EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

February 14, 2013

Beckett's imprint still on this franchise

Bill Burt
The Eagle-Tribune

---- — Consider it the gift that keeps on giving.

Thank you, Josh Beckett.

Here we are three days into the new year (we always start the new year when pitchers and catchers start creating that thwacking! sound in Florida) and the Boston Red Sox are about as easy to embrace as a porcupine.

Three injured pitchers — Clay Buchholz (hamstring), Felix Doubront (elbow) and Craig Breslow (shoulder) — have already had to stop throwing. Majority owner John Henry told reporters to blame him for the Red Sox woes the last two years and then went on to imply he did nothing wrong.

The team’s “alleged” top RBI guy going forward, David Ortiz, is not only still limping around from his injured Achilles’ last July but he is blaming the disaster on former manager Bobby Valentine.

But none of those semi-alarming stories are the worst development out of Fort Myers.

The worst, by far, is that “alleged” ace Jon Lester never got the Red Sox Marketing memo. You know the one I’m referring to, the one that says “We’re sorry.”

To be honest, I expected Lester’s mea culpa in Fort Myers. Instead, it was exactly what we got last year ... zero repentance.

Lester would have us believe that he is an ace because he showed for work for each of his 33 starts. He was OK with what transpired last year (205 innings pitched, 9-14 record, 4.87 ERA).

Can you imagine the maniacal Red Sox duo, Roger Clemens or Pedro Martinez, sending a similar message after such a disappointing performance?

I’m guessing Lester is telling a white lie. He just doesn’t want to let any of us know that he knows he underachieved last year.

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

Despite the addition of about six feel-good-nice-guys-all-smiles-love-baseball players, some of whom seem like they are perfect fits here, the cloud of negativity hovering over this franchise is as gray and billowy as ever.

Beckett — at least his aura — is back and stronger than ever.

Boston’s worst move last year was not cutting Beckett and giving him his thirtysomething million to go away. It would have sent a loud-and-clear message that the petulant, me-first attitude would not be tolerated.

But the Red Sox, afraid of their fan base, their TV ratings and their star players, didn’t have the intestinal fortitude. And it’s still costing them.

Imagine the horror that the wide-eyed rookie prospects like Will Middlebrooks, Ryan Lavarnway and Jose Iglesias witnessed, beyond the managerial mess.

Even ex-Red Sox manager Terry Francona, who we have come to realize never was able to garner respect from Beckett, admitted the once-stud pitcher was a tough nut to crack. Beckett feared and respected only one person during his time here in Boston and that was his former pitching coach John Farrell, the new manager.

But Beckett’s influence on Lester might be his best (or really, worst) work.

Lester was a quiet and humble player when he arrived here in 2006. Former Sox catcher Jason Varitek warned several reporters about him earlier that season, saying, “You might want to watch this kid closely ... He’s going to be special.”

Lester had been on that “special” track, averaging 32 starts, a 16-8 record, and a 3.33 ERA from 2008 through 2011. His 19-9 record and 3.25 ERA in 2010 had many of us talking about him being a perennial Cy Young winner.

His story of overcoming cancer was heartwarming. His quiet, driven persona appeared to be a perfect fit here.

Not anymore. Lester is a lot like his mentor, Josh Beckett. And I’m not referring to the baseball part.

You can email Bill Burt at bburt@eagletribune.com.