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Ruminations on the end of the Gordon Beckham era

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Front office, broadcasting booth and fans found it difficult to let go of his rookie year

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Answering questions about Thursday afternoon's big news -- the trade of Gordon Beckham to the Angels -- Rick Hahn deployed some of his trademark thoroughness:

"You want to give them the chance to fulfill and reach and extend on that potential," Hahn said. "With Gordon having close to 2,900 plate appearances in a White Sox uniform, I think we are all very comfortable that we did give him that chance. It was one of the things Gordon thanked us for today when I talked to him a few hours ago, about sticking with him and giving him the opportunity to get back on track with us.

"None of us wanted to pull the plug on a guy who had the talent like Gordon prematurely and I think we did not err on that side."

Hahn's cautious phrasing amused me, but I don't think he was alone in his general reluctance to pull the plug. A lot of people kept the lights on for Beckham. Hawk Harrelson said he couldn't imagine the White Sox without Beckham at second. Scott Merkin was consistently quick to remind fans of Beckham's defensive value, even in the face of staggering offensive struggles. The crowd at U.S. Cellular Field often sang the chorus of "Your Love" after the PA system cut it off.

And hell, he became friends with A.J. Pierzynski during his first spring training. That might symbolize Beckham's magnetism better than anything.

The professional observers admired Beckham's professionalism. It's incredible that he never lost his composure on or off the field, given how far he fell. With every passing disappointing season, the media asked questions that had no answer, but he tried his best to find one. The resulting self-affirmations became an unfortunate offseason tradition, but the other options -- turning down media requests or being a smartass about it -- wouldn't have helped.

Beckham could've tried laughing it all away, because he showed a goofball side coming up (his early dispatches were littered with Saturday Night Live references that predated him), which was part of a confidence that was on the verge of rubbing people the wrong way, but never did.

If you need to purge some ennui from your system, use the next rainy evening to make an adult beverage, turn on some Morrissey, and Google this:

Beckhamgoogle_medium

(Note: The "y'" is crucial. I cannot stress that enough.)

You'll find stories like this one:

"I was really just putting way too much pressure on myself and then soon as I got out of it, it's been so easy," Beckham said. "I got over that hump, and doing that gave me as much confidence as I'm ever going to need."

And this one:

"There's a fine line between cockiness and confidence," he says again. "I try to skate that line on the confidence side, obviously. You have to be confident for this game. It's a mental game and if you are not confident, it will be tough to be a good player for more than a couple of weeks."

Guillen's take: "He's very cocky. He's not cocky to be a hot dog. He knows he's good and that's going to help him."

And this one:

It seems the more attention Beckham gets, the more deserving he is. He certainly isn't shy in front of good major league pitchers, such as Sunday against the Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw.

"I think there's a difference in being cocky and being confident," he said. "I try to be as confident as I can without being cocky. Why not? I've been playing this game my whole life. The game hasn't changed. It's just that the scenery and setting got a little different."

Those are all from 2009, and he earned the big talk. He hit .270/.347/.460 line with 28 doubles, 14 homers, 63 RBI and 41 walks over 103 games -- and all of that as a 22-year-old who needed only 59 minor-league games.

Unfortunately, all those totals still stand as career highs except for home runs (he hit 16 in 2011, albeit with 152 more plate appearances). That's widely considered to be the only season he was worth a lick offensively, but I'm willing to credit him for 2010, too. He sucked during the first three months as he battled the league's book and made the transition from third base to second, but he roared back with some of his best work in July and August.

Split G PA H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
April/March 21 94 19 4 0 1 4 8 14 .235 .315 .321 .636
May 24 93 13 0 0 0 6 10 19 .159 .258 .159 .417
June 25 93 20 7 1 1 10 2 17 .233 .253 .372 .625
July 23 85 29 9 0 3 13 3 14 .354 .376 .573 .950
August 25 97 25 4 1 4 14 10 19 .309 .400 .531 .931

If Beckham had a September anywhere in the neighborhood of the previous two months, it wouldn't have elevated his numbers to the levels of his rookie season, but everybody would've felt just as good about his future.

Alas, he never had a September because an errant Frank Herrman fastball bruised his hand to the point that it may as well have been broken like the x-ray technician's inappropriate joke suggested.

That pitch marked the end of Beckham's career as a dynamo, and the start of a four-year period where he couldn't escape the bottom of the order, couldn't post even one great month, had his general manager and hitting coach fighting over his development, battled injuries, had problems eating, and couldn't provide reasons for any of it. The guy who was supposed to inherit the Paul Konerko leadership package only figured out the uninspiring parts of it.

It wasn't for a lack of trying. Nobody wanted Beckham to deliver on his potential more than Beckham. Even though he stopped hitting, he did his damndest to deliver on defense, where "the strong arm of Beckham" turned into a monster on the pivot. That provided years of cover for a below-average bat, but nothing could make up for the complete absence of offense over the last two months. The disappearance of his bat and escalation of his salary turned him into a non-tender candidate, and the White Sox had no choice but to start evaluating other options.

They'll start with Carlos Sanchez, who actually stands a chance of living up to Beckham's reputation defensively. He doesn't have Beckham's arm strength, but he does possess above-average range and hands, and he can make a lightning-fast transfer at second. It won't take much to outpace the bat.

Judging by the reaction, there will be some Beckham loyalists who will be ready to pounce on Sanchez's early errors at second, and it'll be fascinating to hear how Harrelson will deal with the news. But for the first time in years, the Sox' shortcomings at second can be written off as necessary to a player's development, and not overlooked in the hopes of discovering former glory.