Time for the Red Sox to reissue old No. 21, don't you think?
Young righthander Josh Beckett is coming to town, and he's the just the guy to don the jersey that hasn't been worn since Roger Clemens cleaned out his locker in the last week of September 1996.
It was nice of the Sox to honor the Rocket by putting his number on the shelf for nine seasons. It just wouldn't have been right if the jersey was handed over to Rich Garces, Robinson Checo, or Heathcliff Slocumb back in 1997.
But there will be a new sheriff in town when the Red Sox hit Fort Myers in February. He's a big, strong Texan, he grew up worshipping Clemens, and he's already beaten the Yankees in the World Series. He's even a card-carrying member of the National Rifle Association. Beckett is 21-worthy, no doubt about it.
''I'm going to wear whatever they give me," a diplomatic Beckett said yesterday. ''I know nobody's worn it since Rocket, and it would definitely mean something to me, but if that's something they're holding back, then that's their deal. I'll pick another number.
''I like 19, but I think Mike [Lowell] wants 19. And I think Bronson [Arroyo] wears 61. I wore 61 for 2 1/2 years. I've worn 21 since the All-Star break of 2003.
''I'm very excited about the trade, and some of it has to do with it being Boston. My father worked with Rocket's brother when I was in middle school and high school and I have an autographed ball from Rocket when I was younger. I had a Boston Red Sox hat for that sheer fact."
The new Sox ace said all the right things in his introductory conference call with the media. The best of it was the stuff he didn't say. Beckett didn't say he wanted a contract extension and he didn't say the fishbowl of Fenway will bother him. He didn't say he was worried about his privacy in Boston. He didn't say he wanted to be traded to the West Coast and he didn't say he'd become a late-night pen pal with the Sons of Sam Horn. He didn't say Larry Lucchino is a dope.
No, there was none of that. Beckett just said he's excited about the trade and happy to be leaving the Florida ball club. He said he spoke with a friend who played with the Red Sox in spring training in 2005 and the friend told him, ''Hey, you're finally on a big league team."
That may sound strange given the fact that Beckett and the Marlins won the World Series in 2003 and the franchise has won two championships since 1997, but what is happening in Florida now is almost criminal. With no hope for a new stadium, the Marlins are strip-mining the franchise, much the way Charlie Finley did with his Oakland A's in 1976. Fortunately for Red Sox fans, Boston had the cash and the prospects to land Beckett, a 25-year-old stud righty. An heir to Clemens.
''I'm excited about the trade," said Beckett. ''I think it can be a good thing for me. It's going to be a nice change for me, kind of opening a new chapter in my life."
Since learning he's coming to Boston, Beckett has spoken with friends David Wells and Kevin Millar, and both were encouraging about the move -- even though Wells has asked the Sox to trade him because he didn't like his season on Yawkey Way.
''[Wells] said I'm going to have so much fun," recalled Beckett. ''He was talking about how great the fans were, and how if everything stands up, how good our team is going to be."
He said they didn't talk about Wells's future in Boston.
Beckett said he was looking forward to working with catcher Jason Varitek, but he wouldn't mind seeing the American League get rid of the designated hitter. He said he talked to Don Sutton about pitching in Fenway and Sutton told him that the small venue made life exciting for a pitcher. Beckett recalled John Henry coming to see him pitch for the Portland Sea Dogs when Henry owned the Marlins and Beckett was working his way up to the bigs. He downplayed his success against the Yankees and didn't furnish any Schillingesque (''I guess I hate the Yankees now") bulletin-board material.
Beckett is 41-34 lifetime with a 3.46 ERA. Because of recurrent blisters on his pitching hand and some shoulder woes, Beckett has never pitched 180 innings in a big league season. The Red Sox spent four days checking on his health before finalizing the deal Thursday night.
''I've definitely been through my share of frustrating times," Beckett said. ''But I've moved in the right direction every year, and I'm going to try to keep doing that."
Regarding the blisters, he said, ''Every time we think we've got it figured out, another one pops up. Maybe getting out of the heat and humidity might help a little bit. The most helpful thing has been blister ointment in between starts and keeping it shaved down with a callus shaver."
There he is, ladies and gentlemen, your new stopper. The torch has been passed from Clemens to Pedro to Schilling to Beckett. Time to pass along No. 21 now.
Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org