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The Texas Con Man, Part II

Posted by Tony Massarotti, Globe Staff  May 11, 2012 10:55 AM

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Josh Beckett grew up idolizing Roger Clemens, remember, and the bloom wore off that Texas rose, too. And like Clemens, Beckett is now self-destructing at Fenway Park these days in a potentially fatal mix of seeming apathy, stubbornness, pride, and foolishness. Essentially, he is on trial.

Poetic, isn't it? Maybe there is simply something in the Texas water that prevents people from admitting they just screwed it all up. Faced with a crisis on Thursday night that he completely brought upon himself, Beckett simply imploded in an 8-3 defeat that was hardly so close.

Against a Cleveland Indians lineup stacked with left-handed and switch-hitters, Beckett allowed seven hits, seven runs, four doubles, two walks, and two home runs. He left the field to a cascade of boos that he richly deserved, and he now looks -- somewhat incredibly -- even more like someone who just doesn't give a damn.

Near the end, Clemens got this way, too, remember. At this stage of his career, when he was in his early 30s, Clemens went 40-39 with a 3.77 ERA during a four-year span in which the Red Sox generally looked like they look now. Clemens was out of shape. He lost the fire who made him who he was. Clemens basically had three Cy Young Awards in the same pocket where Beckett now holds two World Series rings, and it certainly started to feel like the big guy was just cashing the checks and living off his reputation.

Which is when his reputation really went south.

And so last night, there was Beckett again, telling us all that the off-days belong to him, that players only get 18 off-days during the season, the same way Clemens reminded us that the Red Sox had to carry their own bags through the airport. Clearly, you can only hide a life of entitlement for so long. The nadir of Beckett's existence in Boston coincidentally comes during a week in which Josh Hamilton hit four home runs in a game and made history for the Texas Rangers, which is relevant for this reason: Hamilton was the only man picked ahead of Beckett in the 1999 amateur draft. Hamilton subsequently came thisclose to losing his career amid a rash of personal problems and substance abuse issues, all before he became one of the truly great and inspiring stories in all of baseball.

Josh Hamilton almost had the game taken away from him, and so he learned to appreciate it, respect it, love it. He learned to respect his talent and his teammates, and he got the same back from them. When the Rangers have celebrated postseason victories in recent years, they have done so with ginger ale in their clubhouse, all out of respect for Hamilton. And after Hamilton went 5-for-5 with four home runs and 18 total bases earlier this week, he told television reporters that hitting three home runs in a game was always something he wanted to do, that he had never hit three before, that he never imagined four.

Josh Hamilton looked and sounded like a kid playing stick ball in the neighborhood schoolyard.

So here's the real question for Beckett today, amid all the obvious and well-deserved criticisms for how he has behaved and pitched of late: Do you even like what you do anymore, Josh? Do you? Or do you see your talent as some sort of needless burden? Five years ago, when Beckett was leading the Red Sox to their last world title, Red Sox officials spoke of Beckett having lofty goals, of him wanting to be a 300-game winner. Now they can't get him to keep his weight down during the season. They can't get him to stay off the golf course and do the prudent thing when he is scratched from a start with stiffness in his right lat muscle. The Red Sox just offer a series of meaningless, contradictory statement about Beckett's injury, or non-injury, or work ethic, all seemingly because an admission of guilt or wrongdoing would reveal some weakness.

Um, guys? You're 12-19. You're 19-39 since last September 1. You're beyond weak. You stink so badly right now that there is an entire legion of fans, from the entire six-state region you call yours, ready to quit for the summer. Further burying your anger and frustration isn't going to solve the problem. Ask the sports psychologists on your staff about that.

If you're not going to get mad now, when will you?

Last summer, before the debacle that was September and after becoming a husband and father, Beckett freely admitted that baseball was not the most important thing in his life anymore. He should have just told us baseball has no meaning to him whatsoever. Beckett is signed through 2014 for a guaranteed average of $17 million per season, all of which further detaches him from the realities of the real world. If you call in sick and then get busted on the golf course in the real world, somebody gets pissed off, Josh. You might even get fired. Clearly, none of those rules apply to you and you seem all too happy to remind everyone of it.

Years ago, when Clemens coasted through relative mediocrity, his time in Boston reached an inevitable conclusion. In the final months of the final year of his contract, Clemens picked up the pace with his eyes on free agency. He struck out 20 batters in a game for the second time in his career during a late-season run, tying Cy Young for No. 1 on the club's all-time list for victories. Then Clemens hit the market and recorded the highest average annual salary ever awarded a pitcher to that point in time, leaving the Red Sox in a bitter feud that sprung him (along with the alleged use of performance-enhancing drugs) into the next, glorious phase of his career.

Clemens won four more Cy Young Awards after he left Boston. He won two World Series with the New York Yankees. Clemens reputation since has never been the same in Boston -- or anywhere else, for that matter. And if the Red Sox have any lingering regret from that calamity, it is that they should have dumped Clemens when they had the chance.

With Beckett, the Red Sox had the chance last fall. They whiffed.

And so the protege continues to follow in the footsteps of his mentor, toward an inglorious end that now seems inevitable.

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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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