It can be easy to forget that major-league baseball players are also human beings. We watch them every night on television, read numerous articles about them on a daily basis, and treat them like commodities when discussing roster moves with fellow fans. We pay large sums of money for something as silly as their autograph, and we adorn our backs with their names and numbers. Many of these players we’ve idolized since childhood and put on a pedestal; they don’t seem to exist on the same plane as us everyday fans, but are something higher and greater.
But when you stop to think about it, this is a load of bollocks: ball players are regular people just like the rest of us. In fact, their lives aren’t necessarily all that great. Sure, they get loads of money if they reach the majors, but there are lots of costs to pursuing professional baseball as a career. Many of them aren’t as well educated, as they have to put so much time into baseball and are normally drafted before finishing college (and sometimes, before even starting college). Baseball is their career and life, but that means they have to kick around in the minors, spend half of their year traveling from place to place and living in hotels, and become mini-celebrities whether they want to or not. Ball players are watched by thousands of people while performing their job, and their success or failure is talked about and dissected by even more people. And if you want to have a family, talk about a stressful life; from mid-February to early October every year you become a vagabond and get to see your wife and kids infrequently. Being a baseball player ain’t all sunshine and lollipops, that’s for sure.
So when I heard John Lackey’s now infamous quote Thursday — “Everything in my life sucks right now” — my heart went out to him. Here’s a person whose world is crumbling all around him. Not only is he failing at his job at an epic level, but he’s had personal issues crop up over the last year: his wife is battling breast cancer at the moment, and the couple suffered a miscarriage only a little more than a year ago. And for all we know, Lackey could have even more on his plate; these are just the details of Lackey’s personal life that have been made public.
This is probably the most obvious statement in the world, but Red Sox — if you’re out there, you need to give Lackey a break. As someone that’s worked closely with cancer families, you simply can’t underestimate the stress that cancer can have on a family.
I doubt there’s one person out there reading this article that hasn’t had someone in their family or among their close friends affected by cancer. Sadly, in the day and age we live in, it’s becoming increasingly commonplace for people to come down with a form of cancer. But even though we’re becoming slowly desensitized to cancer, that doesn’t mean it isn’t an incredibly scary thing to hear that someone you love has been diagnosed. Even if the prognosis is good and they catch it early — which it sounds like the case is with Lackey’s wife — those three words (“You have cancer”) can throw your entire world into chaos.
It’s difficult for people to understand unless you’ve been through it yourself, but having someone in your family diagnosed with cancer (or any serious disease, to be honest) instantly changes everything. All of a sudden, you don’t exist in the normal day-to-day world you did before; your priorities are thrown on their head and everything is focused in and around the cancer. It’s almost like you’re stepping out of your life and into an entirely different mindset; while before you may have been focused on career goals and saving up money for that larger house or big screen television, now all you can see is beating the disease. Budgets get changed, your life gets dictated by the chemo schedule, and you simply do what you need to do to get through the next day, the next week, the next month.
While this can be stressful enough in a normal household, I can only imagine what it’s like for a major leaguer. Lackey is traveling around the country on a weekly basis, and considering his wife is being treated in California, who knows how often he gets to see her. Each of us has developed coping skills throughout life that help us get through stressful times, but even these will only get us so far without support…and judging from Lackey’s comments after his last start, it sounds as though he’s at or near his breaking point.
Because here’s the thing: even though it doesn’t feel like it to him, there are positive things in Lackey’s life right now. I don’t know his wife’s diagnosis or prognosis – so things may be worse than we know — it was originally reported that her cancer was caught early, which is always a good sign. And while being a major leaguer means he’s forced to be away from his wife right now, it’s also provided him with a huge comfort: a guaranteed $15.5 million salary for this year. He also probably has a good health insurance policy, so between that and his salary, he can guarantee that his wife is getting the best possible care and treatment. Unlike so many other families having to deal with cancer, he doesn’t have to worry about medical expenses. He doesn’t have to worry about not being insured when diagnosed. He doesn’t have to worry about losing his salary because his boss fires him. He doesn’t have to contemplate selling his house to make medical expenses. Money and job security are almost always the largest stresses that affect cancer families, and those are two areas Lackey doesn’t need to worry about.
Please don’t take that statement as a criticism of Lackey – I’m not trying to suggest he has it “easier” than other cancer families and that he’s being a wimp, as his life as a major leaguer adds in so many unique stressors. All I’m saying is that Lackey has some reasons to look up and be thankful; it’s just he can’t see those right now since his coping skills seem to be stretched to their breaking point. He needs time away to destress — to spend some time with his wife and escape out of the public eye for a stretch of time. The time away may or may not help his performance, but regardless, some things are more important than baseball.
Cancer can have the odd effect of turning people into optimists, as it’s too easy to look on the negatives so you find your gaze constantly fixed on the small, daily things you have to be thankful for. John Lackey isn’t at that point yet, and I hope the Red Sox offer him all the support and understanding they can in order to help him through.