May 23, 2008


Josh Beckett Won't Return My Phone Calls: Athletes don't trust reporters, reporters resent athletes, and readers don't know their heroes as they used to. (Pat Jordan, May 22, 2008, Slate)

In January, I got an assignment from the New York Times Magazine to write a profile of Josh Beckett, the Red Sox pitcher. I was excited about this because I had always admired Beckett as both a pitcher and a person. He reminded me of my younger self, when I was a pitcher in the then-Milwaukee Braves organization. He was a big right-hander with a classic overhand delivery. He had a 98-mph fastball and a curveball that broke straight down and was unhittable. My managers used to call my curveball "the unfair one." But that's where Josh and I parted company. As a young pitcher, I was wild (on the mound) and undisciplined (off the mound). I didn't have his maturity at such a young age, or his character, or his guts in important games. I never became Josh Beckett, which is all the more reason why I admired someone who could do with his talent what I was unable to do with mine.

But, alas, in a single-sentence e-mail from his agent, Beckett declined to be interviewed by me or anyone else. I could understand that. Why would he want me poking around in the closet of his life? Maybe I'd spend four days with him, and catch him saying something derogatory, in a moment of weakness or fatigue, about his manager, Terry Francona, or about Manny Ramirez. He was making, what, $10 million a year? He had just pitched superbly in the 2007 World Series after compiling a brilliant 20-7 record during the season. He didn't need a New York Times profile or recognition for anything but his pitching.

Josh is a baseball throwback. He is not into fame, nor is he a custodian of his career in the same way as someone like Roger Clemens. Clemens is very much devoted to his place in baseball history, which is why he was eager to have me write a profile of him for the Times in 2001 (which he later told me he was not pleased with, despite confessing to never having read it) and, maybe, why he allegedly began taking performance-enhancing drugs in the twilight of his career. Clemens wanted nothing less than to be recognized as the greatest pitcher of all time. Beckett wanted only to pitch. He would leave any recognition of his talents and his career to others. Which is another reason why I admire him.

But, still, I thought it was a shame Josh wouldn't let me profile him in the Times. I had a long lunch with him a few years ago, when he was with the Florida Marlins, and came away thinking he was an interesting young man. At the time, and even now, Beckett had a reputation for being a surly, hard-ass, rednecked, Texas country boy in the way of old-timey ballplayers. But the Josh I met over lunch was smart, caustic, funny, sophisticated, and a much deeper and more nuanced man than his public gave him credit for. I would have loved to have burnished his image, to have shown his fans that side of him in a profile. But it wasn't to be. His fans then lost an opportunity to know the real Josh Beckett.

This has become the curse of modern sports journalism. Writers and fans alike no longer get to know the object of their affections in a way they did years ago. Athletes see us as their adversaries, not as allies in their achievements. They are as much celebrities as rock stars and Hollywood actors are. They live insular lives behind a wall of publicists, agents, and lawyers. They don't interact with fans or writers. They mingle only with other celebrities at Vegas boxing matches, South Beach nightclubs, and celebrity golf events, all behind red-velvet VIP ropes. We can only gawk at them as if at an exotic, endangered species at a zoo. [...]

Fans were more personally committed to their athletic heroes in the day when magazine profile writing was king, and the king of all magazines was Sports Illustrated. In the 1970s, every athlete in the world, every sports team, professional and amateur, every Hollywood star, celebrity, politician, industrialist—everyone, it seemed, would sacrifice his firstborn to appear in the pages of SI. I wrote for SI in the '70s. Here's how it worked: just a press corps that treats everyone like the enemy and, therefore, fails at the basics of its profession.

Posted by Orrin Judd at May 23, 2008 6:22 PM

From the link: "readers don't know their heroes as they used to."
Must be generational, I've always known who my "heroes" were, and none of them were multi-millionaire jocks!
The day these prima donnas could go through a "training camp" comparable to the Navy Seals training is the day I win the lottery. Just not gonna happen.
Go read Marcus Luttrell's "Lone Survivor" for a definition of "hero"!

Posted by: Mike at May 23, 2008 8:49 PM

Seals can't hit the curve.

Posted by: oj at May 23, 2008 11:35 PM

what's really interesting is how much pat jordan is getting press nowadays. I've heard him in 4 interviews the last 3 months, most notably for his clemens and canseco stories. This guy had a first act and a second act that no one noticed (but should have), and now, late in life his third act is finally reaping what he's sowed. It just goes to show, you always have a 2nd and 3rd act in America if you want it.

Posted by: neil at May 24, 2008 7:28 AM

What a whiny self-aggrandizing story!

Posted by: Ibid at May 24, 2008 8:40 AM

He writes of how much he could help Beckett by humanizing him, but I followed the link to the story he wrote about (the admittedly loathsome) Canseco and he gleefully lists every disgusting thing that any person ever attributed to him including specific sex practices. Jordan doesn't realize that he's part of the problem and that athletes are tired of being attacked by jealous sports writers that want to boost their fame by tearing down reputations.

Posted by: Patrick H at May 24, 2008 10:16 AM

"Seals can't hit the curve."
WoW! Now there's a response! Just read "Lone Suvivor" and ascertain whether or not you'd like to continue the denigration?
Continuing on, you are waaay to young to remember (but, several years ago I think I sent you a book on Golden State baseball) these Seals could certainly hit a curve!

Posted by: Mike at May 24, 2008 8:45 PM

Heroism requires more than being dumb enough to disregard your own life.

Posted by: oj at May 24, 2008 11:13 PM