It's been hard for Gordon Beckham to keep his head up. - Rick Osentoski-US PRESSWIRE
For the third straight January, the second baseman is pressed to explain why the year ahead will be different.
As the new old saying goes, it's not January on the South Side of Chicago until Gordon Beckham tries to explain what went wrong the previous season.
This time, Beckham, fresh off his engagement, tells Scott Merkin why he still feels good after encountering so many setbacks:
"In general, I felt like I turned a corner at the end of last year," Beckham said. "I don't know how to describe it, but I'm encouraged. I guess it's the first time in a while that I actually truly believed in myself.
"You can have fake confidence, where you don't believe it in your gut. And there have been times over the last couple of years, doubts, where I said to myself, 'Maybe they are right.' At end of this year, I don't know how to describe it, but there's now a maturity and better understanding of the game -- the focus it takes, the routine.
"I'm sure people are tired of hearing that I turned a corner," Beckham said. "I'm tired of hearing it to be honest. I believe I belong and I want to show what I believe. I have a great family behind me, a great support staff, a great team, a great organization. There's a lot that don't believe, but the organization does, and that says enough."
If this sounds familiar to you ... well, it should. This marks the third straight offseason where Beckham has to play defense about his lack of offense. In case you joined us late, let's get caught up.
Beckham established the formula for his 2013 reconciliation in this Mark Gonzales article, starting with an affirmation ...
"I wish it wasn't that way, but when you get kicked and knocked down, you see the person you are," Beckham said Wednesday during his fundraising event for the Parkinson Foundation while he was in town for this weekend's SoxFest. "You either can roll over and fold, or you can stand back up and do the work. You have to learn from some failure. I learned from a good amount last year, and it wasn't fun for me. It wasn't fun for any White Sox fan watching that last year.
"But I'm still very positive about what we can do and what I can do. I'm not going to let anyone else tell me otherwise. That's one of the things I had to tell myself. It's about me doing what I do and worrying about what I do, as opposed to worrying about what other people think about this and that. It's not important."
... before realizing how hollow it sounded:
"Talk is cheap. I know that. The way I feel is a lot better. I feel I'm back to where I need to be to be successful and be the guy who I was, that has a chip on his shoulder and goes out there busting his tail to do well for the team and play well at second."
Oh, for the glory days of 2010, when Beckham's bad season could be written off merely as a terrible first half:
"[Last year] there was a lot put on my plate, and when I didn’t immediately meet expectations I went into panic mode," the Chicago second sacker said of his atrocious start in 2010, which was scarred by his second position change in as many seasons field and first-half splits of .216/.277/.304 and a .581 OPS. "That can’t happen, and that won’t happen again. I got frustrated, and mentally tired."
"I was in the worst mental state of my [baseball] life," Beckham reflected. "It was good to come out on top."
This isn't playing "Gotcha!" with Beckham, because he already beat everybody to the punch. Recalling similar articles from previous seasons merely serves to illustrate the unfortunate amount of explanations his career has required.
It's somewhat reminiscent of Merkin's annual "State of BA" articles during Brian Anderson's career, revealing Anderson's latest conclusion for a failed season. Sometimes he owned up to his shortcomings, and other times, the pointed the finger at the organization. Either answer wasn't particularly satisfactory, although sometimes they were at least funny, because Anderson was inherently amusing.
Beckham's stories are sadder. Unlike Anderson, Beckham showed he could hang in the league as an above-average hitter before it all went away. And I don't doubt that he wants it enough, or that he's putting in the work. His woes at the plate haven't infected other areas of his game. He just hasn't been able to escape this rut, which has basically lasted all but two months of the last three years.
Merkin tries his best to figure out what aspects of Beckham's performance inspire the latest batch of confidence, but it requires removing his worst two months from his performance. Sometimes that's a useful exercise. It makes sense if they were successive months ("It was just one big slump!"), or if the struggles could be matched to a corresponding injury ("He just wasn't healthy!"), but that's not the case here.
And even then, removing Beckham's April and July only raise his average to .257, which is basically a way of saying, "When he wasn't awful, he wasn't that bad." To use a more comprehensive stat than batting average, Beckham posted an .808 OPS in his rookie season. He didn't register a single month above .800 last year.
If I made my own attempt to figure out how Beckham thinks he might have found a comfort zone, I guess I'd point to the Carlos Quentin-type coil he featured in his stance at the end of last season. But as we all know, anybody who tries to explain Beckham the last couple years has grasped at straws. He stings the ball for brief bursts, only to head back to the can-of-corn production plant. Anybody who says they have an answer at this point is just hoping.
But hey, maybe the most encouraging aspect of the article is the fact that it exists. If he has another year with a sub-.300 OBP and lack of punch, next offseason's Beckham material might consist of a trade or a non-tender. For now, there remains just enough hope that if Beckham turns enough corners, he'll end up back where he started.