Josh Beckett wasn’t supposed to go out like this.
Beckett, who is currently on the 15-day disabled list with a groin strain, is dealing with numbness in the fingertips of his right hand, and the situation is apparently serious enough that the 33-year-old has thought about the possibility of retirement. If Beckett walks away now, he’ll leave behind a very complicated legacy.
Six years ago, Beckett was considered an ace, a gamer, a winner, a postseason hero and, in the minds of many, a future Hall of Famer. Now, the words commonly associated with Beckett are less than flattering. Cooperstown is merely a potential vacation spot for the right-hander; it’s no longer his place of enshrinement.
Beckett, the second overall pick in 1999, made a real name for himself when he guided the Marlins to a World Series title in 2003. He was fantastic in that postseason, even tossing a complete-game shutout in the title-clinching Game 6 at Yankee Stadium. The sky was the limit for the 23-year-old, hard-throwing Texan.
But while Beckett effectively arrived with his ’03 heroics, it was four years later when he truly began to carve out a place in baseball history. After a lackluster first season with the Red Sox in 2006, Beckett rebounded to win 20 games in 2007, before then embarking on another epic postseason run. He went 4-0 with a 1.20 ERA in four postseason starts as the Sox won their second World Series title in four years.
After that masterful ’07 campaign, Beckett was a 27-year-old with two World Series rings, both of which he played a pivotal role in obtaining. The talk was about his mound presence, his intense demeanor and his propensity for delivering in the clutch. He was all that Boston loved in a player, and he was exactly the type of workhorse that every team coveted.
By October 2008, postseason greatness was the expectation. After all, this was Josh Freakin’ Beckett. However, Beckett failed to provide the same playoff moxie in ’08 that we were accustomed to seeing, and to the bewilderment of many, he actually looked human.
At that point, the aura that surrounded “Josh Beckett: Postseason Aficionado” began to fade, even though the ego didn’t. Beckett had off-and-on success with the Red Sox from 2009 until 2012, but throughout it all, the perception of the pitcher changed. The confidence that was once lauded seemingly morphed into cockiness and a sense of entitlement, and by the time the Red Sox shipped him to the Dodgers last August, 2007 seemed like a footnote rather than the climax of Beckett’s seven years in Boston.
To say Beckett doesn’t care about the game of baseball is unfair. The guy who tagged out Jorge Posada on a slow roller up the first-base line to win a ring in 2003 loved the game. And the guy who went into Cleveland in Game 5 of the 2007 ALCS and stymied the Indians to kick off a historic comeback certainly looked like he enjoyed it as well. But somewhere, something definitely changed.
Now, Beckett, who sits at 0-5 with a 5.19 ERA, is looking to bounce back, realizing that his career has suddenly become a race against time. He’ll have his share of supporters, but he’ll also have far more haters than anyone could have ever imagined.