There is no greater honor for a baseball player than to be asked to spend a weekend in upstate New York five or more years after retirement. If invited, the player is being enshrined in baseball’s Hall of Fame, located in Cooperstown – a sleepy hamlet in the middle of nowhere with no appeal – except for the museum where baseball’s history, and greatest, are honored. While some future Hall of Famers are obvious – Albert Pujols might as well make his reservations at the Cooper Inn for five years hence on the day he announces his retirement – others will wait by the phone anxiously as the years tick by. And while young superstars like Mike Trout seem like sure things now, he still needs five more seasons in the majors before he is even eligible. In this series, Dave McCullough looks at the Hall of Fame resumes of active, eligible players such as Carlos Beltran, and whether they should consider booking a room at the Cooper Inn.
On September 14, 1998 the Kansas City Royals debuted 21-year-old Carlos Beltran against the Oakland A’s, giving their then-long suffering fans a reason to believe that better days were on the horizon. Beltran won the Rookie of the Year award in 1999, popping 22 homers – as the team won 12 fewer games. That was hardly the fault of Beltran, who emerged as the best thing in Kansas City when there weren’t many other MLB quality players on their barren rosters. He toiled for the Royals through 2004, getting the sort of MVP consideration the very best player on a very bad team garners via sympathy.
In days gone by, a great player could be trapped on a bad team – Ernie Banks never in a playoff game in his career with the Cubs – but Beltran was not fated for that. He was traded to the Houston Astros at the deadline in 2004 and helped the club make the playoffs. However, the Astros fell short of a World Series appearance. He then signed a very large free agent contract with the New York Mets, where he trudged through another seven seasons before being traded to the San Francisco Giants shortly before the 2011 trade deadline. Following his brief stint in San Fran, Beltran signed another free agent contract, this time with the St. Louis Cardinals, with whom he lost a World Series before a trade to the New York Yankees. Every step has seen Beltran “chasing a ring” – most painfully in his stop with the Giants, which happened right between their two World Series wins – and at every step, Beltran has failed to reach the Promised Land.
Regardless of whether Beltran finally appears in the Series or is lucky enough to win it all with Texas this season, he has amassed a Hall of Fame resume in his peripatetic career. Despite playing for seven clubs, Beltran has sought out good situations since leaving the hapless Royals, though both New York adventures had to be disappointments. And everywhere he has gone, he has hit. A career .281/.354/.492 hitter, Beltran has used his exceptional speed and baseball instincts to compliment his power, racking up 419 homers and 532 doubles so far in 19 big league seasons. In addition to that Rookie of the Year award, Beltran garnered MVP votes in seven different seasons – and in both leagues.
The switch-hitting center fielder was never awarded a Gold Glove but he was considered capable, at least before moving to right field as he has aged. Beltran wasn’t one to leap and sprawl for spectacular catches – he was far more likely to glide into space and make the play look easy. His athletic gifts, and speed, made him a good defender but his capabilities also included top-notch instincts and positioning.
Beltran moved from the Yankees to the Rangers at the 2016 deadline, giving him one more clear shot at the playoffs and the postseason glory he’s been chasing for nearly two decades. Arriving one year too late has been a staple of his career but that is hardly his fault. Beltran sought situations where he could play winning baseball. Since leaving Kansas City back when they were bad, Beltran has signed on with a top club with good postseason odds. But for whatever reason – and it hasn’t been his performance – his teams haven’t reached the Promised Land. Beltran might have been an MVP candidate a few times with a losing team early in his career, and he’s consistently put up good seasons for two decades – his career all but proving the difficulty one player has making an impact for a winning team.
Carlos Beltran is not yet a Hall of Famer – and a World Series title won’t change that. He needs to play for 2+ more seasons to possibly reach 3,000 hits (currently 2,603) and has no chance at 500 homers (currently 419). His batting line is very good, but not eye-popping. He has 311 career stolen bases, making his combination of power and speed to be one of the more unique, but he is not at the top of those leaderboards. Beltran was an excellent player for a very long time. However, while he was one of the best players of his generation, he was never the best player of his generation.
VERDICT: Beltran is Hall of Very Good worthy. But the lack of career milestones and accomplishments limit his resume. While he was terrific to watch, he was never the best player in the game – except maybe in fantasy baseball leagues.