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Thirteen Games to Stardom:
Memories of Rod Beck
by Chris R. Lampe
Everyone in the San Jose Giants community was stunned to hear of the death of Rod Beck last week. For many fans he will be remembered as one of the major league's great closers. To the almost 50,000 fans who attended San Jose Giants games in the first half of the 1989 season, Rod Beck will always be remembered as one of San Jose's greatest starting pitchers. Beck appeared in only thirteen games for San Jose in the first half of the 1989 season, but it was what he did in those thirteen games that turned his career around and earned him the title of "Prospect." The opposing managers, including Modesto skipper Lenn Sakata, noticed and voted Beck to the mid-season California League All-Star team. San Francisco Giants General Manager AI Rosen noticed and promoted Beck to Double "AA" Shreveport before the first half even ended.
Beck's journey to San Jose actually began in the green and gold colors of the Oakland A's. Drafted and originally signed by Oakland, Beck was sent to the Medford A's in the Northwest League in 1986. Appearing in only thirteen games for Medford, Beck recorded his first and only minor league save. After going 5-8 at Medford in 1987 Beck's name was next seen in the transactions section on March 23, 1988 as Oakland shipped him to San Francisco for a pitcher named Charlie Korbel. Beck went 12-7 for Clinton in the Midwest League with a 3.00 ERA in 1988 to earn a promotion to San Jose for the 1989 season. The number three starter in the 1989 rotation, Beck was not even mentioned by manager Duane Espy in the San Jose Mercury's season opening article.
Following is a walk down memory lane for thirteen games of the first half of the San Jose Giants 1989 season. And the memories are of the impact Rod Beck, starting pitcher, had on the 1989 San Jose Giants. Thanks for the memories, Rod, we will never forget them nor you.
On April 9, Beck started the third game of the year for the 1989 San Jose Giants during a heat wave in Bakersfield. His San Jose debut was anything but auspicious as the Dodgers pounded out 10 hits and scored four runs off Beck in 6.2 innings. Leading the Bakersfield attack were first baseman Eric Karros, 2 for 3 with an RBI and shortstop Jose Offerman, 3 for 5 with 2 runs scored.
Five days later, on a Saturday afternoon at San Jose Municipal Stadium, Beck earned his first win of the year as the Giants defeated the Modesto A's by a 7-1 score. He was superb as he hit the "7" trifecta, going 7 innings, holding the A's to 7 hits and striking out 7. His battery mate, Steve Decker had 2 hits and an RBI. Mark Dewey, the closer, pitched a scoreless ninth inning. In the first base dugout, the losing manager was Lenn Sakata.
In the "biggest little city in the world," Reno, Nevada, Beck took the mound at Moana Stadium on April 20 opposing the Reno Silver Sox. He improved his record to 2-1 going 8.2 innings as the Giants defeated Reno by a 9-4 margin. The hitting star was catcher Steve Decker who pounded out 2 home runs and had 5 RBIs.
Returning home on April 25, San Jose again faced the Bakersfield Dodgers. Beck handcuffed the southern division foe shutting them out for 7 innings while fanning 12! Bakersfield could manage only 6 hits off Beck as San Jose coasted to a 6-1 win. Karros and Offerman were a combined 1-8 against Beck. Sadly, San Jose's top prospect, shortstop Andres Santana, broke a bone in his left leg while stealing third base in the first inning of the game. He would never recover his speed. A bench clearing brawl highlighted the 9th inning when Mark Dewey hit Jerry Brooks with a pitch. Decker and Brooks were both ejected.
On the second of May, Beck pitched his first complete game of the year at John Thurman Field in Modesto. For the second consecutive game, he struck out 12, as San Jose defeated the A's by a 4-2 score. T. J. McDonald gave San Jose all the offense they needed by belting a three run homer.
Five days later, San Jose paid their first visit to Salinas to take on the Spurs in a Sunday doubleheader. Rod went 6 innings, shutting out the Spurs and limiting them to 6 hits as San Jose coasted to an 8-0 whitewash. Decker, second baseman Steve Hecht, and center fielder Jamie Cooper all drove in 2 runs a piece.
The Palm Springs Angels paid their first visit of the season to San Jose on May 12 and the headline in the San Jose Mercury said it all, "S.J. Giants' Beck earns his 6th win." Beck again pitched a complete game as San Jose defeated the Angels by a 4-2 score. Beck allowed only 5 hits and struck out 7. Decker drove in 2 runs. Beck was now tied for the league lead in wins with 6.
San Jose left for their first trip to the southland on May 16. Two days later, Beck took the mound versus the Riverside Red Wave. San Jose won 5-3. Beck went 7 innings limiting the Red Wave to 2 runs on 8 hits. Juan Guerrero had a 3 run double and Steve Hecht scored 3 runs to lead the San Jose offense. Beck's record now stood at 7-1 with a 2.24 ERA. After taking two of three from the Angels in Palm Springs, San Jose bussed west to San Bernardino to take on the Spirit at Fiscalini Field. Beck was again superb as he went 8 innings while holding the Spirit to only one run in a 4-1 San Jose victory. Mark Dewey recorded the save with a scoreless 9th inning. Steve Hecht was the offensive star with 3 hits, 2 runs and an RBI. Beck improved his record to 8-1, but more importantly pitched San Jose into sole possession of first place in the northern division over the Stockton Ports. They would not relinquish their lead the rest of the first half of the 1989 season.
After thirteen days on the road, the Giants returned home for a Memorial Day doubleheader against San Bernardino. Again, Beck was masterful as he threw a 7 inning complete game, again holding the Spirit to one run. He struck out 9, walked none and gave up only 3 hits as the San Jose held on for a 2-1 victory. Beck's record now stood at 9-1 with a 2.03 ERA.
On the first Saturday in June the Salinas Spurs came to San Jose and a crowd of 2,990 came out to San Jose Municipal Stadium to witness Rod Beck's second loss of the season. For 8 innings the Spurs and Giants battled to a 2-2 tie. In the top of the 9th, the Spurs pushed across two runs to beat Beck and San Jose by a 4-2 score. Beck had another complete game and fanned 8 Spurs, but gave up 10 hits and 3 earned runs.
The following Thursday, the Visalia Oaks made their first appearance of 1989 in San Jose and the game was over before many of the 2,998 fans had taken their seats. The Giants exploded for 8 runs in the first 2 innings and coasted to a 10-2 victory as Beck improved his record to an identical 10-2! With the huge lead, Beck left after 6 innings, holding the Oaks to 2 runs on 5 hits, while striking out 7.
On Tuesday, June 13, only 678 fans filed through the turnstiles at San Jose to watch the Stockton Ports and San Jose battle for the first half title. Beck was hit hard by the Ports whose lineup included San Jose nemesis John Jaha and catcher Dave Nilson. Beck went 7 innings, allowing 10 hits, 6 runs (only 4 earned), while striking out 6. San Jose won by a 10-7 score to increase their lead over the Ports to 4 1/2 games with five to play. Beck won his league leading 11th win and closer Mark Dewey recorded his league leading 16th save by pitching both the 8th and 9th innings.
On June 14, Rod Beck was promoted to Double" AA" Shreveport. He would win 7 game for the Captains, all as a starter, to finish the year with 18 wins. For the thirteen games that Beck pitched for San Jose his 11-2 record produced an .846 winning percentage which was the best in the California League in 1989. His ERA was 2.40. He struck out 88 batters in 97.1 innings. Most amazing was the fact that Beck became the first San Jose Giants hurler to defeat every team in the California League and that he did it in only 66 games! On June 15, San Jose beat Stockton 2-0 to clinch the first half northern division crown.
Less than two full years later, Rod Beck would make his major league debut with the San Francisco Giants where he would help re-write, not only their record book, but the major league record book as well. From 1993 to 1995 Beck set a major league record by converting 41 consecutive saves. His record was tied by the San Diego Padres' Trevor Hoffman in 1998 and then broken by the Boston Red Sox' Tom Gordon in 1999 when he saved 54 consecutive games. And of course, the Dodgers' Eric Gagne obliterated the record book when he successfully converted 84 consecutive saves from 2002 to 2004.
In 1998, Rod Beck set a major league record when he recorded six saves in six consecutive scheduled games while pitching for the Chicago Cubs. This record has since been tied by Eric Gagne in 2003.
Only three times in the history of baseball has a closer converted all of his save opportunities in a year, with a minimum of 20 saves. Rod Beck accomplished this milestone twice! He was the first in history to do it when he converted all 28 of his save opportunities for the San Francisco Giants in the strike shortened 1994 season. The Los Angeles Dodgers' Eric Gagne turned the trick in 2003 when he was a perfect 55 for 55. That same year, with Trevor Hoffman injured, Rod Beck picked up the slack for the San Diego Padres going a perfect 20 for 20!
Only ten closers in the history of baseball have recorded 48 saves or more in a major league season. Rod Beck is one of only four to accomplish this rare feat twice. The other three are storied names: Mariano Rivera of the New York Yankees, Eric Gagne of the Los Angeles Dodgers, and Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley of the Oakland A's. Beck is the only one who recorded his 48 saves or more with two different teams. In 1993, he saved 48 games for the San Francisco Giants and in 1998 he saved 51 games for the Chicago Cubs.
Rolaids honored Rod Beck in 1994 by naming him the National League Rolaids Relief Pitcher of the Year.
For the San Francisco Giants, Beck still holds the single season record of 48 saves. At one time he held the career mark with 199 saves, but his record has since been surpassed by Rob Nen.
Beck retired after thirteen seasons with the San Francisco Giants, Chicago Cubs, Boston Red Sox and the San Diego Padres. He fashioned a 3.30 ERA in 704 career games, all as a reliever. In addition, he fanned 644 opposing batters while only walking 191 in 768 innings pitched. His 286 lifetime saves place his 22nd on the career save list. Beck is the only former San Jose Giant to be honored with three All-Star game selections, 1993, 1994 and 1997.
Known affectionately to his teammates as "The Shooter," Rodney Beck had a breakout year in San Jose and turned it into a fast track pass to major league baseball stardom. In 2007, Rod Beck was selected as a first team starting pitcher on the San Jose Giants 20th Anniversary team. His star will forever shine in the annals of the San Jose Giants. We will miss you Shooter. Thanks for the memories.