Yesterday's article about Mel Rojas included this link to an article Al wrote in 2008. I include it again for two reasons: one, Al loves clicks! But more practically, it has a good summary of the follies by Cub GMs trying to sign "proven closers."
Well, today's Fan Favorites looks at a case where that worked out OK.
The Cubs signed former Giants closer Rod Beck to a one year, $4 million deal entering the 1998 season. "Shooter" rewarded the Cubs in a big way, saving 51 games that season, including the one-game playoff in game 163 with his former Giants' squad to take the wild card spot in the playoffs (pay no attention the three game sweep at the hands of the Braves). The photo above is "Shooter" celebrating that wild-card game victory.
Beck was great that season, right? Well, this is where "stat heads" and the "eye test" might butt heads. Beck notched the 51 saves, which sounds like an amazing season. But he also blew seven saves. So his conversion rate was solid, but not spectacular. His FIP was 3.72 and he was worth "just" 1.0 WAR. So the "stat heads" would say Beck pitched well, but his season was largely the result of opportunity.
I love stats, but it was also clear to anyone who watched that team that Beck helped fill that team with confidence. There's really no doubt he had an intangible influence.
The fantastic 1998 season was followed by a season where Beck battled a back injury and was largely ineffective before eventually being dealt to the Red Sox. Beck converted just 7 of 11 save chances, with a FIP of 5.73 and a value of -0.3 WAR. He was clearly not the same guy after a heavy workload the season before.
Beck played for four teams over 13 big league seasons, pitching in 704 games while collecting 286 saves. His last season was with the Padres in 2004. This was all after a stint where he rejoined the Cubs' organization, pitching in Iowa in 2003 before joining the Padres.
That time in Iowa is a great tale for Cub fans, when Beck lived in a trailer parked right next to the home stadium of the Iowa Cubs. He was known to mingle with fans and give away beer, acting as just one of the guys. This only added to Beck's reputation as someone who lived hard and played hard.
Beck died on June 23, 2007. No official cause of death was announced, but a drug overdose was rumored. Beck was 38 years old.
Seeing an athlete die prematurely most often builds a reaction in the fanbase. And, in some ways, it adds to the player's legend. For we Cub fans, we will always remember 51 saves and a playoff appearance in 1998 and loving the game with us from Iowa. The rest, we can gloss over.
Rest in peace, Shooter.