To be honest, I’m a little worried about him.
Did Rod pull a Barret Robbins, the now-famous Oakland Raiders’ center who spent the night before Super Bowl XXXVI in Tijuana? (Suprisingly enough, Robbins didn’t make it back in time for practice the next day. Funny, because Tijuana seems like it would be a great place for a bipolar NFL player with money to burn to prepare for the biggest game of his life. Then again, what do I know, I’m just a fan.) I doubt it: Rod’s style is more “step up” than “step out”.
Beck didn’t seem at all troubled when I saw him pitch for the Red Sox in 2001. Well, that depends on your definition of “troubled”: he wore a mullet/ fu Manchu combo that was scary to pretty much everyone in the ballpark. That included opposing batters, fans, and his own teammates. His signature arm rock, a pendular swinging of his throwing arm, made tangible his internal rhythm; he was simply intimidating, a big fat Californian nicknamed Shooter, hair flowing in the summer breeze, throwing gas in the late innings.
Traded to the Sox in 1999 during their third consecutive campaign not to lose the AL East (which they did), Beck fit right in with the rest of the dusty, gritty, spit-stained Sox. What a specimen he was. I loved him as I loved the rest of those men.
The 2000-2001 Red Sox’ bullpen was a rogues’ gallery of journeymen and nobodies: Rich “El Guapo” (“the handsome man”) Garces, Pete Schourek, Hipolito Pichardo, Rheal Cormier, Rolando Arrojo, and Shooter complemented closer Derek Lowe. Garces and Beck set up the majority of Lowe’s league-leading 42 saves in. That wasn’t the only forty-plus in the bullpen at Fenway that year, as Beck and Guapo’s combined waist sizes may have eclipsed the century mark. No two players on the same team have ever been that fat (Cecil Fielder and Bob Hamelin missed each other in Texas by just nine months), and these two were in the same bullpen.
He has said that he despised Joe Kerrigan, the Sox’ interim coach that year; I hated him too. Kerrigan couldn’t mesh with the players, the press, or the fans. On another (not less relevant, in Rod’s case or mine) note, I’m not going to lie and say that I haven’t fallen victim to the siren-song of grills, beers, and smokes in the summer.
But Shooter and I share more than just bad habits. More importantly, we share a similar style of pitching. This speaks volumes: you can tell what kind of a person a pitcher is by the way he throws. No one could confuse Eric Gagne’s hockey-style for a nerd’s pitcher (Mike Mussina), for instance. Rod and I were both dirty, sweaty, do-what-it-takes type pitchers.
I looked silly when I pitched. I was usually the sweatiest guy on the field, inevitably dirty, and consistently in poor-fitting uniforms. As long as I won, I never cared what anybody thought about me when I was up on the hill. Beck has been winning for decades. The man is as dirty as the floor of Binion’s Horseshoe, 4 AM.
He was released by the Sox in November of 2001, a three-time All-Star being put out to pasture. Rod’s career seemed to be coming to a close, but he forged ahead, making a commitment to his game by having Tommy John surgery in 2002. In 2003, Beck was picked up by the Triple-A Iowa Cubs. On his way out to Iowa in his shiny new motor-home, Beck says that he stopped three times to sit at the side of the highway to think. It took a lot longer than it might have, but soon enough, Shooter was back on the rubber.
The I-Cubs play in Sec Taylor Stadium, and for most of 2003, Shooter lived in a trailer behind the left field fence. He siphoned electricity from the ballpark. Fans would come by and drink beer with him after games. He was (and remains) a man of the people, the anti-star: "I'm not a superstar. I'm not a professional athlete, per se. My job just happens to be on television. If plumbers were on TV, [expletive] cracks would be famous."
Beck has more career saves than Mariano Rivera, but in July of 2003 he was drinking yellow beer with cornhuskers. Perspective is everything, however: he was also a local celebrity. Future managers of Shooter, pay attention: through 30 games (in Iowa, living in a trailer) he was 1-2 with a microscopic 0.59 ERA, with 26 K’s to only 7 walks. He was enjoying himself, to say the least.
But a funny thing happened in August: Trevor Hoffman got hurt. And then an even funnier thing happened: the Padres called Beck. He was back, as quietly as humanly possible for a man like him. But you can’t keep a baseball-playing plumber quiet for long: he converted twenty save opportunities in a row for the Padres. Who knows, maybe he likes the camouflage uniforms, but it makes us underachievers smile to see a guy who was throwing 86 MPH slam the door twenty straight times.
As April approaches, Twenty-in-a-Row Rod is nowhere to be found. According to ESPN, his wife says he’s not home.
The Padres might not need him as much as I do. I miss his flair for bad haircuts, his misshapen body, and his guts. Next to a juicing slugger with a shaved chest and a square (albeit pimply) jaw, Rod doesn’t look like much to the blonde in the row A, seat 12. But to me, sitting at home, drinking a Coors, Rod Beck is a beautiful thing.