Perhaps drawing inspiration from everyone’s favorite fictional boxer, Rocky Balboa, Lackey is entering the 2013 season with the mindset that there’s still time to change the negative perception that most Red Sox fans have of him.
“Pitching better and us winning will cure a lot of things,” Lackey told The Boston Globe down in Fort Myers. “This is a results business. I haven’t had good results. The fans want to see me pitch well.”
Lackey’s lackluster tenure in Boston has not only been plagued by poor results and an injury that sidelined him for all of 2012, but it’s also been magnified because of the right-hander’s contract, which he inked as a free agent before the 2010 season. Some immediately criticized the Red Sox’ decision to give Lackey a five-year deal worth $82.5 million because the team appeared to have other areas of need at the time. Thus, at the first glance of the deal going south, Lackey was vilified as much for being overpaid as he was for underperforming. Things then really spiraled out of control, to the point where no one knows what to expect — or whether to expect anything — from Lackey in 2013.
The 34-year-old has worked his way back to full health, though, and according to manager John Farrell, Lackey looks to be in great shape as the Red Sox get set to open up camp down in Fort Myers. The veteran hurler now knows it’s on him to show he’s still capable of being the same pitcher who won 19 games with the Angels in 2007.
“I thought [Boston] would be good for me,” Lackey reportedly said. “I’m a guy who likes competing and showing some emotion and that is what they want. When I’m pitching well, I think it’ll be a good thing. And I’m going to pitch well. This thing isn’t over.”
Lackey still has two years and more than $30 million remaining on his deal with the Sox, and that is likely a big reason the club is still holding out hope that he can bounce back. Another reason could be the genuine faith the organization and Lackey’s teammates have in him — something Rays skipper and former Angels bench coach Joe Maddon thinks is often overlooked or not believed to be true.
“You won’t find a more popular guy among his teammates,” Maddon reportedly said. “He’s an enjoyable person to talk to and I know you don’t believe that. John just isn’t conscious of his public image and never has been. He grew up as a baseball player and he considers himself accountable to his teammates, not the fans. It can come off the wrong way.”
Lackey’s body language on the mound is a big reason why there’s the perception that he tries to show his teammates up, but Maddon isn’t the first person to have shared a clubhouse with Lackey who thinks the pitcher is misunderstood. And the righty admitted that he’s trying to tone it down a bit when things don’t go his way.
“It’s something that I’ve worked on and tried not to do, but sometimes it just happens,” Lackey told The Globe. “If I do something over the line, I absolutely go apologize. I’ll pull them aside and say something. I’m man enough to do that.”
Lackey enters 2013 with a 26-23 record and a 5.26 ERA in 61 starts as a member of the Red Sox — clearly not $82.5 million worth of production. Despite all of the struggles and criticism he has received, though, Lackey has enjoyed his time in Boston.
“The chance to win every year is still there,” Lackey reportedly said. “It’s an ownership that cares and tries to field a winning team all the time. It’s a fan base that cares and wants to win all the time. I’m at a point in my career where I’m here to win. That’s really the only thing that is in play for me.”
Winning does solve everything. And while Lackey has been knocked down — just like Balboa — he hasn’t been knocked out just yet. Perhaps 2013 is when the counterpunches start flying.