December 15, 2009

The day after

I took a deep breath. Actually, I took several deep breaths and even manage to exhale a couple of times. Then I began reading all the opinions and rantings and slowly developed some conclusions and thoughts of my own regarding Judas Lackey’s voyage to the dark side.

It’s kind of funny how easily my opinion about a player I’ve always liked can change ever so suddenly. Deep down inside, I kind of expected this outcome (Lackey going elsewhere) and although I thought the Yankees were a more likely destination, the fall out of his going to the Red Sox instead is basically the same.

My initial reaction to the news was disbelief. I just couldn’t believe it. Then anger began to take hold, followed by disappointment and then a return to anger. As I said yesterday, I felt like Lackey had given the Angels the finger on his way out of town. Perhaps holding on to that feeling makes it easier for me to part ways with him.

Never-the-less, I keep going back to game five of the ALCS when Mike Scioscia took Lackey out of the game and how angry Lackey was as he left the mound. This wasn’t anything new and if he had reacted any other way, I would have been stunned. Part of me wants to believe that Lackey made the decision to leave the Angels right then and there and nothing they could do would change that. Lackey would never have admitted to as much because like so many other free agents in the past, he needed the Angels to drive up his asking price.

That’s speculation on my part, but I think it might have some merit. I also wouldn’t be surprised that at some point, Lackey takes a parting shot at the Angels, the decision in game 5 and his time in Anaheim. Lackey tends to wear his heart on his sleeve and again, if he let be known why he left, I wouldn’t be surprised.

So now we (well, at least me anyway) begin the process of justifying the loss of one of the best pitchers in Angels history. It’s actually not a hard process to go through (especially when you have this vision of Lackey flipping us the bird).

Gulp… here it goes.

John Lackey lived off his game 7 performances in the 2002 World Series for seven years. During that time, he was a solid performer and evolved into the ace of the staff; however, many would argue that he was a tick below some of the other so-called #1 starters in the league. He finished as high as third in the Cy Young Award voting (2007), but only made the list of top vote getters just the one time.

On one side of the coin, we can point to the fact that of the 121 pitchers who made their debut in 2002, Lackey ranks first in wins with 102. No other pitcher from that year has more than a 100 and that list includes Jake Peavy (95), Cliff Lee (90), Erik Bedard (51), and Aaron Harang (75).

Despite all of that, since 2002 Lackey didn’t win another post season game until this past ALDS. In fact, his game one win over Boston in the 2009 ALDS is his only post season victory since 2002. He’s actually 1-4 since 2002 and 3-4 over all. Hardly stellar. And yet, Angel fans often labeled John as a “big game pitcher.” Now that he’s leaving, we might venture to say he was “over-rated.”

He started the 2008 and 2009 season on the disabled list. A red flag? Perhaps. His 3.83 ERA in 2009, while very good, was his highest since 2004 and represents a two year trend of it going up.

Then there were the public outbursts. He has been known to show up his players on the field when they make an error, complain about the lack of offense and argue about being taken out of the game. While he was an Angel, these things were likely to be viewed as signs of leadership. Now that he’s leaving, it’s easy to label them as jerk-like behavior.

Remember, we’re trying to justify his departure and that requires us to take off the gloves.

He was frequently called the “big dog” and the guy who set the tone for the entire staff. Was he really? Or was he the guy most likely to gravitate towards a microphone?

To be fair, Orange County Register columnist Mark Whicker paints a broad picture of Lackey in his latest column. He says, "We haven't always noticed when he holds up his fist in support of the players who do make plays. We haven't been around when he's taking young pitchers to the bistros and picking up the check. We haven't always heard his West Texas brogue in a clubhouse that slowly became his."

To that I say it’s easy to be the good guy when things are going well and while he had his good days, he was also volatile. Again, you have to remember that I’m a tad bit bitter about his departure.

Trying to gain some perspective in the aftermath of his departure is not an easy task. There are lots of great memories associated with the guy who wore #41.

His leaving is compounded by the arrival of one Cliff Lee in Seattle. It becomes even more difficult to swallow knowing that another Angel target – Roy Halladay is now in Philadelphia. It becomes nearly unbearable when we think that Scott Kazmir might be considered the answer as his replacement. No offense to Kazmir, but his post-season performance in 2009 did not strike a great deal of confidence into the hearts of Angel fans.

On the bright side (at least for Cheryl and I) is that Joe Saunders will be back and the trade rumors that included his name can be put to rest.

Perhaps this is the time when Jered Weaver will emerge as the pitcher we all envisioned he would become when he was drafted out of Long Beach State in 2004. He certainly showed signs of this in 2009. Weaver seems to have the temperament and qualities to become the leader of the staff. Like Lackey, Weaver has more wins than any other pitcher who made their debut in the same year (2006) with 51. More than Cole Hamels, Jon Lester, Chad Billingsley and 129 others. Weaver is 2-1 in the post-season with a 2.61 ERA and those numbers give us cause for hope.

And then there is Ervin Santana. Should the 2006 or 2008 version of the player show up, he could be something special. Maybe he likes pitching in even years and 2010 is just what he needs.

I will miss John Lackey, but come the start of the 2010 season, I will try to not give him a second thought. It will be time to move on and Lackey just became public enemy #1.

514 Fanatics react...

One 514 Fanatic named Bob wrote me and said, "In October during the playoffs, I told Stephen (his son) that we may not recognize the Angels team next spring. Unfortunately, I fear that is coming true, one step at a time. As if we needed another reason to despise the Red Sox."

Long time Angel fan and 514 Fanatic Bo (Mr. Yes We Will) wrote, "The word lackey means 'to act in a servile manner' in other words a bootlicker. Be gone with you to the gates of Fenway - you lackey. Or maybe his name should be what I had for dinner tonight... a latke. Look at it this way; Big John went for the big payday and we all knew it. To give him 5 years would have been insane... We have a young pitching staff and let's hope they pay off. Pitching basically sucks in the big leagues so it is really time for a youth movement."

Perhaps the best way to gauge the impact of Lackey’s leaving is by asking some kids what they think.

According to 514 Fanatics Jeffrey and Lauren’s nine year old twins Josh and Jake – their words are "BOO BOSTON!"

As I close this chapter in Angel’s history, I can’t help but think of my friend Scott’s 8 year old son, whose favorite player is John Lackey. I emailed Scott because I wondered how Evan was taking the news. Scott wrote, "To say that he's unhappy is putting it mildly. I had to take his Lackey T-shirt away or else he might have cut it up. He gets the playoff rivalry with the Sox, but doesn't get why a player would want to go to a team he just beat."

Evan, I don’t get it either.

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