Wednesday, May 16, 2012

A Tale of Two Pitchers - Who's Bad?

We buy tickets to see them, or we pay for a cable link/satellite dish to watch them play, we buy the shirt with their names on the back, we may even try to emulate them in some way. They play for OUR team and wear OUR uniform, so they must be nice guys, right?

This past Sunday Andy Pettitte made his return to the Yankees against the Seattle Mariners. He was met with a resounding ovation both before the game and as he was leaving the field, even though he had given up a pair of home runs and was on the losing end of what was happening. Meanwhile a couple hundred miles to the north, Red Sox Nation was blasting one of their starting pitchers, Josh Beckett, for what is being perceived as a lack of proper commitment to THEIR team.

Pettitte is regarded as one of the good guys by Yankee fans. Along with Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera and Jorge Posada he was part of the "core four" who had anchored the Yankees through their amazing championship run in the 90's. Despite an admission of using HGH, Pettitte has rarely been subjected to any venom from the Yankee Faithful. Did using PED's make Pettitte a bad guy? I mean, it's cheating, right? I don't necessarily agree with his choice, but put me in the category of those who think that Pettitte was just doing whatever he could to keep making a living. Judging from the reaction Andy received throughout his career following his revelation, it was clear that the fans had long forgiven him (if they ever even cared).

Beckett, on the other hand, is the Poster Boy for the collapse of the 2011 Red Sox. For five months, that team was the best in baseball, prior to a September collapse that was almost beyond comprehension. Soon after Boston was eliminated from the playoffs word leaked out that Beckett and a few other pitchers had been drinking beer and eating fried chicken in the clubhouse during games. Despite the fact that players have been eating/drinking in lockerrooms for years (especially pitchers after they have been removed from a game), angry Red Sox fans chose Beckett as the ring leader, questioned his work ethic and worried about the effect he was having on younger pitchers like Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz. More recently, he was skipped for a start with what was said to be a sore lat muscle. That would have fine, except it was later revealed that he had played 18 holes of golf on a non-game day shortly after it was announced that he would miss a game. When he subsequently got rocked in his next start, the boos that rained down upon him at Fenway Park were deafening.

In the post-game media interview, Beckett told fans what they most certainly didn't want to hear - what he does on a day off is no one's business but his. "I spend my off days the way I want to spend them." You can imagine the reaction. Twitter, Facebook, and the call-in shows were full of the expected knee-jerk reaction of "He gets an entire off-season...what does he need a day off for during the season?" Never mind what players do in the off-season - the running, the lifting, the throwing, etc. in an effort to get ready for 162 games packed into 180 days (with the possibility of post-season games). Oh, and I forgot to factor in the millions of dollars these guys get paid. Rachet the anger level of the fans up even higher when you start talking about the money athletes make.

Did Beckett's admonition that his private life is his and his alone make him a bad guy? I suppose it depends upon whether you think a professional athlete owes you anything. Speaking personally, I stopped the whole hero worship/role model thing with athletes years ago (okay, I will admit to having a small man-crush on Jacoby Ellsbury). They're human beings who perform HIGHLY skilled jobs. Say what you will about Andy Pettitte or Josh Beckett or any other MLB player but they hold two out of 750 possible jobs at the Major League level. What's that? You say you'd play for free? That's probably exactly what you'd be worth compared to an athlete who has reached the highest level of his profession.

Now excuse me...I have to check on Jacoby Ellsbury's rehab from his April shoulder injury.

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