Glenn Beckert, key member of 1969 Cubs and ‘great teammate and friend,’ dies at 79
Beckert spent nine seasons with the Cubs (1965-73) before finishing his career with two seasons playing for the Padres.
On the long list of things Glenn Beckert was good at was picking up the phone and checking in with his former Cubs teammates.
After learning Beckert had died Sunday morning in Florida at 79, Billy Williams, Fergie Jenkins and Don Kessinger all said they had missed those calls in recent years as conversations for Beckert — the Cubs’ second baseman from 1965 to 1973 — became increasingly difficult.
‘‘He was one of those guys who liked to check in and ask, ‘How you doing?’ ’’ said Williams, a Hall of Fame outfielder. ‘‘We’d have some great conversations.’’
‘‘We talked so many times,’’ said Kessinger, a former shortstop who was Beckert’s double-play partner. ‘‘ ‘Beck’ was a great teammate and a friend, and he has been on my mind the last little while.’’
Jenkins, a Hall of Fame pitcher, met Beckert behind a batting cage on a Pacific Coast League field in 1964, when the former was in the Phillies’ organization and the latter was on the rise with the Cubs’ Salt Lake City affiliate. It was Class AAA, and each player was a season away from the big leagues.
‘‘We struck up a conversation and had an instant rapport,’’ Jenkins recalled. ‘‘He had a really dry sense of humor.’’
In 1966, they became teammates when the Cubs traded for Jenkins. Twenty-seven years after that, Beckert was the best man in Jenkins’ wedding.
‘‘We liked to talk a lot about strategy,’’ Jenkins said. ‘‘Just knowing Glenn was a player who wanted to play every day and knowing he was behind me defensively, that always gave me a good feeling when I pitched.’’
Jenkins laughed while recalling a spring-training tradition the pair shared. The staff ace would break in Beckert’s new gloves because, well, that was one thing Beckert didn’t seem to be very good at.
‘‘He’d just hand me his Wilson A2000s, and I’d take care of it,’’ Jenkins said. ‘‘I’d pound a fungo bat into the pocket, put hot water into it, put a ball into it and wrap it nicely overnight. I broke in at least a few gloves for Beck.’’
Beckert was born and raised in Pittsburgh and was a three-sport star in high school who made all-city teams in baseball and basketball. He also played football.
He graduated from Allegheny College in 1962 and became the Cubs’ every-day second baseman in 1965, a role that needed filling after 22-year-old Ken Hubbs, the 1962 National League Rookie of the Year, died in a plane crash before the 1964 season. Joey Amalfitano was the Cubs’ primary second baseman in 1964 and remained with the team in a reserve role after Beckert arrived on the scene.
Beckert, who also played for the Padres in 1974 and 1975, was a career .283 hitter. In 1968, he led the majors with 98 runs and won a Gold Glove. He was selected as an All-Star four consecutive seasons beginning in 1969. He led the NL five times in best strikeout-to-at-bat ratio and finished third in the league with a career-best .342 batting average in 1971.
He was extraordinarily tough to strike out, being retired that way only 235 times in 5,020 at-bats with the Cubs. Usually batting second in the order ahead of Williams, he had multiple long hitting streaks, broke up a handful of no-hit bids and was known for his clutch hits to right field.
‘‘He had pride in going up to the plate and not striking out and getting on base a lot,’’ Williams said. ‘‘I was happy to have him up there in the lineup and happy just to have him as a teammate. He was a great teammate and a fun guy to be around. He was quick-witted. He and [Ron] Santo and myself, we used to go out and really enjoy life.’’
In the middle of the infield, Beckert and Kessinger were a formidable pair.
‘‘We had a great run,’’ Kessinger said. ‘‘But we talked many times about how disappointed we were that we didn’t bring a pennant to the great fans in Chicago.’’
In a statement, the Cubs called Beckert a ‘‘wonderful person who also happened to be an excellent ballplayer.’’
‘‘After his playing days concluded, Glenn was a familiar sight at Wrigley Field and numerous Cubs Conventions, and he always had a memory to share of his time on and off the field with his beloved teammates. We offer our deepest condolences to Glenn’s daughters, Tracy Seaman and Dana Starck; his longtime partner, Marybruce Standley; and his many, many friends,’’ the statement concluded.
Beckert was badly injured when he fell down a flight of 15 concrete stairs in 2001, leading to a long hospital stay and a painful rehabilitation process. He was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2006.
Declining health prevented him from attending Cubs Conventions and spring training the last few years. His old pals missed him.
‘‘I’m thinking about the good times,’’ Williams said. ‘‘That’s what you do when something like this happens, when a person you spent a lot of good times with passes away. We had a really good group of guys on the Cubs back then. Unfortunately, there aren’t a whole lot of us left.’’