A few weeks ago, I reminisced about erstwhile Dodgers reliever Paco Rodriguez. A little bit before Paco lit up the mound with his eccentric sidearm delivery, the most beloved lefty reliever in Elysian Park was a rugged Pennsylvanian named Joe Beimel. Also like Rodriguez, he was only around for a few seasons. But he made a lasting impression few of his capacity could hope to attain.
Drafted in 1998 by the Pittsburgh Pirates, he donned the black and yellow from 2001-2003 before one-year stings with Minnesota and Tampa Bay respectively in 2004 and 2005. He then came to the Dodgers as a non-roster invitee at spring training, in time for a memorable season for both the team and himself.
Many relief pitchers, even the best ones, maintain a relative anonymity during their time with a team. Joe Beimel was an exception. With an Eric Gagne-esque plume of hair sticking out of his cap and a handsomely bearded countenance, he just looked like a Los Angeles Dodger. His jersey number of #97 was the highest ever used by a Dodger at the time, and had a sweet reason for wearing it: it was the birth year of his first child. He had the charisma and, more importantly, the pitching talent.
After a disastrous 2005 season, 2006 brought new life to the Dodgers. Rookies Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier and (newly re-acquired) Russell Martin electrified fans. Perhaps the greatest game in franchise history, “4+1,” ensured a trip to the playoffs in storybook fashion.
After years as a journeyman, Beimel emerged as the bullpen’s eminent ace all season. Whether as a left-handed specialist, a setup man or impromptu closer, Beimel dispatched batters on both sides of the plate with ease. His season ERA came to a clean 2.96 in exactly 70 innings of work.
Bad luck Beimel
Finishing as the NL Wild Card winners, the Dodgers would need every hand on deck to upset the heavily favored Mets in the NLDS. But Beimel was missing in action for October, and not because of a serious injury. Rather, it was an inane one: he cut his pitching hand on glass at a bar in New York while attempting to keep a bottle of beer from crashing on the floor. Given the Mets were a powerful, lefty-heavy lineup, it was as ill-timed as humanly possible.
The injury proved severe enough that he would be left off the playoff roster. But that was far from the whole story. For starters, he wasn’t even supposed to be at the bar, as he violated manager Grady Little’s midnight curfew for all players. He then lied to a team trainer by saying he hurt himself catching a falling glass at his hotel room. He was sent home to L.A., where he could only watch as the Mets swept the Dodgers in three games.
Sure enough, the series had many instances where Beimel would have been crucial, forcing the team to use starter Mark Hendrickson instead. But a Times reporter uncovered the truth, forcing Beimel to confess to his teammates in an awkward closed-door meeting before game three. The team respectfully heard him out, although Brett Tomko could barely contain his displeasure about the incident. It remains one of the ultimate acts of Dodger idiocy, alongside Chad Kreuter jumping into the Wrigley Field stands to fight a fan and…well, a play that happened in that very NLDS. C’mon. You know which one I’m talking about.
2007 was a step back for the team, finishing a mediocre 82-80 and missing the playoffs entirely. Beimel stepped back commensurately with a 3.88 ERA. 2008, however, was his peak year in Dodger Blue, with a 5-1 record and 2.02 ERA as the team won the NL West and their first playoff series in 20 years (although he saw no action against the Cubs in that NLDS). It was also the year his cult following reached its zenith, being the subject of fan-made YouTube videos and receiving many votes for his own bobblehead.
Unfortunately, his appearance against Philly in the NLCS was his last as a Dodger. He signed with the Washington Nationals for the 2009 season, although he would be traded to the playoff-bound Colorado Rockies that summer. He continued to flit around the majors as he had prior to Los Angeles, pitching for the Pirates again before a stint with the Seattle Mariners and several subsequent minor league deals that fell through before retirement.
Where he is today
Following his retirement, Beimel has remained locally active with the baseball training company Beimel Elite Athletics in El Segundo. Given how phenomenal a reliever he was, it’s safe to say anyone who trains there is learning from a good source. Granted, it would help if they obey curfews as well.