John Lackey. The very name has become a symbol to Red Sox fans, a symbol of the dark pall that has overtaken the once-beloved team. I myself have been guilty of it. When writing about a possible Sox pitching prospect, I referred to the hurler’s ERA as “Lackeyesque”.;
Of course, it wasn’t always that way. When Lackey was signed as a free agent by Boston in December 09, it was considered a huge positive step. In 8 years with the Angels, he had developed info one of the AL’s most reliable starters. Between 05 and 09, his record was 69-38, an excellent .654 percentage. His ERA was constantly in the mid-3’s, and his 3.01 in 07 led the league. He had thrown 10 complete games and 5 shutouts, fine figures for the 2000’s. As a 24-year-old rookie, he was the winning pitcher on October 27, 2002 as the Angels defeated the Giants 4-1 to win their first and only World Series.
His 5-year contract with the Sox was for $82 million, and at the time most Sox fans considered it well worth it. But things would soon go downhill. His first Boston season produced a 14-11 mark, but his ERA of 4.40 was not acceptable. His hits to innings pitched ratio was the poorest of his career. Things would get worse-much worse- in 2011. Lackey’s 12-12 record was deceiving- the ERA ballooned to 6.41. He allowed 114 earned runs, most in the league. In the infamous Sox fold, he was singled out-rightly or wrongly- as the ringleader in the chicken-and-beer scandal which cost Terry Francona his job. On a personal level, stories appeared about his seeking a divorce from his cancer-stricken wife.
Lackey’s Tommy John surgery, which forced him to miss the 2012 season, was probably a blessing for him. He undoubtedly would have been caught up in this season’s disaster. With every loss, I’m sure boos would come from all sides.
Heading toward 2013, Lackey has the possiblity of redemption. With the team rebuilding, three starting pitching spots will be open; he should be given every chance to take one of them. If he has any sense of his baseball legacy, he should realize that a comeback would restore some of his tarnished reputation, not only in Boston but in all of major league baseball. It will not be easy. He is 34 years old and has a reputation for laziness.
Baseball has a huge sense of history. Will Lackey be remembered as a comeback hero or as the stereotype of an overpaid, egotistical, and uncaring athlete? It’s up to you, John