Red Sox Chick/Toeing the Rubber

Because you always need a backup plan

My (now) Annual Slack for Lackey Request

John Lackey last June. Photo courtesy of Kelly O'Connor and used with permission.

During Spring Training last year we were inundated with stories about how so many Red Sox players would be becoming fathers during the 2010 season.   They’re the kinds of stories many of us want to read.  It’s fun to get a little insight into the real lives of the players we follow so closely.  On the other hand, reading that Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz and John Lackey all expected children smack in the middle of the season made many of us wonder (raises hand) if these fellas knew how to count.

But the season wore on and in spite of all the things that kept various players from playing, becoming fathers wasn’t one of them. Neither Lester nor Buchholz missed their start in the rotation because their child was born.  But what about Lackey?  After the initial attention that they all got, folks stopped talking about his becoming a father just as the season began.

You might remember that last year, just before his debut at Fenway as a Red Sox player, there were stories that Lackey might actually miss his start for personal reasons.  He didn’t and most people just forgot about it and spent the rest of the season lamenting that he wasn’t worth the money the Red Sox got him.  There were a few of us, though, who wondered about the near-miss and the sudden silence about his pending fatherhood.

A little more than a week ago, in an article on how Lackey has prepared for this season, Dan Shaughnessy (forgive me for linking to him…it’ll hopefully be the only time I do this year) quietly dropped this line:

He doesn’t make excuses about personal issues even though his wife suffered a miscarriage last spring and is currently battling breast cancer (Lackey wore a pink power bracelet yesterday and told WEEI that his wife is doing well).

So what many of us suspected but dared not speak of was sadly true.

I would not presume to make excuses for Lackey, especially since he isn’t doing so, but I do think what happened last year serves as a good lesson all around.  Maybe his struggles had nothing to do with the personal tragedy he and his wife endured last year?  Maybe he will turn out to be another player that Theo Epstein took a big risk with and failed?  I don’t believe that.  I believe he has the abilities to be an ace on this team.  I watched him practically throw a perfect game against the Red Sox and I think he’s a talented pitcher and was (and still am) thrilled when Theo got him.  But maybe he’s also just a guy.  Just a person who can do a good job (and, honestly, he didn’t do an awful job last year – he just underperformed for what people were expecting) but who gets affected by things like his wife losing a child.  Why is it so outrageous to think, regardless of what he says publicly, that this could have been weighing on him all season?

Why is it so difficult for many fans (and sports writers) to acknowledge that, regardless of how much money they make, these men are human and sometimes human emotions will take over?

After going through heartbreak last spring, the Lackeys are now in the midst of another emotional (and physical for Mrs Lackey) grind.  There’s no way to determine how anyone gets through such moments in their lives but at the very least I think the decent thing to do is keep in mind that there is a world of things that could be going on in the life of ANY one of the players you cheer for.

Maybe we can remember that when we get into the meat of the season and start deciding to vilify players we think are underachieving.  I’m not saying that all criticism needs to stop, goodness knows I’ll spend all of April screaming about all the walks Jon Lester gives up, but I would love a moratorium on the hate.  And end to the nastiness that seems to come out of so many when a player doesn’t live up to their expectations.

It’s quite possible that John Lackey will suck this year and it will have nothing to do with anything but his skills diminishing as he gets older.  I still harbor feelings of anger toward John Smoltz for sucking in Boston and then going to St. Louis and pitching well, so I certainly know about making a player’s inadequacies personal.  But maybe we could temper the hate with the reality that these guys have more going on in their lives than just throwing a ball.    I have no doubt that John Lackey’s professional focus this season is on doing well and winning a World Series this year…but even he doesn’t have control over what else might sneak into his focus as the season wears on.

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February 25, 2011 - Posted by | 2011 | ,

2 Comments »

  1. Cyn, we lost 2 children to miscarriage and Ang was fine otherwise and I couldn’t think straight for about 6 months. I don’t know how he did as well as he did. Well said.

    Comment by Ted | February 25, 2011 | Reply

  2. Just chiming in with Ted, Cyn. Well said.

    And I think it’s crazy to hate on ballplayers just for not performing well, period. I reserve scornful attitude and disparaging remarks for players who do / say things that indicate they are jerks as people. All those guys urgently want to be successful. They don’t get up in the morning thinking, “Can’t wait to suck on the field today so I can make Sox fans miserable.”

    Comment by Elaine Apthorp | February 26, 2011 | Reply


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