Teeing off on Josh Beckett

You wonder how Red Sox pitcher Josh Beckett came up with the thought that baseball players, who are off all winter, get only 18 days off. But then you remember. Eighteen is the key number in golf. Eighteen is obviously on Beckett's mind.

There are 18 holes in golf. And one big hole in Beckett's version of his questionable golf outing.

Beckett, in answer to a question about whether folks have a right to question him for playing golf after missing a start with a lat muscle strain, said, "Not on my day off. We get eighteen days off a year. I think we deserve a little bit of time to ourselves.''

This wouldn't be as much of a story if Beckett wasn't already the suspected ringleader in the beer and fried chicken caper during last season's September collapse. If the Red Sox weren't already dead last in the tough AL East, and fading. Or if Beckett did better than seven hits and seven runs in 2 1/3 innings in an 8-3 defeat to the Indians on Thursday, one day after news of his golf outing last week surfaced and several days after missing a start because of his lat muscle issue.

Of course, this is a bigger story because it's Boston, a town saturated with baseball fans and heavy on intrepid baseball reporters. Boston is where any bit of questionable behavior will come to the fore (sorry for the golf pun). But mostly, this is a decent-sized story because of what happened last year to the Red Sox, and what's happening now.

It's obvious why Beckett is the bogey man in Boston now. He was booed lustily on his way off the mound at Fenway on Thursday night.

Beckett's poor performance may have had nothing to do with his iffy lat (a muscle behind his shoulder), but it shouldn't be so hard to rest when he's scratched from a start. If the Red Sox make the playoffs and play into the World Series, they still are off for November, December, January and half of February, which adds up to about 105 days off. That should be plenty of time for golf. Beckett is certainly no dummy, but he gives the impression that if he isn't boneheaded he's at least as hardheaded as they come.

Beckett acted like he knew it all when he was a kid pitcher on the Marlins, and when he shut out the Yankees to win the clinching Game 6 of the 2003 World Series, that only reinforced his suspicion that he was close to all-knowing. He won another World Series in Boston in 2007, then a few years later was rewarded with a $68 million, four-year contract, so by this point apparently no one can tell him a thing.

Naturally, the other pitchers on Boston gravitated toward the successful, sure-of-himself  Beckett just as Andy Pettitte once gravitated toward Roger Clemens. John Lackey was generally well-liked in the Angels organization for most of his time there, but he also gives the impression he's all-knowing now. Jon Lester has been noted before for seeming to take on some of Beckett's personality traits, but Lester, who deep down isn't a Beckett stone clone, at least deviated from Beckett by being a lot more conciliatory and apologetic about the chicken-and-beer bashes during games in their September collapse. Clay Buchholz, another young and impressionable sort, was Beckett's golfing partner.

Buchholz understandably declined comment about the golf, and embattled manager Bobby Valentine, already beaten back by team leader Dustin Pedroia after his negative comment about Kevin Youkilis, went light on Beckett, too. But the reality is, Beckett shouldn't be golfing while he misses time with a muscle issue, and everyone has to know this. Beckett is a tough personality, and the folks who share his clubhouse walk every day on egg shells (sorry for the chicken reference).

Baseball players get 3½ months off in the winter. And the way the Red Sox are going, they will have 4½ months off for the third straight year. Yes, sooner than they would like, it'll be tee time.

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