On the Creation of Drama

Chip examines the demonization of Josh Beckett by the Boston media.
Boston Red Sox pitcher Josh Beckett pitching d...

Boston Red Sox pitcher Josh Beckett pitching during a Red Sox/Los Angeles Dodgers spring training game at City of Palms Park in Fort Myers, Florida. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This is my response to Evan’s Friday piece on Beckett.

I first heard about “Golf Gate” via Twitter last Wednesday.  Clay Buchholz was being asked questions about it, and he chose not to answer them.  Predictably, the blood thirsty Boston media saw this an opportunity to blow this miniscule tidbit of a non-story into a massive event.  Anticipating an extraordinary amount of faux rage coming from the usual suspects, I hopped on Twitter and gave them a head start.  Here were my reactions:

  • Ok. What is the “Beckett golf story,” and why should I care?
  • Thank you to @amandarykoff @ScottCandage and @Jared_Carrabis for the Beckett golf story update.  Clearly, this is a cause for absolute panic!
  • It’s too bad Beckett didn’t get struck by lightning while playing golf.  He totally would have deserved it.
  • Did u know that playing golf while injured is a crime against humanity?  Buchholz should be sentenced to death for his role in this scandal.
  • Why are you hiding behind Beckett, Clay?  Afraid he’ll beat you out back by the woodshed if you talk to the media?  We deserve to know!

While I couldn’t find anything that matched my over-the-top out of control anger, I did find a few fun, interesting nuggets that I thought I’d share.  The first one is from Gordon Edes of ESPN 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.”

Yes, you’re absolutely right, Mr. Edes.  That’s exactly how it is.  On one side, everyone in the Red Sox organization is saddened by the tragic death of Carl Beane.  On the other is Josh Beckett.  Cold, ambivalent, defiant.  Your sense of objectivity and fairness is duly noted.

Beckett’s decision to play golf has nothing to do with his level of commitment.  He’s absolutely correct to not answer those questions.  What he does on his own time is his business, and not anyone else’s.  There is a line of decency when it comes to reporting, and this crosses that line for me.  Does the question need to be asked?  Sure, I can see it being asked once.  Playing golf while injured could lead to further complications.  I can even see a follow-up question being asked after.  Beyond that?  No.  That’s not reporting.  It’s trolling.  Plain and simple.

For Edes and those like him, this isn’t just about golf.  It’s about chicken and beer.  It’s about coming into Spring Training in what they feel is less than optimal shape, and then making assumptions about his future performance.  (Interestingly enough, they give free passes to other, nicer, friendlier people.)  It’s about Beckett’s surly reputation, and his distrust of the media.  I can’t say this with any certainty because I’m not in his head, but Edes doesn’t seem to like Beckett all that much.  That’s fine.  The problem is that it clouds his objectivity and ability to report the facts.  My question is this:  If an identical situation (from start to finish) happened to media friendly players like Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz, or even Jon Lester; would anyone care?  Would Edes and others be talking about their commitment, dedication, or values?  Of course not.  They’d get a free pass, and we’d never hear about it again.

How about this one from the Boston Globe’s Tony Massorotti:

“So here’s the real question for Beckett today, amid all the obvious and well-deserved criticisms for how he has behaved and pitched of late: Do you even like what you do anymore, Josh? Do you? Or do you see your talent as some sort of needless burden?”

While Mazz asks a lot of questions here, he seems to miss the point entirely.  How else is Beckett supposed to act? Anything he says or does will be questioned and vilified in the media.  Why should he be nice and forthcoming if it’s only going to backfire on him later?  This is an environment that was largely created by the Boston media questioning and making presumptions about Beckett’s motives and desires when they had no real insight to his psyche or thought processes.  I’m not saying Beckett didn’t play a role in the image he’s created, but it has been blown far out of proportion, especially in recent months.  The media’s role in that is impossible to downplay.

The problem is that the media seems to prefer all out character assassination to making rational arguments and identifying logical solutions.  Why?  It’s the same reason Fox News and MSNBC hire polorizing pundits to host “news” shows.  It’s the same reason millions of people tune in to watch Jersey Shore.  It’s sexy, drives traffic, and sells newspapers.  We’re getting dangerously close to sports journalism turning into something far more sinister–tabloid journalism.  It’s not about finding the truth, it’s about create sensational narratives.  It’s about pointing fingers and placing blame.  That’s not hard hitting journalism.  That’s bushleague.

My issue with this whole situation is the visceral reaction and intellectual dishonesty that goes into such reporting.  A reporter’s job is to report the news–not provide his spin.  Beckett saw through their motives, and chose not to play their little game.  As a result, he’s being punished.

Categories: Boston Red Sox Josh Beckett

After being slapped with a restraining order for stealing Nick Cafardo's mail, I was forced into retirement for a brief period of time. As fun as it was to lounge around the community pool and play shuffleboard with noted internet columnist, Murray Chass, I quickly felt a yearning to write again. Now in my second tenure with Fire Brand, I have set lofty goals of achieving world domination, ending the plight of the hipsters, and becoming BFFs with Mike Trout. I am fluent in two languages (Sarcasm and English, in that order); have an intimate relationship with M&Ms; firmly believe that Lucille is the best character on Arrested Development; and spend my spare time trolling select members of the Boston media. You can follow me on Twitter @Chip_Buck.

22 Responses to “On the Creation of Drama” Subscribe

  1. Bruce May 14, 2012 at 10:12 AM #

    Chip, I agree with you that the Press has a tendency to want to make a story out of nothing. But ask yourself this question – "what would Pedroia been doing on his day off for an injury?" Playing golf or in the fitness room working with the trainers? It is not that Beckett is a bad person but his desire to win and make the club a better team does seem to be less than before at least based on his actions late last year and so far this year. Is it the fat contract? Is he burned out? Certainly not a leader on the team any more nor one of it's aces. Sad to see this decline. Personal issues?

    • ChipBuck May 14, 2012 at 10:45 AM #

      Three things… One, you're assuming that Beckett didn't work with the trainer on his off day. Two, his level of caring is completely a matter of perception and opinion. Something of which would be completely different if the Red Sox weren't struggling. Three, his decline has far more to do with his age than it does with his contract. Most players decline in their 30s. It's a fact. He had plenty of money prior to this contract. I don't see any reason why this contract would suddenly make him lazy or less interested.

  2. steve May 14, 2012 at 10:40 AM #

    If you can't see how tone deaf Beckett is when he starts counting his "off days", then you're missing the entire reason everyone is so pissed at him. His post-game press conference is what set this story on fire and it's laughable that you don't see it.

    • ChipBuck May 14, 2012 at 10:50 AM #

      No, I see it, Steve. I just don't see anything wrong with his actions. Could he have acted better? Yes, but what's the point? The press has it out for him, and has since October. Anything he says or does is scrutinized. He said that chicken and beer was blown out of proportion (and it was), and he's vilified for not caring or showing contrition. The reason it's a story is because the media needs something to talk about it…someone to blame…someone to point the finger at. They act like the team would be in better shape if Beckett would just fall in line. That is what's laughable, Steve. Even more funny, is that people actually believe it. It takes 25 players to make a team suck–not one.

      Lastly, there are 18 off days every season. Beckett's been a major league player for a very long time. I'm sure all players with his status know how many off days they have.

  3. LarryAtIIATMS May 14, 2012 at 12:16 PM #

    Chip, you guys are still dealing with the fallout from last September's collapse, and more specifically, the manner in which your top brass responded to the collapse. In essence, the response was (1) to blame the collapse on the team's "culture", with "chicken and beer" being the primary proof that something was wrong with this culture, and (2) to demand "accountability" from all involved — "accountability" amounting in practice to public displays of contrition and the replacement of the GM and field manager.

    How this was supposed to improve the ballclub is anybody's guess.

    Into this mess steps Josh Beckett, one of the most talented pitchers on the planet, but a guy who is either in a slump or facing a (probably) age-related decline in his ability to throw pitches past hitters. He allows a lot of runs in a short period, then appears before the press to talk about it. He says, in effect, that he pitched badly, but not as a result of a failure of his will or a fault in his character. Unfortunately for Beckett, he is not a natural philosopher, so his explanation focuses on his right to play golf on his days off. Yada yada yada, media firestorm.

    To which I say, hooray for Josh Beckett! (My brain may be about to explode.) If Beckett were smarter, or more personable, he could have simply said: "what I owe you is the best performance I can deliver on the field, nothing more." If he were even smarter, he might have said: "My best performance comes when I am feeling relaxed and confident, not when I spend 24-7 trying to appear to be the person the public might like me to be." If he were smarter than that, he might have said: "If I were sweet, contrite and PR-savvy, I wouldn't be arrogant enough to throw fastballs past Prince Fielder."

    Yeah, Beckett's press conference performance ran counter to the grain established by team management, which is to blame failures on the field on things like clubhouse culture and lack of accountability. If you believe in the post-September approach taken by Red Sox team management, then Beckett should be tarred and feathered. Personally, I think the best mindset for the Red Sox is to think "the hell with PR, let's just play to win."

    Is it a coincidence that the Red Sox are undefeated since Beckett spoke to the press on Thursday night? Well … probably.

  4. Danny May 14, 2012 at 12:52 PM #

    I don't have a problem with what Beckett did, but it seems to me that, having been in Boston for several years now, he would understand taking an indignant attitude with the Boston media goes over about as well as swearing in church…

  5. Maxwell Horse May 14, 2012 at 4:41 PM #

    People just want players to perform. And when they don't do well (in either hitting or pitching) they desperately grasp onto any storyline they can. They latch onto any flaw in character (and surely, Beckett has some) and go crazy, acting like that player is the worst person in the world. And when the supposed reason for the fan rage becomes diffused (like realizing that it's silly to blame eating chicken for the September collapse), they hold onto their beliefs anyway, saying the chicken eating was really emblematic of something else. "Don't bother me with the details, this guy's the bad guy."

    Case in point, no one would be mad at Beckett now if he'd displayed the exact same behavior, but had an ERA of 1.55. But because he pitched poorly, they act indignant at all his character flaws, saying he needs to beg forgiveness, why of all the nerve, spoiled, entitled.

    • Maxwell Horse May 14, 2012 at 4:42 PM #

      Think about this. It was just a week ago when the Boston press was saying that Adrian is just about the most worthless, soulless person that exists. He doesn't care about winning. What a spoiled primadonna. But since then he's hit well, so all those things we supposedly cared about (his attitude and soullessness) are forgotten. What we were mad all along about was him not hitting.

      A couple seasons ago, Ellsbury was a weak whiner. Someone who was a frail China doll. The season afterwards he posted ridiculous numbers. And somehow that proved us all wrong. It turned out he wasn't faking that rib injury after all. What's funny is that one has nothing to do with the other. Just because he had great numbers in 2011 didn't prove one way or another whether he was overplaying an injury in 2010. It's not like in 2011 he also collided many times with outfielders. He just posted good numbers. And because that pleases us, suddenly his previous character flaws get erased.

      • Maxwell Horse May 14, 2012 at 4:42 PM #

        Beckett isn't performing now as a pitcher, and that's what people are really mad about. They pretend they're mad about all kinds of things, how he didn't apologize for apparently being single-handedly responsible for the September collapse, how he doesn't apologize for giving a surly post-game interview. But they're really mad about him not pitching well. If he starts pitching again, all these perceived sleights are forgotten. (And think about it. Was he not just as surly in his post-game interviews during the 2007 playoff run? It was fine then, because he was pitching well. Now that he doesn't have the 97 mph fastball anymore, suddenly we're acting like his character and personality and different than what we saw before.)

        It's kind of annoying all these arguments coming up on sports radio about how the members of the Celtics are teaching Beckett how a true athlete responds. That's pretty weak, as it seems to me that in any given game, 3 of the "big four" Celtics ARE letting their injuries and age get to them, and perform pretty poorly.

        • Maxwell Horse May 14, 2012 at 4:43 PM #

          However, one of the four happens to step up in a game, and it's that one cherry-picked person Beckett gets compared to the next day, not the other three. People forget that Beckett actually did give a "Grit and Balls" performance in the post-season, pitching through pain and injury of his own. It was in 2008 against the Rays, but no one remembers that because they didn't win the World Series that year, and it doesn't fit the current storyline.

          Look, Beckett's a surly a-hole. But that has nothing to do with the team losing games. It's funny that so many of the fans that accuse the players of being entitled primadonnas act that way themselves, expecting the players to "apologize" for eating chicken or whatever thin storyline which was created from the ether and made real by the collective consensus.

          • Maxwell Horse May 14, 2012 at 4:43 PM #

            Sports radio acts indignant when people like Pedroia and Lester said that they collapsed in September simply because they didn't play well. They want them to admit to beer and chicken. But honestly, if the players had blamed beer and chicken, can we just be honest and admit that the fans would then go crazy and accuse the players of scapegoating and not taking responsibility for their failures?

            It's fine to be mad at players for failing. It's fine to be mad about them for other things as well. I just get annoyed when people get mad at them for reasons (being rude in a press conference, chicken) other than what they're really mad about (not winning).

          • Maxwell Horse May 14, 2012 at 4:44 PM #

            Oh, and sorry for flooding firebrand with my ranting. I didn't realize my thoughts on this were so long-winded.

          • ChipBuck May 14, 2012 at 7:10 PM #

            Maxwell…shoot me an email.

  6. Ben May 14, 2012 at 5:12 PM #

    Thank you for this Chip, I've been waiting for someone to say this. Beckett's right. What he does with his off-days are his own problem. Not Ben Cherington's, not Bobby Valentine's, and certainly not the media's. Is it wise to play golf when you have an injured lat muscle? Probably not. But, as Bobby V said, Beckett's "injury" was just an excuse to get Aaron Cook a start so that they could keep him. As a starting pitcher, it's true that Beckett can play golf 4 out of every 5 games, but it's also true that he's expected to be at the ballpark on time for games even when he's not starting. His off day is his own. I'd be more concerned with why he pitched so awfully than whether or not he was playing golf on his day off. In fact, I'm really not concerned about the golf scandal, which is a perfect example of the insane overbearing Boston media, at all.

    • ChipBuck May 14, 2012 at 7:10 PM #

      Anytime, Ben. Just trying to provide some rationality to a world that's frequently irrational.

  7. Brian May 14, 2012 at 5:36 PM #

    Great Article.

    • ChipBuck May 14, 2012 at 7:10 PM #

      Thanks Brian!

  8. Benjamin Raucher May 15, 2012 at 5:56 PM #

    The media is the media — get used to it. It comes with the territory

    BENJAMIN RAUCHER

    • ChipBuck May 15, 2012 at 7:46 PM #

      Not disagreeing that the media is the media. My issue is that they contort issues rather than report them. It's not only unethical, but also intellectually dishonest.

  9. Benjamin Raucher May 15, 2012 at 5:57 PM #

    Besides for being paid millions you should be able to take what the media dishes out.

    BENJAMIN RAUCHER

    • Maxwell Horse May 15, 2012 at 7:17 PM #

      It seems to me Beckett takes what the media dishes out just fine. It's the fans that can't take what Beckett deals right back.

  10. Walt in Maryland May 18, 2012 at 9:30 AM #

    Excellent take. I'd like to respond to Benjamin, who says, "The media is the media. It comes with the territory."

    That isn't true, Benjamin. I grew up in New England (and worked in the media years ago), and I've lived in Atlanta and Baltimore. This character assassination is unique to the BOSTON media, and not to all members.

    Specifically, there is a handful of grumpy, old-school columnists who get on their moral high horse over the smallest incidents, and punish athletes who don't meet their standards of truth, justice, the American Way and whatever else matters to them. Shaughnessy, Mazz and Cafardo are the biggest offenders, but I don't hear the talk radio guys. Probably just as well.