Commentary

Beckham a savior -- to story lines

White Sox call up media darling and top pick Gordon Beckham

Originally Published: June 4, 2009
By Jon Greenberg | ESPNChicago.com

Sorry, this column is so late, but I was busy admiring the new Gordon Beckham statue they have in center field.

Oh, you haven't seen it? It's really something, a perfect contrapposto in the classic style. Think Michaelangelo's David, except more awesome.

Who is Gordon Beckham, you ask?

As the legend has it, Beckham is the son of a swashbuckling pirate and an exotic princess, blessed by the king of Siam to one day slay the feral Tigers of Detroit, conquer the Indians of Cleveland, and harness the multiplying hordes of the Twin Cities.

Beckham isn't a baseball player, per se, but more of a poet-warrior, a throwback to the days of the Iliad and the Odyssey, which coincidentally enough he used to read on bus trips, in Greek and Latin. It reminded him of his youth.

He's no relation to that soccer player, the oh-so-ordinary David Beckham, who acquiesced to Gordon's ownership of their surname Thursday and will now go by Spiky Spice. In related news, the movie "Bend It Like Beckham" is being re-released in theaters, even though it's just two hours of Gordon sleeping.

Gordon Beckham said he actually didn't sleep the night before his major league debut, but not because he was nervous. Maybe you heard President Barack Obama's speech this morning in Egypt. Beckham thought it needed a little work.

You might have heard he heals the sick and turns water into Gatorade, but that's just crazy talk. He doesn't drink Gatorade. His electrolytes replenish themselves. He's not into the "Most Interesting Man in the World" comparisons because he doesn't limit himself to this planet.

It's fun to make these jokes because, in all seriousness, Gordon Beckham is just a baseball player. Forget Robin Ventura or Joe Crede, he's not even Josh Fields or Juan Uribe. He was drafted as a shortstop and only marginally trained at third base

"He's not the savior," catcher A.J. Pierzynski told reporters Wednesday night. "He's just one piece, and hopefully things work out."

By Thursday afternoon, Pierzynski was sneering at the media horde surrounding Beckham's locker after the rookie went 0-for-3 with a strikeout and missed a couple of diving stops on defense. The White Sox lost 7-0, by the way.

"It's going to happen," Thursday's losing pitcher Mark Buehrle said. "Guys who don't get any media attention are good, and guys like him get everything. I was joking with him today: 'You've got to save this team.' Everybody's expecting him to get a hit every time and to make every play hit to him."

Beckham is as hyped as any Chicago baseball rookie since Mark Prior was called up by the Cubs in 2002. And let's just hope Beckham, the No. 8 pick in last year's draft, isn't doing towel drills in Arizona for the rest of his career. The White Sox hadn't drafted a player in the single digits of the amateur draft since taking Alex Fernandez No. 4 in 1990. There's a symmetry there because Beckham is the fastest riser through the system since Fernandez needed just 58 days to reach the bigs. (If you want a chuckle, check out the Sox's first-round picks from 1991 to 2002. Jason Stumm? Matt Ginter?)

Beckham was called up after hitting .326 with four homers and 25 RBIs in just 45 games this season between Double-A and Triple-A. Beckham impressed everyone in spring training and never really struggled in the minors. With Fields showing a surprising lack of power and making six errors at third, the call-up was inevitable. It helped that Wilson Betemit played third with the range of Jerry Reinsdorf before the team dumped him Wednesday night.

White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen has been bristling at Beckham-mania all season as the breathless media have been clamoring over a guy no one has seen outside of spring training. Just this past Monday, Guillen said his team would have to be in "big trouble" to call up Beckham. But heck, that was days ago. Then again, the Sox (25-28) have been shut out twice in that span, eight times overall, so maybe they are in a bit of a pickle.

[+] EnlargeGordon Beckham
AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast Gordon Beckham can turn double plays with no one on base. You know, once he learns to play third.

"He's got big league ability," Guillen said before the game. "His mentality is a big league mentality. I think he's going to make a good adjustment to the big league level. I talk to a few people down in the minor leagues, they think he's ready. I talk to one spy I got in the minor leagues, he says he should be ready to play for me."

Everyone was cringing at the thought of asking a Beckham question in Guillen's postgame presser. It wasn't a coincidence the last question was about the rookie.

"Really bad," Guillen said, when asked what he thought of the debut. "He struck out. What am I going to say? 'He was good'? That kid's all right. He's going to be all right. But it's not [Diego] Maradona going to the World Cup. He's just another player. He had a bad day, just like everyone else."

In his first at-bat, Beckham got a standing ovation from the crowd and scalded a foul ball past Harold Baines at first. Then he bounced a grounder to the third baseman and beat out the double-play relay at first. When Beckham's book is written ("The Real Natural"), the hit will be a screamer down the line.

"I felt pretty calm up there, as calm as could be," Beckham said. "I swung at a couple of bad pitches, but I think that came from the anxiety of having my first at-bat in the big leagues."

White Sox general manager Kenny Williams said that he thought Beckham was major-league-ready in late March and that he is prepared to let him battle through any tough starts. The 22-year-old does not lack in confidence. When Williams called him on draft day, Beckham surprised him with his pluck.

"I picked up the phone and said, 'Gordon, welcome to the White Sox. No. 1 pick. Welcome to the organization,'" Williams said. "He says, 'That's great. You made a great decision.' That's the first time I heard that one to that extent. … [We knew] he was a confident young man, not necessarily that outwardly confident."

Beckham said: "I've told some of these guys before that there's a fine line between cockiness and confidence. I try to skate that line on the confidence side, obviously, and 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."

Before the game, Beckham walked around the clubhouse with a huge smile on his baby face, chatting it up and showing the proper deference to the veterans.

Beckham's rookie hazing started during the game. Pierzynski threw him curveballs at third after Oakland strikeouts, and Buehrle was knocking his defense. One Sox player not happy to ring in the Beckham era is Fields, who started at designated hitter Thursday. Williams said straight out that Beckham will get the bulk of the starts at third. Before the game, Fields told MLB.com's Scott Merkin that he's waiting to be told what his role is.

"They obviously want to do what's best for the team, but I want to do what's best for myself, as well," Fields said. "I don't feel that 26 is definitely a reserve role kind of age. We'll see how it plays out. I expect to be talked to here before long."

While Fields waits, Beckham unpacks. He's fixing to stay awhile.

Life is pretty good right now for the once and future king of 35th and Shields, and it can only get better. Just 3,000 hits to the Hall of Fame.

Jon Greenberg

Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com. He has lived and worked in Chicago since 2003, and is a graduate of Ohio University and the University of Chicago.

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