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A Josh Beckett Marlins career memoriam

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Josh Beckett announced this past Friday. He was one of the Marlins' most successful first-round draft picks and a crucial component to one of the team's best moments in history.

Josh Beckett was one of the Marlins' most successful first-round draft picks.
Josh Beckett was one of the Marlins' most successful first-round draft picks.
Jerry Lai, USA Today Sports

Before last weekend, perhaps the most successful first-round draft pick in Miami Marlins team history announced his retirement. Josh Beckett called it a career after 14 seasons in the majors, ending a successful career run that began with the Marlins and ended unfortunately with injury as a member of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Beckett was injured with multiple ailments this past year with the Dodgers, most notably a torn labrum for which he underwent surgery. Beckett decided he did not want to undergo the necessary rehab to get back into playing shape and called it quits instead.

What Beckett left was an excellent career in the big leagues, a good deal of which he spent with his drafting team, the Marlins. For Miami, Beckett was the consolation prize of an ugly 1998 season, as the team had just undergone a drastic fire sale from the 1997 World Series-winning ballclub. The Marlins won just 54 games that season and ended up with the second-worst record in the game, ahead of only the Tampa Bay Rays. The then-Devil Rays selected Josh Hamilton with the first overall pick, leaving the Florida Marlins with Beckett, the tantalizing fireballing high school righty from Texas. The Fish would come to be known for picking hard-throwing southern righties, and Beckett was the model of that type.

Josh Beckett was selected second but contract negotiations held him out of play until 2000. In his first full season in the minors at age 20, he made just 12 starts thanks to injury but put up a 2.12 ERA and whiffed 26.2 percent of batters faced. Before 2001, he was bumped up to the third-best prospect in baseball by Baseball America, but his work in High-A and Double-A would prove him better than that. Split between those two levels at age 21, he dominated with a 1.54 ERA and 203 strikeouts in just 140 innings, constituting a monstrous 38.7 percent strikeout rate. Beckett whiffed more than one third of his batters faced and seamlessly made the transition to Double-A, which is supposed to be the most difficult jump for a prospect.

Needless to say, both Beckett and the Marlins saw him as a prospect no longer. He got a cup of coffee in 2001 in the bigs and made his full-season debut in 2002 for Florida. Beckett was back and forth in his rookie season, posting a 4.17 ERA and 3.69 FIP in 107 2/3 innings pitched but failing to go the distance due to injury issues, including his infamous blister problems that sapped the occasional start. The 2002 season was worth something between one and two wins, which was solid given his innings count but disappointing in that health limited his workload.

Then the 2003 magic began.

Photo by Dilip Vishwanat, USA Today Sports

Beckett made progress and squeezed out 23 starts for the Fish in 2003, posting 143 innings total. Most importantly, he was fully healthy for the start of the 2003 playoffs, when the Fish needed him the most. Then, Beckett played the role of staff ace perfectly. In the 2003 playoffs, he threw a combined 42 2/3 innings in three different series, including crucial low-rest outings against both the Chicago Cubs and the New York Yankees. In a critical Game 5 against the Cubs, with the Fish facing a 3-1 deficit in the series, Beckett challenged Chicago with a complete game shutout with two hits allowed and 11 strikeouts versus one walk.

Beckett then moved on to battle the Cubs once more, this time in Game 7 in Chicago. With the Marlins staying alive with the wild comeback in Game 6, the Marlins had a chance against Kerry Wood one more time. What followed was a crazy game in which Mark Redman gave up five runs in three innings and the Fish were forced to turn to someone to stem the tide and allow the comeback. With a bullpen that was occasionally tough to trust, Jack McKeon turned to his starters. Brad Penny turned in one inning, but Josh Beckett, on two days' rest, turned in four relief innings with three strikeouts and one run allowed to keep the Marlins in the contest. The Fish came back and won 9-6, and Beckett threw 19 1/3 innings in that series, with two starts and that dominant relief appearance.

Of course, nothing could beat what happened next. Miami faced the New York Yankees, and in Game 3, Josh Beckett dueled with fellow ace Mike Mussina to a veritable tie in what eventually turned into a 6-1 loss in which Beckett gave up two runs on three hits while striking out ten in 7 1/3 innings. But with the Marlins making magic in two games in a row, the team faced a 3-2 lead and a tough decision heading into Game 6 in New York. Once again, McKeon decided to ride his starters, and in particular Beckett, to the finish. The Marlins' manager chose to start Beckett on three days' rest, and he responded with his second complete-game shutout of the playoffs. Beckett whiffed nine Yankees while walking two and giving up five scattered hits, and the Marlins won their second World Series in five years.

The World Series ended in an iconic moment, as Beckett tagged Jorge Posada for the final out and jumped for joy in front of a stunned New York crowd as the Fish won again. Beckett was rightfully named World Series MVP.

Beckett finished that postseason with 42 2/3 innings and 47 strikeouts versus 12 walks. Those 47 strikeouts represented a 29.3 percent strikeout rate versus three of the best teams in baseball that year. Beckett allowed a 2.10 ERA during the playoff run, and his impressive feats of endurance under short rest earned him an MVP award.

Beckett proved to be healthier in his next two years with the Fish, but he was also beginning to approach an expensive level. Beckett got a Major League contract with the Marlins initially, so he earned a fair amount before even reaching arbitration. He picked up just $2.4 million in his first arbitration season in 2005, and at that point the Marlins had decided the 2003 core was not going to win them a World Series. Beckett was among the first casualties of the post-2005 fire sale, but he was perhaps the most important one.

The Marlins traded Beckett along with Mike Lowell in November of 2005 to the Boston Red Sox, but the deal's return was critically important to the Marlins as well. While Beckett went on to have a strong but controversial career as a Red Sox starter, the Marlins got two fantastic pieces back in the trade. One was perhaps the Marlins' best player in history, Hanley Ramirez, who went on to put up close to 30 wins for the Fish over six-plus seasons with the franchise. Ramirez would go on to be the best shortstop in franchise history, hit .300/.374/.499 for his career in Miami, and be the first Marlin to finish second in the MVP award and to win a batting title. Anibal Sanchez was the next important piece, as he finished with a career 3.75 ERA with the Marlins and put up around 13 wins for the Marlins in a six-plus year career.

Josh Beckett is currently the most successful Marlins first-round pick in team history (we'll see how Jose Fernandez and Christian Yelich fare). Beckett served admirably for the 2003 World Series core, put up one of the best postseasons in league history on the mound, helped with a World Series and was a World Series MVP, and was traded for critical parts of the next era of Marlins baseball. By career's end, Beckett was not a Hall of Famer or someone who will be enshrined for his greatness. But as a Marlin, he is an eternally important part of the team's history.