A former White Sox first-round draft pick quietly retired this offseason.
Far away from the spotlight that greeted him when he first arrived in Chicago as a rookie, Gordon Beckham hung up his cleats after 12 years in the major leagues.
It’s not the career he envisioned when he was drafted by the White Sox with the No. 8 pick in 2008 and was quickly called up to the majors a year later.
Beckham hoped for a greater future.
So did many others who saw Beckham join a team with established stars like Paul Konerko, Jim Thome, Jermaine Dye and Mark Buehrle and believed he could be the next face of the franchise, someone to lead the White Sox into a new decade.
"When I got called up, my mom saved the paper, and it said: 'The savior is here,'" Beckham recalled in an interview on the White Sox Talk Podcast.
No pressure or anything.
"That type of spotlight was great at one point," he said. "When it started to flip, that spotlight got heavy.
"At the end of the day, it wasn’t what I wanted, and it wasn’t what most Sox fans wanted. They wanted an MVP and All-Star Games. It just didn’t happen. It’s a part of the game. This game is very difficult."
Now 33, Beckham sounds like an old sage, a man who went through the ringer in Chicago and came out of it stronger and wiser. But even today, he can still feel the aftershocks from his White Sox career.
"I made a comment the other day on Twitter," he said. "Somebody started bashing Mitchell Trubisky and likened it to me."
He laughs about it now. Maybe Trubisky will, too, someday.
How did Beckham reach this point of clarity? It's safe to say it didn’t happen overnight.
In the beginning, Beckham seemed destined for greatness. He hit .270/.347/.460 in 2009, he beat the Cubs with a memorable walk-off single in front of a packed house at U.S. Cellular Field, and he was named the American League Rookie of the Year by both the MLBPA and Sporting News.
And he also had that famous walk-up song.
The Outfield’s "Your Love" became the new anthem that summer on the South Side thanks to Beckham. The pop gem from the 1980s echoed all around the ballpark every time he came to the plate.
Go to a White Sox game, leave with "Josie’s on a vacation far away" stuck in your head for the rest of the night.
The song became such a hit that when the White Sox visited Boston to play the Red Sox, The Outfield happened to be in town and the band reached out to the young rookie, thanking him for bringing their song back to life.
"When people think about me, they think about my hair and my walk-up song," Beckham recalled with a laugh. "I defend that song like it’s my other son."
But after his exciting rookie season, Beckham needed a vacation far away from Chicago when he started struggling at the plate and fell victim to the hype and attention that was swirling around him.
"I’m my biggest critic, so I basically showed up the next year thinking, 'Here we go. You’re about to start your career off and really show why they selected you and take the weight of the team on your shoulders,'" Beckham said. "And I think that me trying to do that at such a young age and not understanding what I was even doing, I think that’s why it was so difficult for me because the spotlight was on me."
The pressure on Beckham was unrelenting.
"If I had a good game, (the media) would ask, 'Hey, are you about to break out? Do you feel like this is the start of something great?' And it was after every good game," Beckham said. "And then after every bad game, if I had two or three in a row, it was like, 'What’s going on? Do you feel like you’re able to do this?'
"It was constant. The weight of that. I don’t know how to describe it to people, but it just kept building and building and building. So I kept putting more and more pressure on myself to do well."
Hitting a baseball in the majors is tough enough. Trying to do it while carrying around 20 tons of mental baggage is not exactly a recipe for success. And for someone like Beckham, who was expected to be a star in Chicago, it hurt even more.
In 2011, he slashed .230/.296/.337. Hoping things would improve in 2012, they didn’t. He put up almost identical numbers: .234/.296/.371.
Beckham tried putting on a brave face with fans and the media, but inside it was devastating.
"I likened it to a duck on the water," he said. "I looked OK and I was acting OK and I was trying to put out the glow of confidence, but underneath it was crushing because I knew I was struggling, I knew I wanted to be better and could do better.
"It just kept beating me down."
Looking back at his White Sox career, the script hasn’t changed, only the person reading it.
"The worst part about my time in Chicago — which is by far my favorite time in the big leagues — the worst part about it is when I left, I was so ready to leave Chicago, and looking back at it, what an incredible city, what an incredible time. I should have enjoyed that.
"That’s easy to say now. When I was going through the scrutiny, it was banging on me pretty good, but at the end of the day, I wish I would have enjoyed it and let it roll off my back and not let it affect me too much and go out and play and do the best I can and hopefully that would be enough."
After his final season with the White Sox in 2015, Beckham looked in the mirror and asked himself what kind of player he could be.
"I had to check my ego at the door," Beckham said. "I just had to start to understand what it means to be a really, really good teammate. I started to work on who I am in the clubhouse, on the field and away from the clubhouse. It was more about, 'How do I prolong my career? I can’t be a cocky, arrogant little prospect anymore. I need to put my ego away.' If I have an opportunity to say yes to (a job) and not even worry about anything else with the situation, I did that."
His wife, Brittany, the daughter of former White Sox infielder Scott Fletcher, also added a mental boost to his game that he said was needed at the time.
"She grew up in the game. She was a big reason why I was able to get better at that," Beckham said. "She’s a very positive person. I was always negative, focused on what I was doing wrong. She told me to focus on what I was doing right. I’m not perfect, but I got a lot better at it. That was the big difference between the beginning of my career and the end."
In 2019, Beckham returned to the AL Central with the Detroit Tigers. He didn’t realize it at the time, but everything would come full circle.
It started in April, when he played his 1,000th major league game. Where? In Chicago, against his former team.
"And guess what?" Beckham asked before delivering the punchline. "I went 0-for-4 with four strikeouts."
Still, the Tigers framed the lineup card and gave it to him. It’s currently in his house, waiting to go up on a wall as a reminder, not only of Beckham’s longevity in baseball, but also of the humility needed to stay afloat in this game.
"I think I had to learn humility and learn how to accept failure and be able to deal with it and laugh at yourself every once in a while. If you’re not able to laugh at yourself in this game, then you take it so seriously like I did when I was really young, and the game consumes you and it will eat you from the inside out."
That September, the Tigers faced the White Sox in Detroit. Playing a part-time role as an infielder and veteran mentor for the rebuilding Tigers, Beckham hadn’t registered a hit the entire month. In the second inning, he broke out of his slump with a home run off Reynaldo López. His next game came six days later, also against the White Sox, this time in Chicago. In the sixth inning, he singled off Ivan Nova.
The final home run and the final hit of Beckham’s major league career both came against the White Sox.
"I always wanted to play well against the White Sox," he said. "They were the team that drafted me and the team that believed in me."
Beckham signed a minor league contract with the San Diego Padres last February, but he was released after spring training. He hooked on with the New York Mets on a minor league deal in June but remained at the Mets alternate training site in Brooklyn, unable to crack the majors.
"It’s not that important to me to bring my (1-year-old) son, sit in a hotel room all summer on the chance that somebody gets hurt or gets COVID," Beckham said. "That to me was my sticking point. I didn’t want to sit around and wait for someone to get hurt or hope for that. That’s just not the kind of person I am.
"I thanked (the Mets) and I said, 'I’ll see you later. I think I’m going to retire.' So this is my official retirement speech, I guess."
Beckham lived to play the infield. Now he’s home in Georgia with a daily reminder of, of all things, The Outfield.
His family has a 1-year-old Goldendoodle. Her name?
"We get to remember 'Your Love' every day when I say her name out loud," Beckham said.
And he can remember the best time of his baseball life, too.
"I’ve really enjoyed everything I’ve been able to do in the game. It’s given me a lot more than I ever thought it would."