Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The Life and Death of Rod Beck

Here’s a rare article from ESPN.com worth reading, on former relief pitcher Rod Beck, who died earlier this year of a drug overdose at 38. Beck was a beloved relief pitcher, mainly for the San Francisco Giants, who was in the early 90’s for his wild image, which he cultivated with a long mullet and Fu Manchu moustache. Beck was nearly universally loved by fans, teammates and opponents and was always touted as one of the good guys in the sport. For example, he was actively involved in an AIDS charity in the early 1990’s, which was the era when the disease was still, at least in the public’s eyes, solely a disease that affected gay men.

In a development that perhaps personified Beck, while playing in the minor leagues in 2003 for the Iowa Cubs, Beck lived out of a trailer that he parked right beside the ballpark. After ballgames he would go back to his trailer and there was an open invitation for fans to come by and drink beers with him into the evening. Nobody was refused and Beck genuinely interacted with the fans on a day-to-day basis, which is almost unheard of in professional sports, especially by a 3-time All-Star. Here's an article, also by ESPN.com, on Beck's life in the minors, written in 2003. It's another good read and, if nothing else, at least you can take a very small amount of comfort in the fact Beck enjoyed himself so much at the time. In a time when professional athletes are very removed from any real interaction with the public, Beck was a shining exception and, if the articles have any basis in truth, one of the most genuine guys in professional sport.

Unfortunately, Beck also developed a drug habit, which cost him his family and his life. Despite two interventions by his family and close friends and visits from ex-teammates, Beck couldn’t shake his cocaine habit. His wife, still in love with him, left him and he became a shadow of the devoted father he had previously been to his two daughters. The story of Beck’s life and death is one of the best human interest stories I’ve read in a while, particularly from a mainstream sports media site often devoted to reducing everything to 30-second highlight packages.