When Texas Rangers third baseman Adrian Beltre was introduced as an American League reserve for the 2014 MLB All-Star Game at Target Field on Tuesday, the crowd offered a hearty hand—and yet, one bereft of the enthusiasm a future Hall of Famer usually garners.
As Beltre's 17th big league season commences, an under-the-radar career has taken shape: Despite playing in major media markets like Los Angeles, Boston and Dallas, the 35-year-old is rarely discussed as the Cooperstown shoo-in his numbers suggest.
In a sense, it's easy to understand why.
Beltre's career has offered overwhelming value during earlier and later seasons, but these were coupled by a void from 2005-2009—what should have been his prime seasons—with the Seattle Mariners.
Rarely are players above-average at such a young age, level off and then reappear as all-time greats. That, however, has been Beltre's story.
His offensive excellence, value and superior defensive numbers notwithstanding, many fans have overlooked one of the best careers a third baseman has ever owned.
Let's start with the raw numbers for the Rangers' veteran rock. While it's easy to make the case that Beltre will reach 500 career home runs, the idea isn't to look at Beltre's future in baseball. Instead, his present and past is what matters.
With 389 homers, 2,530 hits and an OPS+ of 115, Beltre is one of just two third baseman in history to post such offensive benchmarks across the board.
Of course, one could point out Beltre's major league beginnings at the young age of 19—he had 214 plate appearances in his 1998 rookie season—and his longevity as conducive to the amassing of stats.
But stats aren't the only way Hall of Fame credentials are tallied in modern baseball circles.
When it comes to total value, Beltre is up there with the best third basemen of all-time.
As the following chart shows, only six third basemen provided more during their respective careers. Among that group, five are in the Hall of Fame, and Jones will surely join them when eligible in 2018.
At first glance, the wins above replacement totals could be overwhelming. In Beltre's case, they carry even more weight outside of his position.
"Seventh most valuable third baseman ever" is an impressive label, but this might be even more eye-opening: Among all active players, Beltre's 74.3 WAR is the third highest, behind only Alex Rodriguez and Albert Pujols.
Think about that—fans and media members talk about "generational" stars and "once-in-a-lifetime" athletes all the time. With a higher WAR than even Derek Jeter, Carlos Beltran, Chase Utley or Miguel Cabrera, a case can be made that Beltre is one of them.
Despite these credentials, Beltre seemingly hasn't given much thought to comparisons or future stats among all-time greats. That was evident during a recent conversation with the media following Beltre's 2,500th career hit, per Calvin Watkins of ESPN Dallas:
It's humbling to (be) mentioned with a couple of guys. It's nice to get there. Maybe when I retire, I'll look back at what I've done, maybe my son can appreciate what I've done. The way I look at it, I try to come out here every day and win ball games. It's what I do. I can't deny the fact I've collected some things I should be proud of, and I'm looking forward to getting some more.
If Beltre does collect some more accolades, it would fall in line with his aforementioned roller-coaster career path: up, down, up.
By the time he was 24—in campaigns with the Dodgers from 1998 to 2003—Beltre had 99 home runs, putting him in more good company among history's third baseman. Only Eddie Matthews, Cabrera, Bob Horner, Troy Glaus, Eric Chavez and Ron Santo hit more during the same age range, per Baseball Reference.
In 2004, Beltre leapt to an even higher level, and the Dodgers star arrived as one of the biggest bats in the game.
That year, he crushed 48 home runs, posted a 163 OPS+ and—combined with his consistently great glove—had a 9.5 WAR, further buoying his free-agent profile.
When a five-year, $64 million deal led him to Seattle, MVP awards were expected. Instead, Safeco Field robbed Beltre of his power, resulting in a (barely) above-average OPS+ of 101 from 2005-2009.
Two Gold Gloves and 4.2 WAR per season couldn't rescue Beltre from unfounded and unfortunate fan labels ranging from "one-year wonder" to "overrated."
Since 2010, the script has flipped again. Beltre has gone back to dominating the game by racking up numbers, accolades and All-Star Game appearances—all four of his career selections for the Midsummer Classic have come in the last five seasons.
Not only that, but from 2009 through the ongoing 2014 campaign, Beltre has been worth 33.1 WAR, third most amongst third baseman at age 35.
Regardless of which metrics you prefer, Beltre has had an outstanding career deserving of praise. Considering all factors—stats, longevity, value and a unique path of success during both youth and late-career seasons—a special player has emerged.
This has all somehow run quietly beneath the surface over the last 17 years.
However, when Beltre stands behind a Cooperstown podium in some future July, millions of fans will be given a lasting reminder of a player who has forged a signature career.
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