Let’s get this one out of the way post haste: Should you be enterprising enough to Google (no, I’m not comfortable with making a proper noun into a verb, either, but that’s the Internet for you) “lat muscle,” the number one result will not be “Josh Beckett.” For the record, since I was enterprising enough—or fool enough, depending upon your point of view—to Google it, the number one result is a Wikipedia entry opening thus:
The lattissimus dorsi (plural: latissimi dorsi), meaning ‘broadest muscle of the back . . . is the larger, flat, dorso-lateral muscle on the trunk, posterior to the arm, and partly covered by the trapezius on its median dorsal region.
The latissimus dorsi is responsible for extension, adduction, transverse extension also known as horizontal abduction, flexion from an extended position, and (medial) internal rotation of the shoulder joint. It also has a synergistic role in extension and lateral flexion of the lumbar spine.
Due to bypassing the scapulothoracic joint and attaching directly to the spine, the actions the lat has on moving the arm can also influence the movement of the scapula, such as their downward rotation during a pull up.
Further down, you’ll find that ways of training or strengthening the lat include vertical pulling movements such as chin-ups, horizontal pulling movements like rowing, pull-overs, and dead lifting. In other words, if Josh Beckett had spent that now-fateful off day—the one whose integrity he seemed so bent on protecting in his testy postgame comments Thursday night (“We get eighteen days off a year. I think we deserve a little time to ourselves.”)—rowing on the Charles, he’d have been shown a little more leniency than he’s been shown for playing a round of golf on an off day the day after he missed that start.
Especially, so it is said, if he’d either kept his big yap shut or at least didn’t answer for it like a petulant brat. “I spend my off days the way I want to spend them,” sniffed a pitcher whose term of employment customarily includes anywhere from three and a half to four and a half months off from fall to spring. “My off day is my off day.”
Pitchers can have off days on the mound, too. Beckett knows that better than most. Especially after he went against a Cleveland lineup packed with lefthanded hitters and switch hitters batting left against him and came out with his head on a plate after two and a third, seven earned runs, seven hits, two bombs, and back-to-back RBI doubles. “I pitched like crap,” he said, when asked about the booing with which he was hit as manager Bobby Valentine lifted him for Andrew Miller. “That’s what happens. Smart fans.”
And pitchers have been playing golf on their off days from, oh, time immemorial, so it seems. But when they were pitching the Atlanta Braves to the postseason every year nobody carped about the links linkups between Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and John Smoltz, whose passion for golf equaled their passion for out-thinking National League hitters. A trio of future Hall of Famers, who pitch like future Hall of Famers with almost machine-like precision, can play all the holes of golf they want. A guy whose postseason resume is money but whose regular seasons aren’t exactly models of consistency, when they’re not collapsing with big questions about his heart and his commitment, as did Beckett’s in 2011, isn’t exactly going to get a mulligan for teeing off when he can’t make a start with a lat strain and then getting sliced in his next start.
Beckett’s timing was terrible in other ways, too. He picked the absolute wrong week to let the Indians run roughshod over him in Fenway Park, one start after his lat muscle kept him off the mound if not from channeling his inner Phil Mickelson. This was a week when Josh Hamilton added to his feel-good legend, the continuing comeback from a nearly self-destroyed career, by hitting four home runs in five at-bats against the Baltimore Orioles one fine evening, with a record eighteen total bases in the game for good measure. This was a week begun when Jered Weaver—continuing the excellence he’s displayed after signing a very public hometown discount contract extension, saying unapologetically that he would rather stay where he’d been nurtured and was happy than chase the bigger dollars—gave the paralytic Los Angeles Angels a boost with a no-hitter.
The current controversy isn’t exactly a new experience for Beckett. He’s been less than a warm and fuzzy figure from the moment he nailed the Florida Marlins’ World Series conquest of the Yankees in 2003. Young, loud, and snotty, he bellowed to lingering Yankee Stadium denizens, “You lost! Go home!” He helped the Red Sox nail a second Series ring in four seasons, then turned up to the following spring training with, shall we say, a lot of gut. And he was one of the unquestioned indulgers—in fact, he was the suspected leader of the pack—when it turned out enough Red Sox seemed more interested in beer and fried chicken in the clubhouse during games than in keeping the Olde Towne Team from collapsing last September.
Amidst all the carping and whining, only Peter Abraham of the Boston Globe seems to get the critical point: It got there in the first place, never mind this far, because the Red Sox brass has never really held him accountable.
Since 2001, when he broke into the majors, Beckett is one of 10 pitchers with at least 280 starts and an ERA under 4.00. One of 10.
In return for this durability and production, the Red Sox have stayed out of his way. Beckett gets to pick his catcher. Beckett gets to prepare for games the way he wants. Beckett gets to drink beer in the clubhouse during games. Beckett gets to throw too many cutters. Beckett gets to do what he wants, basically.
Terry Francona used to say that the best way to deal with Josh was to leave him alone. Bobby Valentine seems to feel the same way.
Theo Epstein, Ben Cherington, John Henry, Tom Werner, Larry Lucchino, John Farrell, Curt Young, Bob McClure, etc. There are probably a dozen men who could have gone up to Beckett at any point and told him to fall in line. Nobody ever did.
. . . Now there’s all this righteous indignation that he went and played golf last week when he was hurt. Or that he didn’t take any responsibility for the chicken and beer scandal. Oh, heavens, Josh Beckett is a spoiled, privileged athlete.
No kidding. Every person in his professional life has given him a free pass because he was so good. Did you expect him not to use it? It would be nice if he were a Boy Scout, but he’s not. In his mind, that’s your problem. It sure isn’t his.
Muster up all the anger you want. He has 10/5 rights and trading him will be difficult. Beckett can decide where he wants to go and what it will take to get him there. Trust me, he’s not taking his family somewhere he doesn’t want to be.
And all the booing, indignant columns, and radio outrage won’t change that.
If Valentine wants to, he can make life difficult for Beckett and demand change. But given the way the Red Sox have treated Beckett since he arrived in 2006, there is nothing to suggest that will happen.
Francona didn’t exactly treat Beckett differently than he treated the rest of his players. It was Francona’s greatest strength and, in due course, his sad undoing. He learned the hard way what happens when you allow men to be men, too many of the men in question somehow revert to boyhood, and boys will be boys, even when they’re fiddling while the rest of Red Sox burn.
Maybe Beckett finally decided enough was enough when, in spring training, he set baseball aside for a day or so to attend the birth of his first child, and there were some foolishly giving him hell for that. But maybe there’s something wrong when you can’t figure out the difference between a brief absence for your child’s birth and a round of golf on an off day the day after a muscle strain keeps you from a work assignment.
No, Beckett isn’t the only reason the Red Sox fell apart last year or look too much like the collapsers of September 2011 so far this season. But that doesn’t mean the brass isn’t now trying to calculate who might take him off their hands, and soon enough, in perhaps the opening play of a badly needed overhaul. Unfortunately, it doesn’t mean they are, either.