Rod Beck, an All-Star relief pitcher who wore a bushy mustache while earning 286 career saves, has died. He was 38.
Beck was found Saturday by police officers responding to a call to his home in suburban Phoenix, police department spokesman Andy Hill said Sunday. Foul play is not suspected, though the cause of death might not be known for several days.
With unruly hair framing a menacing stare and an aggressive arm swing before delivering a pitch, the outgoing right-hander was a colorful baseball personality and a three-time All-Star. He spent the first seven of his 13 major league seasons with the San Francisco Giants.
Beck was popular with teammates, fans and reporters, but battled personal demons late in his life. He abruptly left the San Diego Padres for a two-month stint in drug rehabilitation during his final season in 2004.
"He was having some problems, and I just knew he went into rehab and joined us later that year," said Giants manager Bruce Bochy, the Padres' manager at the time. "It's so sad when you see healthy players go at such a young age. This is a bad day in baseball to lose a guy who did so much for the game."
Nicknamed "Shooter," Beck pitched for the Giants (1991-97), the Chicago Cubs (1998-99) and the Boston Red Sox (1999-2001) before finishing his career with the Padres (2003-04).
While working his way back to the majors in 2003, Beck pitched for the Triple-A Iowa Cubs and lived in his Winnebago parked just beyond the outfield fence. Fans would drop by for autographs and stay for a beer, and Beck became a folk hero. Then the Padres called.
Beck set the Giants' single-season record with 48 saves in 1993. He was on the mound when San Francisco clinched the NL West title in 1997, and was the Giants' career saves leader with 199 until Robb Nen passed him in 2002.
"He was a great teammate and a great competitor," said Giants shortstop Rich Aurilia, who played his first three major league seasons with Beck in San Francisco. "He left an impression on everybody he played with. You talk to everybody, they'll have nothing but good things to say. He's somebody that Giants fans will always remember."
Aurilia recalled being wary of Beck's mustache and mullet when he came up as a rookie in 1995 — but Beck was among the first to congratulate Aurilia on making the team.
Beck saved 51 games for Chicago in 1998, helping the Cubs win the NL wild card. He had a career record of 38-45 in 704 games, with a 3.30 ERA.
"He was helpful to everybody," said Cubs pitcher Kerry Wood, the 1998 NL Rookie of the Year. "Always in a good mood, great teammate, great person. He had the closer mentality. He had a short memory. Every day he came in, he was obviously excited to be there and you could see it."
After games, Beck and several Cubs teammates would often sit around drinking beer and smoking cigarettes as they talked baseball.
"You don't see that anymore," Wood said. "Really haven't seen a whole lot of it since he left. That's part of the old-school mentality. You hang around and you have a few beers and talk about the game and talk about mistakes you made, talk about good things you did and learn from each other."
Beck was a favorite at Candlestick Park through most of the 1990s, but left to sign with the Cubs as a free agent in 1998. He finished second in the NL in saves during his first season in Chicago, but managed just 46 saves in his final five seasons combined.
"Everyone in the Giants organization is deeply saddened by the loss of a dear friend," Giants owner Peter Magowan said. "Rod Beck was a true Giant in every sense of the word, from his dedication on the field to his selflessness away from the park."
Beck was involved in charity work with the Pediatric AIDS Foundation and other worthy causes during his time in San Francisco.
"Shooter was a hard nosed, blue-collar kind of guy that wore his heart on his sleeve, and that is what made him so endearing to baseball fans everywhere," said Rick Thurman, Beck's longtime agent.
"He was the utmost professional whose love for the game was only overshadowed by his passion for his family. Rod was the guy who you wanted in the foxhole with you, a warrior on the field and a teddy bear at home."
At a Giants-Cubs game at Wrigley Field last Sept. 2, Beck threw out the ceremonial first pitch and sang "Take Me Out To The Ballgame" during the seventh-inning stretch.
Beck is survived by his wife, Stacey, and two children.