We are obviously without baseball right now, which is a bummer for a number of reasons. This is not the most important reason, but one tough part of this is that there is simply less to write about here, and that will become more true the longer this lasts. So, with that I decided to use some of this time when I can’t think of a topic to look back at the career of some former players. To do this I will use three different random number generators. First, I will pick a year between 1998 and 2012. I am using these years because I started watching in ‘98, so I wouldn’t really know much about the players from before that. I ended at 2012, well, kind of arbitrarily, deciding anything after that was too recent. Then I use a binary generator to pick a pitcher or a position player. And then finally I sort the selected year’s roster by either plate appearances or innings and generate a random number between one and 20 and pick whoever is in that spot on the list for the given year.
Running the number generators for the first time on Saturday, I got a pretty good first pick. The generator gave us the year 2000, when you’re truly was just nine years old. I then got a pitcher and the seventh man on the leaderboard, which was Rich Garcés, who was one of the biggest cult heroes of the last 25 years or so of Red Sox history.
Garcés, or as he was more fondly known during his playing days, El Guapo (translated to The Handsome One), was originally signed out of Venezuela by the Twins back in 1987, as a 16 year old, and he wouldn’t take too long to get up to the majors. The hefty righty made his major-league debut as a 19-year old in 1990, making five appearances that year. He wouldn’t make it back until 1993, however, and wasn’t up to stay until 1995. At that point he was with the Cubs after being cut by the Twins, and he finished the year as a Marlin after being claimed off waivers.
Garcés would become a free agent after that 1995 season and eventually signed with the Red Sox prior to the 1996 campaign, and that’s when it all started. The first couple of years of the righty’s career in Boston were mostly forgettable, as he posted ERAs above 4.50 in both 1996 and 1997, though to be fair he still finished with an above-average park- and era-adjusted ERA in those seasons. Remember what era we’re talking about.
It was 1998 that Garcés really burst onto the scene and his cult status started to grow. He wasn’t really dominant in this season and he had some real control issues, but the then 27-year-old was up for 46 innings and pitched to a very solid 3.33 ERA. That may not sound super impressive, but 1998 was basically the poster season for the Steroid Era given the home run chase between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa. Garcés would come back for a dominant 40 innings in 1999, and was a fixture in Boston’s bullpen in both 2000 and 2001 as well.
Unfortunately, things took a steep step back in 2002 when his ERA ballooned up to 7.59. The Red Sox, according to some reports at the time, asked Garcés to slim down a bit prior to that season and some have blamed that on his sudden downturn. However, the pitcher himself has said that is not the case.
Whatever the reason, that was the last we saw of Garcés in the majors, though it wasn’t for a lack of trying. El Guapo made some serious comeback attempts, spending the 2003 spring training with the Rockies before being cut in March, then pitching in the GCL for the Red Sox before going to Indy Ball in Nashua for a while and the Venezuelan Winter Leagues. He lasted pitched professionally in Winter Ball in 2008-2009.
I obviously remember Garcés because as a young kid it was absurdly entertaining to see someone who looked like Garcés not only pitch in the majors but pitch well. Things may have ended suddenly, but he was a legitimately near-top-tier arm there for a few years around the turn of the century. In fact, from 1999 through 2001, Garcés was the 16th best reliever in baseball by Baseball-Reference WAR, and that is despite only throwing 40 innings in 1999. He was right between David Weathers and Robb Nen on that list. Among the top 20, only him, Billy Wagner (sixth) and Jeff Tram (19th) pitched fewer than 200 innings.
Garcés was certainly one of my favorite players in my formative years of watching baseball, and if we’re being honest it really wasn’t for baseball reasons. I knew he was pretty good because he pitched a lot, but this is the first time I’ve ever really looked at his numbers and I have to admit he was a lot better than I remembered. It’s unfortunate things ended so abruptly in his early 30s, but given his size, smile and performance El Guapo is going to always be a fixture in the memories of every Red Sox fan who watched during the late-90s, early-2000s era.