Crisis in Baseball: No More Cool Closers

That's Rod Beck. "Shooter," as he was known by fans and teammates. Looks like a guy rousted from a truck stop, doesn't he? Note the Fu Manchu, the double chin, the mullet. Below that, a massive beer gut. This is a guy who during a stint in the minors with the Iowa Cubs walked 159 steps from the clubhouse to a motor home he parked next to the stadium. The elite athlete then smoked cigarettes and swilled beer -- Coors, in a can -- with the folks leaving the cheap seats.

Late in his career, Beck's arm went dead, but he refused to believe that his fastball had become an oxymoron, and magically, it still struck out major-leaguers. In June 2007, after Beck died at age 38, in a home sprinkled with cocaine, he was buried in his Chicago Cubs uniform. Born to be a closer, Shooter had a knack for going out in style.

But he was only the most colorful member of a generation full of freaks and social misfits for whom the single constructive contribution to society was their willingness to defend the ninth inning in a close game. September, bringing with it the pressure of a pennant race, was the closer's month to shine.

A Beck contemporary, Eric Gagne of the L.A. Dodgers, would come out of the bullpen to a scoreboard sign that said GAME OVER while "Welcome to the Jungle" blasted through the stadium speakers. Longtime New York Met Randy Myers would come sprinting out of his own bullpen like an inmate from prison. The way he pumped his fists after a strikeout, mustached Oakland A's great Dennis Eckersley looked like a steelworker who'd just hit the Lotto. Cincinnati Red Rob Dibble was so crazy he hurled his 100-mph fastball into the stands after a bad game, beaning a female fan.

El Pulpo's freakish paw
El Pulpo's freakish paw

The Marlins contributed to the carnival: Antonio Alfonseca grew his requisite beer gut and aggressive facial hair over a pair of skinny legs. On his throwing hand, he had six fingers.

With his waxed mustache, Rollie Fingers looked like he'd just finished tying a damsel to railroad tracks. The Braves' John Rocker hated immigrants. And the original closer answered to the name "Goose" -- long before Top Gun was made.

Where have they all gone? September isn't the same without them.


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