- Gordon Edes, Red Sox reporter, ESPNBoston.com
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BOSTON -- Josh Beckett has chosen sides.
On one side, everyone who cares so much about the Red Sox that they are even personally affected by the death of a public address announcer.
On the other, Josh Beckett, who mocks the depth of that commitment with an attitude so spectacularly indifferent, Fenway Park would never have lasted 100 years if the legions of players who preceded him had been similarly inclined.
Thursday night, Beckett uttered the words that may well define his legacy here, even more than the gallant way he performed in the 2007 postseason, which now feels like a distant memory.
"We get 18 off days a year," he said. "I think we deserve a little time to ourselves."
Beckett foolishly thought it was about golf.
It was never about golf. It was about giving a damn, or at least offering the illusion of doing so.
The Red Sox skipped Josh Beckett in the rotation last week because, Bobby Valentine said, he had tightness in his lat muscle. Nothing serious, Valentine said at the time. They probably could have pushed Beckett back a day and he could have pitched.
The next day, an off day on the Sox schedule, Beckett went golfing with teammate Clay Buchholz. This week, a Boston radio station, WBZ-FM, found out about the outing and reported it on the air.
Thursday night was the first opportunity for Beckett to explain himself. But that was beneath him. He made it clear it was an affront to his right to privacy for anyone to even question why he would play golf the day after Sox fans were told he was physically unable to perform. Or for anyone to ask him, in light of how badly the Sox are playing, if he even thought of how it might look from the outside.
No, this is what Josh Beckett chose to do instead, on a night he was savagely booed as he left the mound having given up one run for every out he recorded (7 runs, 7 outs) before departing.
Question (paraphrased): Did the golf business have any impact on how you pitched?
Answer: None. None.
Question: Anything to say about the golf business?
Answer: No. I spend my off days the way I want to spend them.
Question: Any regrets?
Answer: My off day is my off day.
Question: Given that you were skipped a start with what was described as a tight lat muscle, do people have the right to question why you were golfing?
Answer: Not on my off day.
Question: Do you understand the perception that leaves when the team is playing as poorly as it is?
Answer: We get 18 off days a year. I think we deserve a little time to ourselves.
That's Beckett. Defiant to a hurtling-off-the-cliff fault. The man who in spring training said this about those who faulted him for making the birth of his child a greater priority than playing baseball -- an imagined affront, by the way, go check the archives:
"If somebody reads this or somebody thinks I'm wrong, they can go [expletive] themselves."
He delivered essentially the same message Thursday night. The only thing he didn't do was complain about who "snitched" him out for golfing.
Beckett evidently believes that even giving an inch is tantamount to surrender. He could have said it never occurred to him that it might cause a ruckus for him to play golf when he was supposedly too hurt to pitch, and apologized for doing so. He could have said that while he understands why people might wonder, he would never do anything to jeopardize his health. He could have pulled out the "lapse in judgment" line he delivered with obvious insincerity this spring regarding the chicken-and-beer hoo-ha.
He could have demonstrated some level of concern -- given the way the Sox have lost 11 of their past 12 at Fenway and 8 of 9 overall in May -- about how poorly he pitched, and how aggravating it is to do so. How bad it looks to be playing golf before skipping a start when Sox starters have a collective 7.24 ERA in 15 starts at home and in the past four games here have worked a total of 14 2/3 innings while an overtaxed bullpen has thrown 34 1/3.
Or how, maybe, since he was able to golf, he might have been able to pitch an inning in last Sunday's 17-inning loss to the Orioles instead of basically punting the game away with a position player.
But no. Not Josh Almighty Beckett. Instead, he just offered a few clinical words about how "flat" his pitches were, at least until someone asked him about being booed and he said, "I pitched like [expletive]. That's what happens. Smart fans."
If he's going down, he's going down swinging, even if it means offering one of the lamest arguments ever put forth by a player, one certain to invite anger and ridicule.
Let's start with "18 off days a year." That's how many Dustin Pedroia gets in the course of a season. Not Josh Beckett or any other starting pitcher. Many of them play golf as many days as they can between starts. Former Sox pitcher Derek Lowe, who beat Beckett on Thursday night for Cleveland, said he plans to golf Friday.
And the true extent of his tone deafness was that for most people hearing or reading his words, the immediate response is: 18 days? What about the 3½ months after the season, or 4½ months if you blow a certain playoff spot and don't play in October?
Trust me: A baseball season is a grind. The travel, the odd hours, the physical beating, the time away from family, the nightly pressure that can wear down the strongest of men. No one begrudges a player the few days off he has in the course of a summer. No one usually cares, or knows, what players do with that time off, either.
But Josh Beckett is paid $15.75 million. If he makes 32 starts in the course of a season, that means he is paid $492,187.50 per start. Is it so egregious to have to answer a question or two about the wisdom of golfing when you're supposedly too hurt to pitch? Or to concede that perception does matter and when people are desperately looking for a reason to fall back in love with this team after last summer's fiasco, you have to be sensitive to those perceptions?
That's not the way Josh Beckett sees it. And don't expect anyone with the Red Sox to hold his feet to the fire. Bobby Valentine was asked before the game about the matter.
"I've never seen a pitcher get hurt playing golf," he said.
So there you have it, people. Give your hearts -- and money -- away at your own risk. And RIP, Carl Beane. We all know how much you cared.
Gordon Edes covers the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com.