Josh Beckett’s career ends with the Los Angeles Dodgers’ breakdown in the 2014 playoffs. It’s ironic that one of the great postseason pitchers the game has ever known—certainly over the last 11 years—would make such an inauspicious exit from the same venue that made him famous.
It’s also fitting that Beckett exits in this manner—quietly during a time when baseball’s attention will be focused elsewhere.
Nobody would want to fete him with a year-long sendoff a la Derek Jeter. Reporters, teammates, coaches and managers have all concluded that Josh Beckett was, in his baseball life, sort of an asshole.
He took an excruciatingly long time between pitches, sure that we were all happy to endure his plodding presence. Massholes, of all people, were happy to see him leave the train wreck that was the 2011 Boston Red Sox—he was purported to be the leader of the Popeyes n’ Pabst pitchers in a clubhouse where his ‘first-class white trash’ bottle opener hung proudly astride his locker.
He got sorta fat for someone who does sports for a living and regularly has four days off to do things that don’t involve becoming fatter.
Many of those things will color Josh Beckett’s legacy, but there was definitely a basis for any entitlement the big Texan righty felt. He entered the league as a prodigy for the then-Florida Marlins at the tail end of 2001. By his first postseason in 2003—at the age of 23—Beckett was answering the fucking bell for manager Jack McKeon and his itchy cigar-lighting finger.
He put the clamps on the San Francisco Giants in a loss in the NLDS (against a Jason Schmidt shutout) before making three appearances in the Chicago Cubs’ nightmare of a championship series (See: Steve Bartman). After a pretty forgettable game one victory, Beckett threw an absolute gem in game 5 to stave off elimination for his squad—a complete game shutout against the likes of Aramis Ramirez, Moises Alou and Sammy Sosa wherein just three Cubs reached base. Two days later, Beckett came on in relief in game 7 to pitch four gutty innings, getting the game to Ugueth Urbina for a victory and returning the Marlins to the World Series.
What did you do at 23?
Josh Beckett played a leading role in one of the four most important league championship series arguably ever.
He wasn’t done there. In the 2003 World Series, Beckett twice pitched on three days rest, striking out 19 Yankees over 16 innings while giving up just 2 runs to go 1-1 (his victory a shutout). He was named MVP. He gathered an ALDS MVP in 2007 after coming over to the Red Sox, going 2-0 against a talented Cleveland Indians lineup and striking out 18 over 14 innings while issuing one walk. In the World Series that year he grabbed his second ring in the Red Sox’ victory lap over the Colorado Rockies.
In 14 postseason appearances, he went 7-3 with three complete games, three shutouts and struck out 99 professional hitters. All of this damage came before his 30th. For good measure, this year, at 34, Beckett no-hit the Phillies during a comeback season after injuries sidelined him for most of 2013.
It’s never excusable to be an asshole. It’s not really hard to be decent to your coworkers or pretend like you care about doing your job. It’s just important to remember that Beckett was basically coasting down from the moon for the past 5-7 years. Thrice an All-Star, he retires far from the bad man o’ the mound he once was. But, when it came to pitching memorable innings under extreme physical duress and outside pressure, Beckett exists in a strata very, very few have ever reached.