By Glen Sparks
Tough guy Adrian Beltre most likely is headed to the Baseball Hall of Fame someday.
He certainly possesses the requisite numbers for enshrinement: 413 home runs and 1,467 RBI going into the 2016 season. The 36-year-old has a .285 career batting average, a .477 slugging percentage and a .814 OPS. His nifty defense at third base has translated into four Gold Gloves (That number should probably be higher.) and numerous ESPN highlights. Beltre’s lifetime WAR (Baseball-reference.com) stands at 83.8.
Yes, the chances seem good that Beltre will join George Brett, Wade Boggs, Mike Schmidt and other great third baseman as Cooperstown immortals.
The more interesting question might be this: Who is going to write the Adrian Beltre story? Y’know, the one that packs in all the drama, all the twists and turns, and all the humor of Beltre’s incredible career? This is a best-seller in the making.
Beltre broke in with the Los Angeles Dodgers as a precocious teenager in 1998, a 19-year-old out of the Dominican Republic, filled with raw talent and heart. Scouts loved him.
He actually signed with the Dodgers in 1994 for a $23,000 bonus. Beltre weighed 130 pounds, but he swung big and threw bullets from third base. The trouble was, he was only 15 year old and underage for signing. Baseball found this out later and suspended the Dodgers’ Dominican operations.
He just about died when he was 21. Doctors botched his surgery for a ruptured appendix. That put him on a diet of watery soup and orange juice for two months. He still reported to spring training in Vero Beach, Fla. Sick and weak, he took ground balls and batting practice with a colostomy bag underneath his uniform.
Beltre mashed a major-league leading 48 home runs for the Dodgers in 2004. The 25-year-old drove in 121 runs and hit .334 with 200 hits and 104 runs scored. The writers voted him runner-up for National League MVP. Then, he left L.A. as a free agent, and the Dodgers didn’t even know it.
The Seattle Mariners signed him to a five-year, $64 million contract. They didn’t give the Dodgers a chance to one-up that deal even though Beltre had married an L.A. girl and had just bought a new house in the area.
He did OK, not great, in Seattle. He won a couple of Gold Gloves but topped out at 26 homers. He did, though, suffer another one of his famous injuries. See, Beltre doesn’t wear a cup for protection of his, uh, sensitive parts.
In 2009, he took a line drive that ruptured a testicle. That did require a trip to the disabled list. When Beltre returned to action in Seattle, he walked up to bat with “The Nutcracker Suite” playing in the ballpark. And, no, he still doesn’t wear a cup, he says.
Beltre left Seattle and signed a one-year deal with the Red Sox in 2010. Boston paid him $9 million to play great defense, pop 28 homers, drive in 102 runs and hit .321 over 154 games.
Then, he left for the Texas Rangers. Beltre signed a five-year deal, $80 million (with a vesting option for 2016). He hit 32 homers in his first year with Texas, 36 the next and 30 in 2013.
The last two years, he has slugged just 19 (2014) and 18 (2015) homers. Thanks in part to his continued great defense, he has posted WARs of 7.0 and 5.8, respectively.
An article about Beltre in the March 28, 2016, issue of Sports Illustrated goes over some of the player’s other Hall of Fame qualifications. It especially covers his defensive prowess. (He ranks fifth in baseball history, for instance, in fielding runs saved.) His trademark play is his barehanded pick-up of grounders down the line, flinging the ball to first base from impossible angles.
Stephanie Apstein’s article also goes in-depth on Beltre the leader. Some teammates affectionately call him “Grandpa.” He is famous, of course, for going ballistic—in a fun way—if anyone dares to touch his head. So, of course, teammates—the daring ones, at least—like nothing more than to flip off Beltre’s cap or helmet and pat his noggin. All for some laughs.
More importantly, Apstein reports, Beltre acts as the leader in the Rangers’ clubhouse. He buys birthday cakes for everyone, offers a kick in the butt if needed and just the right encouraging word. He is a future Hall of Famer and a great story.