Rodney Roy Beck
- Bats Right, Throws Right
- Height 6' 1", Weight 236 lb.
- High School Ulysses S. Grant High School (Van Nuys)
- Debut May 6, 1991
- Final Game August 14, 2004
- Born August 3, 1968 in Burbank, CA USA
- Died June 23, 2007 in Phoenix, AZ USA
"At his core, he was determination." - Stacey, Rod Beck's wife
Rod Beck was 21st all-time in the major leagues in saves at the time of his death at age 38. A three-time All-Star and one of the best relievers of the 1990s, Beck was known for his long hair, trademark bushy mustache and glare in addition to his talent. He was nicknamed "Shooter" due to his resemblance to a movie gunslinger.
1986-1987: Struggles in the A's farm system
Beck was picked by the Oakland Athletics in the 13th round of the 1986 amateur draft. He debuted that year with the Medford A's, going 1-3 with one save and a 5.23 ERA, allowing 47 hits in 32 2/3 innings. It was an inauspicious debut for a future All-Star. In 1987, Beck returned to Medford and nearly led the Northwest League in losses - his 8 were one off of the pace. He won five and had a 5.18 ERA, allowing 106 hits in 92 frames, finishing third in hits allowed in the NWL. The San Francisco Giants must have seen something as they traded Triple A hurler Charlie Corbell for Beck.
1988-1990: Giants prospect
Beck looked much sharper in 1988 with the Clinton Giants. Still just 19 most of the season, he went 12-7 with a 3.00 ERA as the #3 man on a fine staff headlined by Mark Dewey. Beck only walked 27 in 177 innings, showing excellent control. Beck almost led all of the affiliated minors in wins in 1989, as his 18 trailed Laddie Renfroe by one. Rod was 11-2 with a 2.40 ERA for the San Jose Giants; he was only two wins shy of the California League lead despite his partial season and would have been fifth in ERA had he qualified. He then was 7-3 with a 3.55 ERA for the Shreveport Captains in his Double A debut. Rod split 1990 between Shreveport (10-3, 2.23, 17 walks in 93 innings, good for second in the Texas League in ERA had he qualified) and the Phoenix Firebirds (4-7, 4.93, 100 hits allowed in 76 2/3 innings).
1991-1997: Peak years
Beck moved to the bullpen in 1991 and did well in Phoenix (4-3, 6 saves, 2.02) in a high-offense environment; the staff ERA was 4.75. It earned him two looks in the big leagues that year. With the 1991 Giants, the rookie went 1-1 with a save and a 3.78 ERA. His first major league inning went 1-2-3, retiring Marquis Grissom, Ivan Calderon and Tim Wallach. His next frame was not as good as he allowed a Larry Walker homer, two singles and a run-scoring double play. After five games in May, he was back in Phoenix before he returned to the majors for the next 8 years. Beck went 3-3 with 17 saves and a 1.76 ERA for the 1992 Giants, establishing himself as a star while splitting closing duties with several other hurlers. His ERA+ was 187 and he allowed just 62 hits, 15 walks and 4 homers in 92 innings while fanning 87. He was 9th in the 1992 NL in saves. In 1993, he was an All-Star for the first time and finished second in the NL with 48 saves (also a team record), trailing Randy Myers. Beck tied David West for second in the NL in games pitched (76), trailing Mike Jackson. He was 12th in voting for the 1993 National League Most Valuable Player Award, leading all pitchers. He pitched the 7th inning in the 1993 All-Star Game, allowing a single to Greg Vaughn and later an RBI double to Terry Steinbach.
Beck was 2-4 with 28 saves for the 1994 Giants, as his ERA+ fell to 144 after two straight years of 180 or better. His unadjusted ERA was 2.77. He was second in the 1994 NL in saves, two behind John Franco in the strike-shortened season. He joined the NL for the 1994 All-Star Game. Down two in the 7th inning, with two men on and one out, Beck relieved Lee Smith and finished the inning without allowing any more runs, then tossed a scoreless 8th. His work enabled the NL to rally and tie the score. Beck won his only Rolaids Relief Award that season, but slipped the next year, with a 4.45 ERA (91 ERA+) for the 1995 Giants. He was 5-6 with 33 saves as he was allowing too many hits once again. He was third in the 1995 NL in saves behind Myers and Tom Henke, but did not make the All-Star team. In 1996, Beck bounced back somewhat with a 123 ERA+ (3.34) as his control got even sharper - only 10 walks (two intentional) in 62 innings. He went 0-9, but did manage 35 saves. He tied Robb Nen for sixth in the 1996 NL in saves. Beck continued to recover in 1997. His record was 7-4, 3.47 with 37 saves, tying Trevor Hoffman for second in the 1997 NL in saves behind only Jeff Shaw. He made his third All-Star team, but did not pitch in the 1997 All-Star Game. Beck also made the postseason for the first time. He pitched 1 1/3 scoreless innings in the NLDS as the Giants fell.
1998-1999: A rollercoaster ride with Chicago
Beck signed as a free agent with the Chicago Cubs and had immediate success. He saved 51 games and was 3-4 with a 3.02 ERA. His 144 ERA+ was his best in four years and the saves total would be a career high. He was second in the 1998 NL in saves, two behind Hoffman, as his big save totals never enabled him to lead the league. He did lead the league in games pitched, 81. In 70 innings, he only allowed six unintentional walks, showing amazing control. During this time, Beck became noted by teammates for hanging around after games, drinking beer and discussing the contest that had just been played. Kerry Wood later said it was a great opportunity for players to learn from one another. In the NLDS, Beck allowed 3 earned runs in one-third of an inning, helping put the finale (Game 3) even further out of reach with his rocky work. But Beck had a career-worst 7.80 ERA in 31 games with the 1999 Cubs, going 2-4 with 7 saves. He allowed 41 hits - and 13 walks - in 30 innings of work. It earned him his first trip to the minors in a long time, pitching two scoreless games for the Iowa Cubs.
In late August 1999, Rod was traded to the Boston Red Sox for Mark Guthrie and a player to be named later (Cole Liniak) and bounced back somewhat, appearing in 114 games in a little over two seasons with the club. Down the stretch in '99, Beck went 0-1 with 3 saves and a 1.93 ERA. He pitched two scoreless innings in the ALDS but lost Game 1 of the ALCS, allowing a 10th-inning game-ending home run to the only batter he faced, Bernie Williams. He allowed one more earned run in 2/3rds of an inning later in the Series. Beck went 3-0 with a 3.10 ERA (160 ERA+) for the 2000 Red Sox in 34 games as he continued to show signs of his old, dominant self. He had another solid season in 2001 (6-4, 6 saves, 3.90, 116 ERA+), working 68 games as one of several reliable veteran relievers on the team (Rich Garces, Rolando Arrojo and Pete Schourek also were all in their early to mid 30s).
Beck sat out 2002 as Robb Nen broke his career San Francisco Giants franchise save record of 199. He lived in his Winnebago just outside of the Iowa ballpark while trying a comeback with the Chicago Cubs organization in 2003, becoming a local celebrity as fans could come over for autographs and beers. He also pitched excellently, going 1-1 with 4 saves and a 0.59 ERA in 21 games for the Iowa Cubs. Chicago let him go in late May and he was quickly grabbed by the San Diego Padres, who brought him directly to the majors. Beck filled in for the injured Hoffman as Padres closer, notching 20 saves and posting a 1.78 ERA while going 3-2. His 221 ERA+ was even better than in his early dominant 1992-1993 campaigns.
2004-2007: Drug problems, MLB career ending, death
Rod ended up missing the beginning of the following year after spending some time in drug rehab, and with Hoffman back, his role with the Padres was diminished. In 26 games, he posted a 6.38 ERA before being released by the team in August to conclude his major league career. Beck was found dead in his home in suburban Phoenix at age 38, less than three years after his final game of baseball. Many people attended his funeral, including former managers Dusty Baker and Bruce Bochy.
Overall, Beck went 38-45 with 286 saves and a 3.30 ERA (124 ERA+). He only walked 191 in 768 innings in the majors, 33 of them intentionally. Of his 704 games, all were in relief despite having been a starter almost his entire minor league career. While he rarely batted, he went 4 for 19 at the plate in his career, a respectable .211 for a pitcher. Through 2019, he ranks 105th all-time in the major leagues in games pitched, 33rd in saves and 38th in games finished (519).
- 3-time NL All-Star (1993, 1994 & 1997)
- NL Rolaids Relief Award Winner (1994)
- NL Games Pitched Leader (1998)
- 30 Saves Seasons: 5 (1993 & 1995-1998)
- 40 Saves Seasons: 2 (1993 & 1998)
- 50 Saves Seasons: 1 (1998)
Sources include 1987 Baseball America Statistics Report, 1988-1992, 2000 and 2004 Baseball Almanacs, obituary by Greg Beacham for The Associated Press
- Rick Sorci: "Baseball Profile: Reliever Rod Beck," Baseball Digest (February 1994), p. 33
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