to anyone else in uniform.

I'm doing the right thing.

The obvious question now: where has that conviction gone? In more than one interview conducted since the end of last season, Schilling noted that Beckett has undergone major life changes in the last several months, from marriage to parenthood. He also noted that the job does not change as a result. This season, Beckett will enter the second year of a four-year contract that pays him handsomely - $17 million per season - and the Red Sox didn't agree to the terms assuming that Beckett would remain a single man free of other influences and commitments.

They agreed because Beckett can pitch, and they expected that he would continue to do so effectively no matter the changes and pressures that come with life.

Those are a given, after all, for all of us.

Now, as a result of last season, Beckett can complain about organizational leaks if he so chooses. But the media has always been at the mercy of its sources. So if Beckett wants to be truly thorough about it, if he wants to find out who said what and why after the implosion that was the 2011 Red Sox season, he needs to draw the line well past the organizational leaks and go all the way to the source of the problem.

Himself.

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Updated: Mar 1, 07:24 AM

About Mazz

Tony Massarotti is a Globe sportswriter and has been writing about sports in Boston for the last 19 years. A lifelong Bostonian, Massarotti graduated from Waltham High School and Tufts University. He was voted the Massachusetts Sportswriter of the Year by his peers in 2000 and 2008 and has been a finalist for the award on several other occasions. This blog won a 2008 EPpy award for "Best Sports Blog".

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