Beckham, who was traded Thursday to the Los Angeles Angels for a player to be named later or cash considerations, played six seasons on the South Side and never did manage to meet the expectations he set for himself as an eighth overall pick in the 2008 draft. Only one year later the infielder arrived at the major league level and turned heads.
It turned out that Beckham’s coming-out party in 2009 ended up being his curse. As much as he tried to be the guy who batted .270 over 103 games in that 2009 season, with 14 home runs and 63 RBIs, he became a modern-day Sisyphus, rolling the boulder up the hill only to see it roll back down again.
Beckham alternated slumps with hot streaks that reminded anybody watching of that 2009 season. In the interim, he made huge strides defensively at second base after growing up a shortstop. Beckham wasn’t a Gold Glover, but he turned himself into an above-average player with the leather.
But solid defense, and the continued promise of better offense, couldn’t sustain Beckham forever, especially since he was making $4.175 million this year and in line to make more in 2015, his final season of arbitration eligibility.
“You want to give everybody a fair opportunity and especially a guy you have drafted and developed and especially those who have had success at the big league level,” White Sox general manager Rick Hahn said. “You want to give them the chance to fulfill and reach and extend on that potential. With Gordon having close to 2,900 plate appearances in a White Sox uniform, I think we are all very comfortable that we did give him that chance.”
Hahn said he talked to the 27-year-old Beckham on Thursday to inform him of the deal, and even though a trade had been anticipated for some time, Beckham was said to be a little surprised when it finally went down. Beckham also expressed his appreciation that the White Sox stuck with him so long.
“Everyone throughout baseball, all 30 teams I think, are biased in favor of their own guys, and you take a little bit extra pride when it’s one of your own guys succeeding," Hahn said, "so none of us wanted to pull the plug prematurely on a guy who had the talent like Gordon, and I think we did not err on that side.”
In the end, Beckham never could find an offensive approach that sustained him for long periods. It was also clear that Beckham struggled with the mental side of the game, and his struggles that appeared when the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline approached were no surprise.
“I don’t think that any of us are really in the position to explain what he was going through in his mind or what he felt,” Hahn said. “We just saw the byproduct of the hard work trying to pull himself out of the struggles when they occurred. He’s obviously of tremendous character, a great makeup guy it just didn’t work for him.
“The big part of this game, as we all know, is mental, and that can be extremely difficult to get past. Perhaps with a change of scenery it becomes easier with the new organization, not the one that drafted him, to become easier on himself or to let go of those expectations a little bit and fulfill that potential. He’s obviously still quite young and filled with talent.”
Beckham tried to let fate take its course when it came to a pending trade. He said all the right things, but his offensive struggles, which went back to the start of July, suggested it was squarely on his mind.
“You just have to let it happen the way it’s going to happen,” Beckham said just over a week before the July 31 deadline. “It’s not one of those things I’m going to worry about. If it’s here or somewhere else, that’s what’s supposed to happen.”
Hahn complimented Beckham’s work ethic and desire to win, and Beckham himself prided himself on doing whatever it took to prepare himself.
“Yeah, a lot goes into it; just a lot goes into it,” Beckham said in late July. “You show up every day, you work hard, you want it to work out for you and your team. Baseball is a very unforgiving game. You’re going well [and then] it tends to not go well. It’s a tough game. But there is a lot more that goes into it than the box score.”
Figuring how to get more consistency out of Beckham is something that plagued the White Sox year after year. Now it’s the Angels’ job to figure out what will get the talented Beckham over the hump.
“Obviously this is an extremely difficult game and a game of constant adjustments, and part of the failure that guys go through in the minor league system is learning how to adapt and pull themselves out of that failure,” Hahn said. “When you have to do that on the major league stage in a major market for the first time in your career and you have never had to fall back on those survival skills and the ability to adjust, it becomes a little more difficult.
“A lot was asked of Gordon Beckham to try to pull out of that and fulfill the expectations his talent and early performance certainly set for him. I don’t think that alone is the explanation but it may as well have contributed.”