It's safe to say that the Red Sox signing John Lackey came as a surprise to the entirety of Red Sox Nation. No one saw it coming. Theo Epstein didn't even hint at it coming. He held his cards as close as possible to his chest and then threw down two aces to take the pot.
It was a bold, calculated move.
And we've all seen it before, especially here in "The Nation": bold, calculated moves put shiny rings on your fingers.It didn't click with me right off the bat what John Lackey means to the Red Sox. Yes, he's an ace. Yes, he could be the No. 1 pitcher for almost any baseball team in the world. Yes, he has one of the highest-paid right arms in the world.
It's not that simple, though. There's so much more to Lackey as a Red Sox.
Do you remember 2004? I know it sounds like a stupid question to ask a Red Sox fan, but let me rephrase to something a little more specific. Do you remember 2003? Specifically, the end of the year? To give you an exact date, it was Nov. 23, 2003.
That was the day the Red Sox traded for Curt Schilling.
Talking about Lackey and Schilling in the same breath should stir up some similarities. Beyond the physical (both bigger guys), they are both pitchers that wanted the ball every day. Hurt or broken, it didn't matter. They're feisty pitchers. They're loud pitchers. They will say what's on their mind and slam their fastball down your throat.
That's just how they do things.
But Schilling's presence in 2004 was more than his ability on the mound. It's what he brought to the team. Namely, he brought competition. His opponent? Pedro Martinez.
From Seth Mnookin's book, Feeding The Monster:
No one was more upset by [Curt] Schilling's arrival than Pedro Martinez
For all his light-heartedness, Martinez was also driven by an irrational (and slightly contrived) fear of being disrespected and the Red Sox's pursuit and acquisition of Schilling gnawed at him. Boston, afer all, was supposed to be his town. "I can't help that they wanted to sign Schilling," Martinez said in February
Martinez's wounded pride could, potentially, have been a good thing for the Red Sox. Martinez was most effective when he felt as if he had something to prove...
With Schilling on board, Martinez wondered if the Red Sox were planning on keeping him around beyond the 2004 season, and without a contract, he was both hesitant to risk further injury and worried about giving the impression he was less than totally healthy.
Pedro, on the downward slope of his career, was pushed by Schilling. Pedro thought he was the team's ace; not Schilling. Pedro thought he was the star; not the new guy. Pedro still had a lot left to prove with the team he's been with for many years.
The same rings true for Josh Beckett.
Beckett is a lot like Pedro, Schilling and Lackey. He's a true competitor that wants to just play baseball until his arm falls off. He'll yell, scream and throw pitches at players' heads as a warning sign if that is what needs to be done. It boils down to this: he wants to prove he's great. He doesn't want anyone else to be better than him, even if it is a teammate.
The similarities between Schilling/Pedro and Lackey/Beckett are there. Schilling and Lackey came on as an ace from another team. Pedro and Beckett have been aces for the Red Sox, until the new guy shows up and wants to prove what he can do. Pedro and Beckett are also entering the last year of their contracts when the new guy shows up.
Pedro went on to have a great season in 2004 (not quite "Pedro-esque," but still a great season). Schilling and Pedro, together, went on to lead the Red Sox to their first World Series championship in 86 years. Beyond what Schilling did on the mound, do you think he had a bigger effect on that championship?
Of course there are differences between Schilling/Pedro and Lackey/Beckett. One, is that in 2004, Schilling and Pedro were better overall than Lackey/Beckett is today. Lackey and Beckett are two of the best pitchers in the majors today, but back in 2004 -- and the years prior -- Schilling and Pedro were just out of this world. We all know of Pedro's dominance, but Schilling was right there, too.
From all accounts, it seems like Beckett wants to be with the Red Sox in the future. His contract is up after this year, but Theo Epstein has already told him -- actually, texted him -- that Lackey's signing has no barring on his future. (Similar sentiments were shared with Pedro, as well.)
Lackey's presence puts a fire under Beckett's butt to perform. Both -- with Jon Lester, can't forget about him -- are going to battle to prove they are the team's ace. This, as you could already tell, should lead to good results for both the individuals and the team.
I have a good feeling this year about Lackey, Beckett and the Boston Red Sox. How are you feeling?