Relief pitcher Rod Beck dead at 38

When news of Rod Beck's early death spread through the major leagues' clubhouses Sunday, former teammates and opponents of the colorful reliever shared countless stories with a common theme.

Though Beck was a fearsome closer for 13 major league seasons, he was even more admired for his genial nature and old-fashioned approach to the game he loved.

Beck, a three-time All-Star who earned 286 career saves, was found dead in his home Saturday. He was 38.

"He was an offbeat personality, but he loved the game, respected the game and loved the Giants," San Francisco general manager Brian Sabean said. "He just seemed like a regular person, a good person."

The right-hander spent his first seven big league seasons with the Giants before going on to success with the Chicago Cubs and a late-career surge with the Padres.

Beck was a menacing sight on the mound, from his bushy mustache and sometimes-generous pot belly to his searing stare and aggressive arm swing before throwing a pitch. He certainly looked the part of a menacing closer, and he lived up to his hard-nosed, gunslinging reputation &

but only on the mound.

"He was a great guy &

always happy, always picking guys up," said Giants outfielder Ryan Klesko, who played with Beck in San Diego. "I know he went through some tough times in the last couple of years, and it just crushes you."

Beck was discovered 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.

Beck was popular with teammates, fans and reporters, but battled personal demons late in his life. He abruptly left the Padres for a two-month stint in 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" and well-known for his fondness for country music, cowboy boots and cigarettes, Beck pitched for the Giants (1991-97), the 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 famously lived in his Winnebago parked just beyond the outfield fence. Delighted fans would drop by for autographs and stay for a beer.

"You wanted him to have the ball at the end of the game," said Pirates outfielder Xavier Nady, who played with Beck in San Diego in 2003, when he picked up 20 saves and three wins in an incredible 21/2-month stretch while filling in for Trevor Hoffman, now the majors' career saves leader.

"He was very good at what he did. He'll always be respected for what he did as a closer. He was a guy who was fun to be around, and made other guys smile."

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.

"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 saved 51 games in his first season in Chicago, 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."

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.

"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.

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


AP Sports Writers Ronald Blum in New York and Rick Gano in Chicago, and AP freelance writer Joe Resnick in Anaheim, Calif., contributed to this report.

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