Monday, June 25, 2007

Rod "Shooter" Beck, Closer Extraordinaire (1968-2007) by Paul F. Etcheverry

"I always thought Rod would be the perfect guy to ride in on a Harley every time he came in, because that's how he looked and that's how he pitched." Duane Kuiper, current Giants broadcaster and former Giants player

"In an era when players distance themselves from fans, Beck embraced them. He often held court in the Giants' hotel bar, buying round after round for ordinary people who would chat with him about baseball." Henry Schulman, San Francisco Chronicle

"I got down to 9.2 percent body fat and blew out my elbow, so I said fuck this, give me some grease and donuts." Rod Beck

"Are you available?" sportswriter Bruce Jenkins
"Actually, I'm married." Rod Beck

It has been a tough year for that masochistic but undaunted species known as the San Francisco Giants fan. The worst news, infinitely beyond even the most unthinkable humiliation on the field, came yesterday: Rod "Shooter" Beck, Giants closer extraordinaire from 1991 to 1997, was found dead in his Arizona home. He is survived by his wife, Stacey, and daughters, Kayla and Kelsey.

"Shooter" was by all accounts a great guy. He would stay after games just to hang out with fans, shoot the bull and sign autographs. Regarding Rod's gregarious personality, sportswriter Scott Ostler quipped, "Some guys will buy a round for their buddies, or maybe for the house. Beck would buy rounds for Des Moines." The Becks were active fundraisers for AIDS research and the Pediatric Aids Foundation, as well as driving forces in the Giants' "Until There's A Cure Day".

On the field, he was only surpassed as 9th inning guru by his successor, "Rapid Robb" Nen. Both of these guys could, in true "closer" style, scare the living daylights out an unsuspecting hitter - it was their job. He led the spectacular bullpen crew of the 1993 squad (arguably the best Giants team of the past 35 years) with 48 saves and personally nailed the last out in the game that clinched the 1997 West Division title. While never possessing a blistering 100 MPH fastball or even the vicious slider that Robb Nen utilized to blow big-leaguers away, he did serve up a split-finger fastball that dropped precipitiously at just the right moment.

That, plus a Goose Gossage style Fu Manchu mustache and unshakeable determination (no reliever could successfully work in and out of trouble, with or without his "stuff", quite like Beck) was his mojo - and boy, did he work it. As Giants center fielder Daryl Hamilton noted, "The intensity he had coming off the mound was something I'll never forget". Such intimidating and entertaining mound presence carried on the great baseball tradition of such wild man closers as Al "The Mad Hungarian" Hrabowsky and Dick "The Monster" Radatz.

Since one of the things I like about baseball is that one doesn't necessarily have to be a ultra-buffed matinee idol to succeed, it was a pleasure to see Rod Beck, complete with excess avoirdupois and scraggly signature mullet (long in the back), take the mound and strike guys out. Beck's style, more akin to a Ron "Tater Salad" White concert than a GQ shoot or Hollywood soiree, endeared him to Giants fans.

Considering the recent passings of slick-fielding shortstop José Uribe and third baseman Chris Brown (alas, whose primary claim to fame was his inclusion in a blockbuster trade that brought the Giants slugger Kevin Mitchell, another legendary baseball character), it gives us all pause. If all of us, baseball nuts and non-sports enthusiasts alike, could just remember, always, that since there are absolutely no guarantees that we will be here tomorrow, it is vital to treat others (and ourselves) kindly now, this world would be a better place.

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