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Friday, August 1, 2008

A Special Edition of Hero Worship: Rod "The Shooter" Beck

August 3rd is Rod Beck's Birthday. Since I have no computer access Sunday, here is a special post regarding the man who gave this site its name.

The year is 1998. I have just graduated from college and am working full time for the first time in my life. Full blown alcoholism is still a year away. The world is my oyster. I’ve been a Cub fan for most of my life, but this is the year it turns serious. This is where true obsession begins. My main man, Mark Grace, is still with the Cubs, but this year brings two new heroes to light. The first is Kerry Wood, the young rookie phenom with the fireball arm. The other is the man who epitomizes ‘closer’ to me: the mulleted, fu-manchued, beer-bellied wonder that is Rod Beck.

He is known as The Shooter. He has a steely gaze that intimidates hitters before he throws a single pitch. His right arm has a restless energy of its own as it twitches spasmodically while he crouches over the mound, glaring in at the hitter. He is from the John Kruk school of baseball, which means he doesn’t resemble an athlete so much as a beer league softball player, probably the one who brings the keg to the game for his teammates. He is also magnificent.

Rod Beck came to the Cubs via free agency in 1998. He went on to record 51 saves in 58 chances, a big part of the Cubs’ Wildcard run. 1999 was a different story, as The Shooter battled injuries, eventually being traded to the Red Sox. In 2001, the big man had Tommy John surgery. Eventually, he was signed to a minor league deal by the Cubs in 2003.

Some of you may ask: Why the big deal about a guy who only pitched just a year and a half for the Cubs? Most of his best years were with the Giants before he ever became a Cub. All of this is true, but there’s more to the Rod Beck story. While with the minors in Iowa, Rod became somewhat of a cult figure. He lived in his motorhome, which he parked behind the Iowa Cubs’s stadium. More to the point, he welcomed many fans to share his food and beer. If the martini light in The Shooter's window was lit, it meant feel free to knock and share some good times. Rod Beck understood that baseball was a game and that it was fun. He was a fun guy who got paid to do what he loved and honestly seemed to enjoy the appreciation and attention of the fans. Other men in his position, at the tail end of the career, eking out an existence in the minor leagues, hoping for another big league shot, might have been bitter and withdrawn. Not The Shooter.

Beck did get his chance, as the San Diego Padres offered him a role in the majors again when closer Trevor Hoffman was injured. The Shooter posted 20 saves in 20 chances with a 1.78 ERA for the Padres in 2003. He was voted the Comeback Player of the Year, but struggled personally and professionally in 2004 and was released.

On June 23rd of last year, The Shooter was found dead at his home in Phoenix, AZ, the victim of his own personal demons. He may have spent more years and had more success in San Francisco, but he elected tobe buried in Cub pinstripes. He may only have been with the Cubs at the major league level for just over a season, but it seems his heart and soul remained with the Northside Franchise. I think the fans who remember him, like me, probably feel the same way about him. He never took the game for granted and relished his big league opportunities, rare for most players in this day and age.

To me, in 1998, Rod Beck was bigger than life. When I decided to create my own baseball blog, his attitude and humor seemed a perfect fit for a tribute. There was just something electric about the guy. On August 3rd, 2008, Rodney Roy Beck would have turned forty years old. Pick up a sixer of Coors this Sunday and drink a toast to the Mustachioed One himself.

God Speed Shooter.


BallHype: hype it up!

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