The Sunday Read: Adrian Beltre and the seven others on my Hall of Fame ballot
Of all the things Adrian Beltre did at an elite level in his brilliant career, one that doesn’t get nearly enough attention was how well he caught popups.
That sounds silly, considering how frequently he made his patented charging play from third base with a sidearm throw as he fell to the ground. Or the way he played the final four months of the 2015 season without full use of his right thumb, tough as nails.
Stick with me here.
One February day at spring training, not long before his annual calf or grain strain, Beltre was taking infield popups from a machine that was spitting them high into the high sky on Nolan Ryan Field at the Surprise Recreation Campus.
Catching a flyball in Arizona is tough. What Beltre was trying to do was brutal. He caught them all, including a few on his knees that he didn’t pick up until they were about to hit him in the head or land on the dirt.
The best play I saw him make came in his first season with the Rangers, on June, 17, 2011, at Turner Field in Atlanta. Sixth inning. Colby Lewis pitching. Eric Hinske pinch-hitting.
The play-by-play shows that Hinske was retired on a pop fly to third base in foul territory. What actually happened was that Hinske hit a ball that wasn’t a popup or a flyball. Maybe a deep flare, if that’s a thing. Beltre turned and sprinted down the left-field line and made an over-the-shoulder catch.
No normal player would have had a prayer.
This isn’t the first time I’ve written about the play, and I have continued to look for a video clip of it. If anyone can find one, send it my way.
I’d like to have it before Beltre is inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame this summer.
He’s on the ballot for the first time, and eligible voters from the Baseball Writers Association of America have him on his way to Cooperstown. I’m fortunate enough to be one of them, and he is one of eight names I checked on my 2024 Hall of Fame ballot.
Voting for the class or 2024 will be revealed Jan. 23. The induction ceremony in upstate New York is scheduled for July 21.
Here’s how I voted:
Adrian Beltre: In addition to his defense, which included five Gold Gloves, Beltre collected 3,166 hits, 477 home runs and 636 doubles. He played 2,933 games, amassed 12,130 at-bats and seemed to enjoy every one of them. His is the most complete resume of anyone on this year’s ballot.
Todd Helton: The first baseman has the markings of a Hall of Famer, with a .316 career average, a .414 career on-base percentage and a .953 career OPS. The altitude at Coors Field aided in those numbers, but that’s not his fault. He wasn’t the best first baseman in the game, not with Albert Pujols intertwining with his career, but Helton passes the test as a great at his position and a steady force, especially early, in his career.
Andruw Jones: His run with Atlanta, both at the plate and in the field, is good enough for election to the Hall of Fame. His post-Atlanta days, including 2009 with the Rangers, were very pedestrian. The good outweighs the bad, and his defense in center field rates among the best in MLB history. He belongs in Cooperstown.
Joe Mauer: Being a catcher isn’t easy. Being a top-tier catcher defensively and one of the game’s best hitters is really difficult. Mauer was an elite player until concussions relegated him to first base. He was still a good hitter and still a pain in opponents’ rears after the switch. He could join Beltre as a first-ballot Hall of Famer.
Francisco Rodriguez: The single-season record-holder for saves was very good to excellent for 15 of his 17 MLB seasons. He saved at least 35 games in a season with four different teams and finished with 437 saves in his career. That’s fourth all time. The top three are in the Hall.
Jimmy Rollins: A close call last year and a close call again, but he was one of the best shortstops of his generation and did a lot of things exceptionally well. He could resemble an old-school shortstop who flashed his glove (four Gold Gloves) and swiped bases (470), but he also could be a new-school shortstop who produced with pop at the plate (30-40 season in 2007 as the National League MVP).
Gary Sheffield: It bears repeating my stance on the players linked to steroids: If they didn’t fail a test or if baseball and the Hall of Fame profited off players’ allegedly juiced-up moments, they’re good. If they got popped after testing was implemented, they’re out. Sheffield, who said he unknowingly took a performance-enhancing drug one offseason while working out with Barry Bonds, never failed a test and has Hall-worthy numbers. This is his final year on the ballot.
Billy Wagner: His numbers rival the few closers who are in the Hall of Fame or are better in some instances, including Rodriguez. Rangers fans would have given their right arm for a Wagner-esque closer last season. Same for the Diamondbacks, especially in Game 1 of the World Series. With the closer such an integral part of the game, it’s time more of them are recognized in the Hall.
Jeff Wilson, firstname.lastname@example.org