Rod Beck, 38; pitcher had 286 career saves

From Times Staff and Wire Reports

Rod Beck, a relief pitcher who played 13 years in the major leagues and recorded 286 career saves, including a career-best 51 for the Chicago Cubs in 1998, has died. He was 38.

Beck, who was an outstanding prep pitcher at Grant High in Van Nuys, was found dead Saturday by officers responding to a call to his home in suburban Phoenix, police spokesman Andy Hill said.

Foul play was not suspected, though the cause of death might not be known for several days.


With long hair framing his bushy Fu-Manchu mustache, a menacing stare and an aggressive arm swing before delivering a pitch, the outgoing right-hander was a memorable baseball personality. In his prime, the three-time All-Star challenged hitters with a 90-mile-per-hour fastball and a hard slider.

Considered a down-to-earth guy, Beck was popular with his teammates and reporters. He endeared himself to fans in Iowa by living in a 36-foot Winnebago beyond the right-field wall at Sec Taylor Stadium in Des Moines while working his way back to the majors in 2003. He would welcome fans to join him after games for a beer.

But he battled personal problems 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.”

Nicknamed “Shooter,” Beck was drafted by the Oakland Athletics in the 13th round of the 1986 amateur draft. The A’s traded him to San Francisco in 1988, and he made his major league debut with the Giants in 1991.

He pitched for the Giants (1991-1997), the Chicago Cubs (1998-99) and the Boston Red Sox (1999-2001) before finishing his career with the Padres (2003-04).

Beck set the Giants’ single-season record for saves with 48 in 1993 and recorded 51 saves for Chicago in 1998, helping the Cubs win the NL wild card spot. He had a career record of 38-45 in 704 games, with a 3.30 earned run average.

“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. “You talk to everybody, they’ll have nothing but good things to say. He’s somebody that Giants fans will always remember.”

Beck was involved in charity work with the Pediatric AIDS Foundation and other causes during his time in San Francisco.

Born in Burbank, Beck grew up in the San Fernando Valley. In 1986, he won all four playoff games in the City Section baseball tournament, including the final game at Dodger Stadium when Grant beat Granada Hills for its only city baseball title.

Retired Granada Hills Coach Darryl Stroh, who coached for 26 years and won five city titles, remembered Beck on Sunday as a special player.

“Probably of all the pitchers I had an opportunity to face, he was the most dominant,” Stroh said. “He was almost unbeatable. He has such great command. He was very confident, and with good reason.”

Beck is survived by his wife, Stacey, and two children.

Times staff writer Eric Sondheimer contributed to this report.