By Richard Cuicchi | January 15, 2017 at 10:22 PM EST | No Comments
As I read more about the pros and cons of the current candidates for the upcoming 2017 class of the Baseball Hall of Fame, I got to thinking about some of the Hall’s future aspirants who will be eligible a few years down the road. One name that popped up was current Texas Rangers third baseman Adrian Beltre. He doesn’t generally come to the top of mind when thinking about the game’s stellar third basemen, but a careful study of his career shows he has been quietly putting up strong numbers warranting serious consideration for his future induction to the hallowed hall in Cooperstown.
Beltre, who turns 38 years of age in April, is entering his twentieth season as a major leaguer. Yes, doing the quick math, it means he got an early start on his career at age 19 in 1998. Now, when most veteran ballplayers are on the down-side of their careers at his age, Beltre keeps hacking away, compiling career numbers that put him among the top players in history in several categories.
Beltre was a relatively late-bloomer as a star player, and consequently he didn’t garner as much attention during the first half of his career. Also, as a native of Dominican Republic, he didn’t get many opportunities to become a high-profile player with the national media. Consequently, he’s primarily been playing in the shadows of other big-name teammates and opponents.
Beltre is only 58 hits from reaching the sure-fire Hall of Fame standard of 3,000 career hits. He’s 55 home runs away from 500 career home runs. The only players in history to have achieved both of these milestones can be counted on one hand: Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Eddie Murray, Alex Rodriguez, and Rafael Palmeiro. Some people might be thinking, “I don’t remember Beltre putting up those kinds of numbers.” Well, he just quietly went about his business.
In more contemporary measures, his Wins Above Replacement (WAR) is 90.2, which is second only to Albert Pujols among active players and currently ranks him 65th on the all-time list. Defensively, he still dazzles as a third baseman, capturing his fifth Gold Glove Award last year.
His best year during his first twelve seasons occurred when he put up an MVP-type season in 2004 with the Los Angeles Dodgers. He slammed a league-leading 48 home runs and drove in 128 runs, while posting a .334 batting average. He finished as a runner-up to Barry Bonds in the MVP Award voting.
The Texas Rangers had won their first AL pennant in 2010, but lost to the San Francisco Giants in five games. They signed 32-year-old Beltre to a five-year contract before the 2011 season, when he helped put them back into the 2012 Series in which they came within one pitch of winning the championship. Since joining the Rangers, he has been the cornerstone of the team’s offense and has been in the Top 7 of the American League MVP voting four times. In a time when major league general managers are shying away from long-term contracts with players in their 30s, Beltre is a prime example of one that has actually paid off for the team.
About the only thing Beltre is missing in his career is a World Series ring.
On a Rangers roster whose average age is almost ten years younger than his, Beltre doesn’t show any signs of slowing down. Last year he led a power-laden team with 32 home runs and 104 RBI. He still ranks among the top third basemen, trailing only a few young studs like Kris Bryant, Nolan Arenado, Manny Machado and Josh Donaldson. The World Series ring is still not out of the question, since the Rangers are expected to be among the best teams again.
If Beltre were to play until age 40, which is entirely possible, he would become eligible for the Hall of Fame ballot in 2024. Even without specifically knowing who else would be first-time eligible players that year, he will almost surely be at the top of the list for induction. Then he won’t be in anyone’s shadow any more.