baseball

The case for Carlos Beltran as a Baseball Hall of Famer

Here is a question I believe every Hall of Fame voter should be asking about Carlos Beltran:

Did you think he was a Hall of Famer going into the 2017 season?

Because while Beltran devastated his reputation by what he did that year, he did not improve his Cooperstown case. In his age-40 campaign, Beltran hit just .231 with an OPS 19 percent below league average, factoring in ballpark and league.

Before that season began, Beltran had 421 homers and 312 steals (he had zero in 2017), and his 86.4 percent success rate on steals remains the best for the 366 players who have accumulated at least 200 thefts. He had an important double off Boston’s Craig Kimbrel in Division Series Game 4 — on the road — in 2017, but otherwise had a mostly negative impact for the Astros in a playoff in which he was 3-for-20 (.150) with one RBI.

So it was well before the season of illegal sign stealing in which Beltran established himself among the best postseason performers in history. Even including 2017, he finished with a 1,021 OPS (sixth-best for the 283 players with at least 125 postseason plate appearances). Beltran had 16 homers in 65 playoff games and was 11-for-11 in steals, walking (37) more often than he struck out (33).

And he passed the eye test. Beltran was a dynamic player. A switch-hitter who excelled on both sides of the ball and on the bases. I have long felt that a superb class of center fielders have been hurt in Hall voting by playing in the shadow of a no-doubt candidate in Ken Griffey Jr. If I were ranking the best of that group after Griffey, I would go: 1. Beltran. 2. Jim Edmonds. 3. Andrew Jones. 4. Bernie Williams. 5. Kenny Lofton. 6. Johnny Damon. 7. Torii Hunter. 8. Steve Finley. 9. Ellis Burks. 10. Mike Cameron.


Carlos Beltran during his tenure with the Mets
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Carlos Beltran in the outfield during his tenure with the Royals
Carlos Beltran in the outfield during his tenure with the Royals
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Beltran is on the Hall of Fame ballot for the first time, and when the announcement comes Tuesday he almost certainly will fall short of the 75 percent of votes necessary for election. But I voted for him. Because I thought he was a Hall of Famer going into his now insignificant 2017 season, and nothing that happened that year helped his statistical candidacy.

I am reminded of Mike Mussina returning after the 2008 season with 270 wins. I asked him why not keep going to try to get to 300 and all but guarantee Hall of Fame inclusion. Mussina responded that he had already assembled his Hall of Fame candidacy. That all of his best years were behind him. That if you thought he was a Hall of Famer, it was for what he had done already, not what he might do in piecemeal to chase a milestone.

I feel that explains my vote for Beltran too. He had built — in my view — a Hall of Fame resume before 2017 as a five-tool center fielder with high achievement and as one of the best postseason performers ever — a big deal in my process because the actual idea in baseball is to win. , not just to generate statistics. So excelling in huge moments should matter greatly. It was what nudged Curt Schilling to no-brainer Hall of Famer territory for me and why I voted for the righty 10 out of 10 times before he came off the ballot just as Beltran came on.


Carlos Beltran runs the bases with the Astros
Carlos Beltran runs the bases with the Astros
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For those withheld a Beltran vote as a punishment, I would say that Beltran has already been punished. He is the lone Astros player named in MLB’s report on the scandal. Yes, he was an initiator and proponent of the garbage can-banging scheme, but even at 40, he still was just a player. Alex Cora was the bench coach. AJ Hinch was the manager. They needed to be the adults in the room who stopped this. Instead, Cora was a co-conspirator of the program. Hinch, even while saying he disapproved of the sign stealing, did not act forcefully enough to halt it.

Both were suspended for a year, both were back managing a year later. Beltran was fired as Mets manager before ever serving even a day in spring training.


Carlos Beltran while being introduced as Mets manager
Carlos Beltran while being introduced as Mets manager
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For anyone, who wants to brandish the morality clause, fine. We are looking at the totality of a baseball life. In 2011, Beltran opened the Carlos Beltran Baseball Academy in his native Puerto Rico to try to address academics and athletics — 27 players who attended the academy have reached pro ball so far, including two major leaguers. Also, no player was more vocal in demanding that players who did not speak English as a first language were provided clubhouse translators so — among other reasons — they would not avoid interactions with teammates or reporters for fear of being misunderstood or saying the wrong thing. The implementation of this as policy has been a 100 percent quality addition for Major League Baseball.

When I look at the ballot annually, I try to think of each baseball life in full and in balance. When I did that for Beltran, I put a checkmark next to his name.

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