Have We Been Too Hard On John Lackey?

Most Red Sox fans are sure to grimace when they hear the name John Lackey and mutter a cold, degrading remark under their breath towards the Sox pitcher.  Afterall, it is the same John Lackey that signed an $82.5 million dollar deal in the winter of 2010 only to have him miss the entire 2012 season due to Tommy John Surgery.  He’s also been less than effective during his starts in a Red Sox uniform, going 26-23 with an ERA over 5.00 for those two seasons and quite often blaming the media for his personal and professional troubles.  His bottom lip dragging on the mound when former manager Terry Francona would walk to get him or the icy, Lackey stare at a teammate when they couldn’t make a highlight reel play are further instances that give Red Sox ammunition to use against number 41.

Yes, there are many reasons to dislike Big John and to further rub salt in the wounds we have to watch him in the dugout every night, smiling and joking with his teammates and all we can think is “how dare he sit in there and disrupt things.”  We also love to slander Lackey and blame him for the toxic clubhouse that we’ve been led to believe is happening with our beloved Red Sox. He was also labelled as one of the three culprits in the chicken and beer scandal that rocked Red Sox Nation last season, further cementing his status and dis-likability factor with Red Sox fans.

But have we been to hard on Lackey?  Have we, the passionate fan, judged a book by it’s cover, only to discover that what’s inside is actually quite likable and enjoyable?  That appears to be the case, at least according to a few of Lackey’s teammates.

John Tomase of the Boston Herald has the story and it’s quite an interesting read.

Lackey was seen in the Boston clubhouse sipping on a cold Bud Light after Thursday’s loss in Cleveland, a loss that further kicked the Red Sox hopes down another rung on the insurmountable postseason ladder.  How dare Lackey drink beer in the clubhouse after all that happened last year.  Right?  Wrong!  Turns out drinking in the clubhouse while on the road is not against team rules and Lackey wasn’t the only player enjoying a bubbly.

His teammates stick up for Lackey at the drop of a hat and they can’t understand why all the hate the 33-year old recieves.

Jarrod Saltalamacchia was quoted by Tomase as saying the following:

“The reason nobody has anything good to say about him is the media writes nothing but bad (expletive) about him for some reason,” Saltalamacchia said. “Nobody understands why. He’s a great teammate because he cares about every person in this clubhouse, he does the right things, he’s not a prima donna who thinks he’s better than the game.”

Dustin Pedroia has respect for the former Angels ace because of his work ethic and desire to compete:

“The guy went out and pitched last year with a torn elbow. It’s hard enough playing in this atmosphere alone, but the guy went out and pitched for his team and grinded and did all he could. Yeah, his numbers weren’t what they normally are, but there’s a reason for that. He was hurt.”

“He never complained. He took the ball and now he’s rehabbing. That’s the part that’s frustrating.”

What about having him travel with the team while he’s rehabbing, even though he’s likely to miss the rest of the 2012 season.  Shouldn’t that be disallowed?  Actually no. The collective bargaining agreement allows Lackey to rehab where he chooses, which happens to be with the Red Sox everyday medical staff instead of staying in Fort Myers, Florida.

I have been a huge critic of Lackey and was ready to write an article further ripping the Texas native, arguing that it’s his influence that we’ve seen affect Jon Lester and Josh Beckett so poorly over the past three years.  It seems every start that Beckett and Lester make now a days they have a gripe with the umpire over a missed call and they’re not afraid to have their body language show it.  Something that Lackey was famous for.  Coincidence or just bad timing?  How about a bad influence?

Tomase elaborates on this particular topic and it turns out that Lackey is one of the most popular guys in the clubhouse, especially with his fellow pitchers.

From Jon Lester:

“People think he’s the reason we supposedly have a toxic clubhouse,” Lester said. “People think we have cliques here. He’ll go from talking to Mikey Aviles to talking to Mark Melancon to hanging out with me to talking to Buchhy to over there talking to Scotty Pods(ednik). He doesn’t care who you are, what you do, how much money you make, he’s your friend, he’s your buddy.”

Here’s the part that raised my eyebrows.  Lackey is known for picking up dinner tabs and cab fares for the rookies and younger players.  Not because they can’t afford it, but because he believes it helps to build a tight-knit team.  Something that Josh Beckett has been stating the Red Sox have all season long.

Lackey tells his teammates that guys took care of him when he was a young player and he wants to do the same for those on this team.  It’s his way of giving back to a game that has given John Lackey a lot over his 10-year playing career that started out with the now defunct name, Anaheim Angels.

So we read the warm and fuzzy stories on John Lackey and it should help in changing our opinions of him.  But in a sport where it’s “what have you done for me lately” Lackey still has to win the fans back.  Picking up tabs and being a good teammate is all fine and dandy and it’s nice to hear, but until he starts helping this team win ballgames, the team that Red Sox Nation adores so much, the verdict on John Lackey is unlikely to change.  Until he starts earning that lucrative contract and not just chewing bubble gum in the dugout and slamming back beers in the clubhouse, John Lackey will remain at the top of the villain list amongst Red Sox fans.  Afterall, it’s winning that we care about and for now, he’s still an overpaid reminder of another poor contract that Theo Epstein handed out in his final years in Boston.

Good luck John.  If you truly are this remarkable teammate then I’ll pull for you when you return next season.  Let’s just hope that you return to your Los Angeles form, otherwise the warm and fuzzies are all for not.

Tags: Boston Red Sox Dustin Pedroia John Lackey Jon Lester Josh Beckett

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