A SOX COLLECTION IN CARDS: RICH GARCES, EL GUAPO
Middle relievers are not cut out to be cult figures, but Rich Garces broke that mold. The nickname had a lot to do with it: El Guapo (“The Handsome One), given him in Pawtucket by teammate Mike Maddux after a viewing of “The Three Amigos,” the 1986 movie comedy starring Steve Martin, Chevy Chase and Martin Short. The villain, played by Mexican actor Alfonso Arau, was El Guapo, though his character was anything but. Maddux decided to adorn Garces with the nickname, and soon Fenway would have a new favorite.
Garces had an Everyman appeal, in part because of his considerable bulk, which left him built along the lines of an arepa, the corn flour tortilla so popular in his native Venezuela. His listed weight in the Sox media guide of 215 pounds was a running joke, one Sox staffer cracking that was his “birth weight.”
“He’s one of those guys,’’ pitching coach Joe Kerrigan said, “who puts on weight just by looking at food.”
There were times the Sox were not amused. In 1997, GM Dan Duquette, annoyed at his out-of-shape reliever, placed him on the disabled list with what looked suspiciously like a phantom groin injury.
But no one could stay mad for long at Garces, who had an easy-going disposition and more importantly, stuff good enough to get big-league hitters out. Featuring a split-fingered fastball, the right-hander flourished in 1999, a season in which he won five games out of the pen while posting a 1.55 ERA, limiting left-handed hitters to a .197 average while righties batted just .150 against him. In 40 2/3 innings, he gave up just one home run.
His career highlight came in the 1999 ALCS against the Yankees, when manager Jimy Williams brought him into Game 4 in the eighth inning with the bases loaded and one out, and Scott Brosius and Chad Curtis due to hit. Brosius popped out and Curtis whiffed, and Garces left the mound to the roars of the Fenway Park crowd. Even though the Yankees tacked on six runs in the ninth, that didn’t dim the memory of the moment for Garces.
“Best game I ever had in my life,’’ he said. “It was a dream come true, a game I’ll never forget.’’
Garces was with the Sox from 1996 until 2002, compiling a 23–8 record and 3.78 ERA in 261 appearances. But arm trouble caught up with him, and the Sox let him go at the age of 31. To the delight of his fans, he resurfaced a few years later with the independent Nashua Pride.
He talked to me in spring training of 2000 about his weight.
“Some people wonder, ‘This guy is big, he’s fat, can he do the job?’’ he said. “But I did the job. My father and my mother are big, three times bigger than me. My brothers are all big. It’s not easy for me. But as long as I’m here and working out every day, it’s OK, because I’m going to be big, anyway.’’
I’ll always have a soft spot for El Guapo.