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Bernstein: Beckham Story A Baseball Lesson

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Gordon Beckham. (Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Gordon Beckham. (Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Dan-Bernstein Dan Bernstein
Dan Bernstein has been the co-host of “Boers and Bernstein” since...
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By Dan Bernstein-
CBSChicago.com senior columnist

(CBS) That inside fastball speeding at you doesn’t care.

It’s tailing hard and late, and it’s not the one you thought was coming, and it has no idea that you led the University of Georgia to the College World Series in 2006 or that you were named a Freshman All-American.

Foul tip. Strike one.

The next one, a nasty slider away, wasn’t informed that you finished your college career as the most prolific home run hitter in school history or that you were SEC player of the year, unanimous All-SEC and a finalist for NCAA player of the year as a junior.

Swing and a miss. 0-2.

Now it’s another fastball, down the middle and just above the hands, and it too is oblivious to the fact that you were the eighth overall pick in the 2008 MLB amateur draft, that you were the system’s top prospect or that you finished fifth in American League Rookie of the Year voting in 2009.

Foul into the catcher’s glove. You’re out.

That’s the kind of painful lesson baseball teaches, especially at its highest level, played by the very best in the world. Gordon Beckham learned it yesterday, when the once-so-promising infielder was informed of his trade to the Angels in exchange for a minimal, ambiguous return.

In truth it has been a slow, steady realization that it just wasn’t happening for Beckham, despite everyone around him hoping for the best. Each next season became The One, until it wasn’t. Statistical sample sizes grew enough to provide more-than-adequate objective pictures of the player, and the pictures weren’t pretty. It was going to end after this year, but the punctuation provided by yesterday’s waiver trade accelerated the unfortunate certainty.

There are sadder stories than that of Beckham, for sure. There’s no impoverished family relying on him as its sole economic provider, no tiny village in a third-world country or depressed mining town needing him as a beacon of hope. Unlike in some other circumstances when an ambitious prospect is confirmed to be something far less, people will all be fine.

Still, it’s too bad.

Here’s a guy who looks like he was sent from central casting to play the role of a star big leaguer, and he backs it all up with the character of an Eagle Scout. He never cut a corner in his White Sox career, putting in every bit of the work asked of him as if he were an overachieving 32nd-round pick just appreciative for the slim shot at a job. Beckham never pouted during his many long offensive droughts and never allowed his hitting difficulties to affect his competent defense. He conducted interviews and made appearances that gave the impression he wanted to be there and was having fun, even during tough times on the field.

Numbers, however, have no feelings. After 739 major league games and 2,897 plate appearances, Beckham has a slash line of .244/.306/.374. That’s an OPS of .680 and a park-adjusted OPS+ of 83. His career weighted on-base average is a meager .301, classified by the glossary at Fangraphs.com as “poor.”

In his six seasons in Chicago,  Beckham compiled an fWAR total of … 5.0 — 2.5 in that solid first year, then the same total amount in the next five, including an underwater number of -0.5 for 2014. It was time for him to cede his position to any number of those with more promise.

Hitting is hard, even for those with a seemingly limitless future and after saying and doing and appearing to be all the right things.

Baseball takes more time than other sports to tell its truths, and that sometimes makes it more difficult to confront a disappointing story like Beckham’s is so far. It’s not supposed to be like this for guys like that, but he’s not the first star that never was and won’t be the last.

Gordon Beckham, a replacement-level player, has been replaced.

Follow Dan on Twitter @dan_bernstein and read more of his columns here.

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