The 2014 Los Angeles Dodgers season was defined by one player above all else: Clayton Kershaw. The GOAT, already a two-time Cy Young winner, forged an MVP season on the mound the likes of which we’ll be lucky to ever see again. In June, he christened it with a historically dominant no-hitter that elevated his legend to Koufax levels.
As prestigious as Kershaw’s no-hitter, was, though, it wasn’t the first one by a Dodger pitcher in 2014. Five years ago today, that first came a month before, and from an unlikely source. Joshua Patrick Beckett, seen as little more than a fifth starter option and veteran castoff, gritted his way to his first career no-no, the 11th in Los Angeles Dodger history, and 24th in franchise history. Given he was a two-time World Series champion, three-time All-Star, and ALCS and World Series MVP, it shouldn’t have been a surprise. Yet it was improbable from many angles, starting with the circumstances that brought the veteran right-hander to Chavez Ravine.
When Beckett came to the Dodgers from the Boston Red Sox in August 2012, his reputation lay in tatters. The Sox were still reeling from the embarrassment of a historic late-season collapse in 2011 that cost them a playoff spot. Like any such collapse, players and figures all across the organization caught blame. Beckett (along with fellow pitchers Jon Lester and John Lackey) was among the worst for spending all of September drinking beer, eating fried chicken and playing video games in the clubhouse while the team lost game after game.
Things didn’t get better in 2012, as the Red Sox toiled in the cellar. Beckett, an All-Star just the season prior, tumbled to a 5-11 record and 5.23 ERA. Fortunately, an opportunity opened up. The Dodgers, in the first year of the Guggenheim’s ownership, were practically playing with Wall Street money and making blockbuster moves left and right to improve quickly from their own nadir of 2011. The Red Sox, in need of shedding a boatload of bloated contracts, thus struck a historic trade. In exchange for James Loney and prospects, 2011 collapse villains Beckett, Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford, along with utility player Nick Punto, were off to Los Angeles.
For the Dodgers, the trade was a unique way to play around with the limitless amount of money the new ownership was pouring into the franchise. For the Red Sox, it was a way to cleanse their payroll of excess salaries and their clubhouse of cancerous personalities. The Boston Herald, in a snark headline for the ages, depicted sullen images of Beckett, Gonzalez and Crawford with the words BUMS AWAY gleefully towering above them. (No doubt inspired by the Brooklyn Dodgers’ famous “Dem Bums” nickname.)
— Toucher and Rich (@Toucherandrich) August 25, 2012
Of the four players sent to L.A., Beckett was the one who performed the least. Gonzalez quickly became a cornerstone of the offense, Crawford hit for average and was key to winning the 2013 NLDS, and Punto flourished as a utility player (even later earning thanks from Kershaw in his 2014 awards acceptance speech). But Beckett was hampered by injury, pitching just eight games in 2013 and notching an 0-5 record and 5.19 ERA. For all intents and purposes, he amounted to little more than a washed up, overpaid roster filler. Worse, he had a rib removed as part of thoracic outlet syndrome surgery. Were it not for the $17 million owed him, he wouldn’t be in a Dodger uniform.
That would all change on Sunday, May 25, 2014. It seemed like any other game, a midseason contest against the rebuilding Phillies at Citizens Bank Park. Los Angeles was just a couple games above .500, trying to heat up from an early season malaise. Beckett took the mound just two weeks removed from winning his first game in two whole years.
The Dodgers would strike first offensively courtesy of a Gonzalez RBI double in the first and a Justin Turner solo shot in the second. Beckett, despite a walk in both innings, allowed no runs or hits. Then, he settled in, notching one 1-2-3 inning after another. The offense piled on four more runs in the later innings for insurance, setting up the bottom of the ninth. His pitch count soaring, Beckett retired Tony Gwynn Jr. and Ben Revere before issuing a walk to Jimmy Rollins.
It all came down to a showdown with our future Dad, Chase Utley. Defensive indifference allowed Rollins to go to second, and the count reached 3-2. On his 128th pitch, Beckett got Utley looking on 94 MPH down the middle. He pumped his fist as the dugout emptied in euphoria. Just like that, a man who seriously considered leaving baseball a year prior, whose former postseason heroics had become eclipsed by his part in Boston’s 2011 downfall, was a hero once again.
Perhaps the most surprising thing about it was the fact that it was the first Dodgers no-hitter in nearly two whole decades. There hadn’t been one since Hideo Nomo stifled the Rockies on September 17, 1996. Given the fact that there had been 23 before, one would think no-hitters were far closer to each other in Dodgers history. Yet there have actually been pretty decent intervals between a lot of ones in Los Angeles.
For this writer, Beckett’s gem was an especially joyous surprise, and one that endeared him to me in a season where my passion for the Dodgers reached new heights. In the midst of the stressful final push of my last quarter at UC Davis, I was on a camping trip with my family for the weekend and thus couldn’t follow the games. As we left late that Sunday, I quickly searched for the score on my phone and saw the Dodgers had won resoundingly.
Then, my eyes suddenly caught the lack of hits by the Phillies, and confirmed it when I saw the headline. So moved was I that when my family made our annual pilgrimage to Dodger Stadium in August, I bought a Beckett shirt at the gift shop while my sisters bought Kershaw ones. (To be fair, we collectively accounted for both 2014 no-hitters that way.)
Beckett’s no-no was a moment of hard-earned redemption for a once esteemed veteran who had fallen from grace. As it turned out, it was also the climax of his major league career. His injury problems returned in August, this time in the form of a torn labrum in his left hip. Rather than grind out more surgery and recovery, Beckett elected to retire that October. In a truly poignant happenstance, I was in person for what turned out to be his last ever game against the Cubs on August 3 at Dodger Stadium.
Since then, Beckett has enjoyed a mostly peaceful retirement at his ranch in Texas with his wife and three daughters. Well, save for an arrest for public intoxication in 2017 for charging at a country band in a local bar. Otherwise, it’s been a tranquil life after baseball, as he showed on Backstage Dodgers.
Today, Josh Beckett’s time in Los Angeles feels like a footnote from the time just before the team’s modernization under Friedman. The circumstances that led to his acquisition were once in a lifetime, and likely won’t be seen again now that the team avoids big contracts as part of tightening the reins on spending. But in that one magic moment five years ago, Beckett made every penny owed to him worth it.