Carlos Beltran just retired the way that probably every MLB player dreams it up. After 20 seasons that were mostly all healthy and productive, Beltran walked away on top after finally grabbing that elusive ring with the Astros. Almost the second after Beltran definitely published the announcement himself on The Players’ Tribune, the pro-Hall of Fame thinkpieces were everywhere and they might as well have included a line that suggested reading with Jergens and Kleenex. This is hardly surprising, given that Beltran is one of the more respected players ever and the Twitter climate where every good athlete gets his/her chance to be the G.O.A.T. But allow me to break up this circle-jerk by blasting whatever music makes baseball writers go soft (probably any rap), because the doors of Cooperstown aren’t just opened to all nice and sometimes great players.
The Baseball Hall of Fame is the hardest one for players to get into and it isn’t particularly close. People have been professionally playing this game for like 150 years and only 220 former MLB players are in Cooperstown. That is CRAZY exclusive when you stop to think about. It’s well known throughout the baseball world that the Hall wants voters to loosen up a bit to better represent the modern era of the game, especially with so many statistical leaders probably shunned for life because of steroids (I’ll tackle that beast of a debate another time). But count me out for this cause. I love how fucking hard it is to get in. It’s reserved for the best of the best (and Bud Selig). Give me the Baseball Hall any day of the week over the Basketball Hall, where Tracy McGrady was elected on the first ballot and Mitch Richmond (!!!) got in. I’m still unsure if I’m on board with Tim Raines getting in on his tenth and final year on the ballot, and that’s a dude who won a batting title and is fifth all time in steals. Even though I’m a total dickhead when determining who would get my hypothetical Hall of Fame vote, my qualifications are actually pretty simple: the player had to have been among the elite of the elite during any point in his career, and he had to have a solid streak of sustained greatness. I’m not sure Carlos Beltran meets either of those requirements.
Before I get overly negative here, it needs to be acknowledged that Beltran’s career totals are wildly impressive. Among the 60 players with more than Beltran’s 2725 hits, only 17 of them hit more than his 435 homers. Of those 17, only FOUR of them surpassed Beltran’s 312 steals (Barry Bonds, Willie Mays, A-Rod, and Andre Dawson). PEDs aside, those are three of the best players ever and Dawson is a Hall of Famer in his own right. In summation, Beltran was really good at being the total package, better at it than a ton of guys already in the Hall.
Still, the closest to the top of any statistical leaderboard you’ll find Beltran is in games played. He didn’t have a particular tool that he showed off at a legendary level. He never had 200 hits in a season. He topped 40 homers in a season just once with 41 in 2006. He batted .300 or better in only three seasons, topping out at .307 in 2003. He never had a season with an OBP of even .390. He was really good defensively in the first half of his career, but in his second half he should have been a full-time DH. I don’t hold falling off a defensive cliff once he got older against him, but even at his peak he wasn’t in that top tier of contemporary centerfielders like Jim Edmonds or Torii Hunter or Andruw Jones. And while he had a strong arm, there were never “oh shit don’t run on Beltran” moments for baserunners like there were for soon-to-be Hall of Famer Vlad Guerrero.
And when we get into the hardware, Beltran’s argument gets worse. WAY worse. 9 All-Star appearances and 3 Gold Gloves looks really nice, but given today’s propensity for mindless fan voting and defensive stupidity, it’s like having 9 Schrute bucks and 3 Stanley nickels. Winning Rookie of the Year in 1999 is a legit bullet point on the resume and for some reason Hall voters love that shit. But this is the same award that was also won by Kaz Sasaki, Eric Hinske, Angel Berroa, and Bobby Crosby in the five years following Beltran’s win. While the MVP and Cy Young voting processes are definitely imperfect (you don’t need to remind me that Rick Porcello won a Cy Young), they’re still probably the best barometer for measuring if a player was elite and how he stacked up against the best players of his time. Beltran had two Top 10 MVP finishes, coming in fourth in 2006 and ninth in 2003. Compared to the vast majority of players in the Hall, that is…not good. At all. He never received a first place MVP vote. Francisco Lindor, who just turned 24 a few days ago, has already put together pretty much the exact same MVP campaigns. Being the key player on a championship team can rightfully provide a huge boost to candidates with borderline statistical cases, like it did for Barry Larkin (for what it’s worth, Larkin also won the 1995 NL MVP). And while Beltran finally got his ring, let’s be real, he was a glorified hitting instructor on these Astros.
To be fair, Beltran probably would’ve finished in the Top 5 of the MVP voting in 2004 had he played the entire year in one league. He split the season between the Royals and Astros, a season where he finished just two homers shy of becoming the fifth member of the super exclusive 40-40 club. 2004 is the highlight of Beltran’s career, specifically his postseason performance that year with the Astros. He was unconscious at the plate for pretty much all 12 playoff games (first 3:30 of the video). His 8 moonshots are tied for the most ever in a single postseason, and unlike the two guys he’s tied with who each played in a seven-game World Series (Bonds and Nelson Cruz), Beltran’s Astros that year were knocked out in the NLCS. While it’s definitely good to share a record and have a specific moment in time for voters to reference, we’re talking about a postseason run where his team didn’t even reach the World Series as the pinnacle of his career. This is probably dumb, but I deeply consider what team’s logo a player could justifiably wear on the cap of his Hall of Fame plaque. In the case of, say, Mike Piazza, you can make worthy arguments for both the Dodgers and the Mets. But for Beltran, can you make any case whatsoever? He peaked as an Astro and won a World Series there, but he only played in Houston for 1.5 years. He was his most consistent as a Royal, but those teams were AWFUL and never reached the postseason. He played more games for the Mets than any other team and accumulated his most WAR there, but his most enduring memory in New York is undoubtedly striking out looking with the bases loaded in the 9th inning of Game 7 of the 2006 NLCS. The correct answer is Beltran would probably go in with a blank cap, but that’s lame as shit and also speaks volumes to his legacy on each team.
I want to compare Beltran’s case with that of another relevant Hall of Fame candidate, Roy Halladay. The uncomfortable and oft-unmentioned reality behind Halladay’s case is that he was probably an on-the-fence candidate too before his plane crash, but now he is receiving the shoo-in treatment. Still, even had Halladay not suddenly and tragically passed away, he absolutely would have had my hypothetical vote. The major limitation in Halladay’s argument is that his tenure as a full-time starting pitcher essentially lasted only 11 years from 2002-2012, so roughly half the length of Beltran’s career. Still, he was truly one of the elite starters during that entire time frame, including multiple stints as the best starter in baseball. He has the single-season numbers and the hardware to back that claim up. Halladay lead his league in wins twice, innings pitched four times, strikeout/walk ratio five times, and complete games seven times. And for each of the seven seasons where Halladay made 30+ starts between 2003 and 2011, he finished in the Top 5 in Cy Young voting in EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THEM. Oh, and he happened to win the award in 2003 and 2010, throw a perfect game, and become the second pitcher ever to throw a postseason no-hitter. His career totals might not stack up to most starters in the Hall, but Halladay was dominant for a long time. If Beltran ever was, then it definitely wasn’t for long.
Even though this blog has been whatever the opposite of a puff piece is called, I’m pretty confident that Beltran will eventually get into the Hall of Fame. Like I mentioned earlier, baseball writers love him and they’re going to give a boost to anyone from the past 20 years who was never mentioned in the same sentence as steroids. (Especially with every 60-year-old’s favorite childhood player Joe Morgan just sending Hall voters an old-man-yells-at-the-sky note to reaffirm that PED suspects should be kept out.) Another argument from writers that you should prepare for to back Beltran’s candidacy is “X outfielder has a lower career WAR than Beltran and he is already inducted.” I fucking HATE this logic. So just because there’s some guy with unspectacular numbers who played before both World Wars and the advent of minority players enshrined in Cooperstown, we should double down and let in another undeserving guy who was slightly better?
And despite how you probably think I feel about Beltran at this point, I’d be psyched for him if he gets in. I’ll always have a subjectively high opinion of him for following up his bad first two years with the Yankees with an out-of-nowhere and somewhat deserving All Star season at 39 years old. For all of the unbridled rage and frustration I felt when I saw Brian McCann celebrating the Astros’ title, I felt the polar opposite for Beltran. How could you not be filled with happiness for this guy at this moment?
But before the baseball world prematurely solidifies its lasting take on Beltran, may I recommend that image as Beltran’s legacy instead? Because Hall of Fame plaques are made of bronze, and that shit lasts a LONG time.
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