When Cubs fans look back on the 1998 season, there are plenty of moments that stand out in our memories, even today. Rookie Kerry Wood tying the all-time single-game mark, punching out 20 Houston Astros hitters in early May at Wrigley Field. Sammy Sosa’s summer of slugging, hitting 66 home runs in a head-to-head battle with Cardinals first baseman Mark McGwire. Game 163 against the San Francisco Giants at Wrigley Field.
The list goes on and on.
But one man who was at the center of the team’s 90-win season who never seems to get the credit he deserves is closer Rod Beck. The mustachioed Cubs closer was an absolute workhorse for manager Jim Riggleman that year, appearing in half of the team’s games (81 appearances total), finishing off 70 of them in the process.
His 51 saves, to this day, rank second all-time for a Cubs reliever in a single season, trailing only Randy Myers’ 53 from the 1993 campaign. ‘Shooter’ was a bulldog out on the mound, regardless, tapping into an ability to punch out hitters at a level he had never seen before – nor would he ever reach again.
He really stepped it up with runners in scoring position – a key ability for a late-inning reliever. Beck held opposing hitters to a laughably inept .164/.240/.240 mark in such scenarios – and allowed just a .449 OPS with runners in scoring position and two outs. He always seemed like he was able to do just enough to skirt disaster.
Beck was decent enough in the first half of the season, but was nails after the All-Star Break, making 38 appearances and finishing 36 of them en route to 28 second-half saves and a minuscule 1.93 ERA. He racked up 20 saves over the final two months of the season alone, as the Cubs made a run at October.
Chicago Cubs: Rod Beck was never able to recapture that level of success
The big right-hander was everything the team needed in 1998, but his stint on the North Side was derailed by injuries. Chicago traded him the very next season, sending him to the Red Sox. He spent several years in Boston before closing out his career with the Padres – although he was never again a team’s go-to guy in the ninth inning.
As frustrating as this whole lockout has been, at least it’s given me some time to look back at some Cubs history, especially from when I was just a kid. I still remember Beck’s animated reactions on the mound – and thinking about just what he meant to that 1998 team is even more impressive with time.