John Lackey seems to be public enemy number one in Boston. Ever since he arrived from Anaheim on a 5-year, $85 million contract back in 2010 he’s gotten nothing but grief from both the media and Red Sox Nation and I don’t understand why.
Yes, we all know the alleged reasons for the vitriol. The contract, the 2011 chicken and beer fiasco and his supposedly bad influence in the clubhouse, particularly on Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz, are most commonly brought up. But are any of these reasons actually valid?
To begin with, the contract isn’t his fault. Former GM Theo Epstein chose to offer Lackey the contract. What is he supposed to do, say no?
Now, if you want to say that he hasn’t lived up to the contract that’s another story. But even then, he’s pretty much pitched hurt throughout his time in Boston culminating in the Tommy John surgery on his elbow that sidelined him for the entire 2012 season.
But when he was in there and pitching I’d argue he wasn’t all that bad considering what we now know about his injury. His first year, he won 14 games with a middling 4.40 ERA. Not great, but not terrible either.
He followed that up by winning 12 games in 2011 with what we now know was a torn elbow ligament. When the team folded in September, Lackey wasn’t on the list of culprits. If I remember correctly, he pitched 6 innings and good enough to win in the second to last series of the year in New York. Looking back, I’d say him gutting out that start supports his reputation as a gamer that he forged in Anaheim.
As for the chicken and beer fiasco, that is nothing more than a media creation to sell papers. Although it probably did happen, none of us will ever really know what went down because we weren’t in the clubhouse so there’s no way to know the actual culpability.
Finally, where did this reputation as a bad influence on Lester and Buchholz come from? Most of the people who have been teammates of Lackey through the years say he is an excellent teammate who is very supportive of everyone. All of a sudden he’s supposed to change and become the chicken and beer ringleader with a bad attitude? I’m sorry, I don’t buy it. There’s too much evidence that says otherwise.
I think Lackey’s willingness to pitch in pain and say very little allows him a clean slate starting this season. Red Sox management is counting on a big bounce back from Lackey if they are to be contenders in 2013.
Instead of booing John Lackey next time we see him, Sox fans and media should give this guy a chance as a healthy member of the pitching staff. The added support could go a long way toward helping him become the pitcher he once was prior to arriving in Boston.