After a week hiatus, I’m back with this week’s installment of Where Are They Now. With the excitement of the upcoming ESPN Films production Long Gone Summer, an ESPN 30 for 30 documentary about the 1998 home run chase between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, I figured over the next couple weeks we can discuss some Chicago Cubs from the 1998 roster.
In terms of appearance, there’s no way I could pass up former Cubs reliever and closer Rod Beck and his popular handlebar mustache and shaggy mullet.
He’s still famous today for his famous quote to AP Sports Writer Rick Gano:
“I sure don’t think of myself as a fat person, just someone who carries extra weight. I’ve never seen anyone on the DL with pulled fat.”Rod Beck
If Beck was alive today I could only imagine what he’d think of the Tiger King Joe Exotic, but that’s a story, unfortunately, we won’t ever know since he passed in June of 2007 due to what many suspected as a drug overdose.
Beck had a big personality. He loved food and he loved beer but he was more than that.
“His image was not something he was. He had a huge heart, and was so humble. He was so full of life.”Red Sox pitcher Tim Wakefield, Beck’s teammate from 1999-2001 in Boston.
Shooter, as they called him, played the majority of his career with the San Francisco Giants, spending seven of his 13-years in the Bay Area. He was drafted by their neighbors across the Bay in Oakland in the 13th round of the 1986 MLB Draft. After being traded to the Giants in 1988, he made his major league debut in May of 1991.
He made the All-Star team three times for the Giants. In 1993, he finished with 48 saves, including 24 consecutive, a Giants record at the time. In 1994, he was named the National League Rolaids Relief Man award winner.
As a dominant closer during the ’90s, Beck featured his fastball and three breaking pitches out of the bullpen — a sinker, a slider, and a splitter. Beck saved 260 games in the ’90s, seventh most during that decade.
Beck ventured to the North Side of Chicago in 1998 via free agency, where he proceeded to have his most productive season as the Cubs’ closer. He finished with a career-high 51 saves. That total still remains the second most from a Cubs’ pitcher and most by a Cubs’ southpaw. The leader, Randy Myers, totaled 53 saves for the Cubs in 1993.
Outside of his 51 saves, Beck also pitched in a career-high 81 games. He was the workhorse out of the Cubs’ bullpen who shut down opponents in the ninth inning.
Sosa went on to win the NL MVP in ’98, with Beck finishing 18 spots back as both were huge contributors to the Cubs’ success.
Following his best season, Beck’s career took a turn for the worst as he battled injury most of the 1999 season. He was eventually traded midseason to the Red Sox for Mark Guthrie and a Player To Be Named Later.
That player ended up being Cole Liniak, an infielder who played 15 career games between 1999 and 2000. Guthrie, a 33-year-old veteran pitcher at the time, finished out the ’99 season and began the 2000 season with the Cubs before they traded him and cash to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays for Dave Martinez. Yes, the same Dave Martinez who was the bench coach for the 2016 Cubs.
Beck played two and a half seasons with the Red Sox before he was granted free agency following the 2001 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery.
After missing the entire 2002 season due to the surgery, Beck was signed by the Cubs in January 2003. He was later traded to the San Diego Padres at the end of May that same year.
An interesting note is that Beck lived in his motorhome behind Sec Taylor Stadium, which is now Principal Park for the Cubs Triple-A affiliate in Iowa after being sent down in ’03, gaining national attention. Beck offered fans free beer and signed autographs when they’d stop by. It was common for Beck to share stories and act like a normal friend to those who came to visit. When his lights were on, that meant anyone could stop by for a beer. When they were off, he was sleeping.
Beck made the most of his minor league stint as he proved he still had some fight in the arm. He went on to win the NL Comeback Player of the Year in 2003 for the Padres. He was released in August of 2004 after struggling in his role. It was his last season.
It was just roughly three years later when Beck was found dead in his home in Phoenix, Arizona. The scene was ruled no foul play by Beck but cocaine and heroin were found in his house. He was buried in a Cubs uniform despite playing more seasons with the Giants.
Beck kept two framed jerseys in his living room. His own framed Beck Cubs uniform and Hoffman’s jersey.
I don’t win many bets, but I’m willing to bet the Cubs won’t ever see a guy with a personality like Beck’s come through their organization ever again. I look forward to seeing some random camera shots of him from the ’98 season in the upcoming ESPN 30 for 30.