Texas Rangers third baseman Adrian Beltre got his 3,000th career hit on Sunday, becoming just the 31st player in Major League Baseball to ever reach that milestone. Before the 2017 season is finished, Beltre could realistically pass Roberto Clemete (with whom he is tied at 3,000), Al Kaline (3,007), Wade Boggs (3,010), Cap Anson (3,011), Rafael Palmeiro (3,020), and Lou Brock (3,023) on the all time hits list. The 38 year old has had a great career and continues to be a productive player, though it took him a while for the general baseball viewing audience to fully appreciate how good he has been. Chief among those who overlooked Beltre are the Boston Red Sox, who had him for a year and let him walk in free agency.
Adrian Beltre signed with the Red Sox for the 2010 season, a one year, $9 million deal. That season was productive by any measure. He hit 28 home runs, led the Majors with 49 doubles, led the Red Sox with a .321 batting average, and was tied with David Ortiz for most RBI’s on the team with 102. That year, the Red Sox missed the postseason for the first time since 2006, and they let Beltre walk in free agency, but that was just the beginning of Boston’s relative struggles.
Beltre signed with the Texas Rangers and has been a fixture of their lineup ever since. He was a big part of the team that got back to the World Series in 2011, and came so close to winning it all before Tony La Russa performed some kind or blood magic (allegedly, and I’m the one doing the alleging) for the Cardinals to win Game 6 and finish the Rangers off in Game 7. That year, the Red Sox were eliminated on the last day of the season and the organizational over-correction that came from that collapse resulted in replacing Terry Francona with Bobby Valentine.
Beltre became a fan favorite and Internet sensation in Texas, between the nonsense about not liking his head touched (which only compelled teammates to touch his head more) and things like the exchange he had just last week with a humorless umpire over standing in the on deck circle that got him ejected. All the while, he was remarkably consistent in the field and in the batter’s box (probably, in part, because of his inability to pick up and drag the actual batter’s box).
Adrian Beltre was underappreciated for most of his career, playing on the Los Angeles Dodgers before they were the best team in baseball and outspending the New York Yankees, playing on the noncompetitive Seattle Mariners, and playing for the Red Sox in a rare Octoberless season in the 2000s. He was in his 30s and playing in Texas before he was on a consistently competitive team, and before he could get out of the shadow of the 48 home run 2004 season that got him a big contract with the Mariners.
I’ve been thinking about Adrian Beltre a lot this season, as third base has been a glaring area of need for my Red Sox in 2017. Although, it wasn’t exactly a stable position before this year, either. They moved Kevin Youkilis back from first base to make room for Adrian Gonzalez, then Will Middlebrooks showed some promise, until he didn’t. They moved Xander Bogaerts to third from shortstop, when they were desperately trying to make Stephen Drew happen, for reasons I never fully understood. They paid big money for Pablo Sandoval when they were better off with Brock Holt and Travis Shaw, and with Sandoval run out of town, they’re scraping by with Deven Marrero and Tzu-Wei Lin. And those are just the third basemen I could name off the top of my head.
Adrian Beltre has continued to have a great career that will now certainly end with a plaque in Cooperstown, and you can’t tell me the Red Sox were better off moving on from him seven years ago. They could have used him in 2011. They could still use him today.
Sometimes sequels are better than the original. Such was the case with Terminator II: Judgement Day, and The Dark Knight, and The Empire Strikes Back, and Toy Story 3, and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. This week, when Tim Lincecum of the San Francisco Giants threw his second career no-hitter, nearly a year after his first, it was better than the original as well. Lincecum took 147 pitches to no-hit the San Diego Padres last summer, but only needed 113 to no hit the same team this time around. Lincecum was a walk away from a perfect game. That’s about as good as it gets.
Timmy has had to reinvent himself in recent years. He used to throw harder and used to rack up a lot more strikeouts, but as his velocity has diminished, he’s found different ways to get people out. He’s done a great job of developing his off-speed pitches since he can’t just blow it by everyone anymore. Lincecum turned 30 last week, and has four National League All-Star selections, two Cy Young Awards and two World Series rings to go with his two no-hitters. He may not be the Freak he once was, but that’s a pretty good trophy case and a solid foundation for a Hall of Fame bid.
Last week, Clayton Kershaw of the Los Angeles Dodgers threw a no-hitter that was a Hanley Ramirez error away from being a perfect game, and since Josh Beckett threw a no-hitter last month, the last three no-hitters in the Majors have come from the forever rival Dodgers and Giants. Since Red Sox vs. Yankees has gone stale over the last decade, Giants vs. Dodgers has become the best rivalry in the sport, in my opinion. For Beckett and Lincecum, it is believed have their better pitching days behind them, while Kershaw is proving why he’s one of the highest paid players in the game. As it currently stands, the Giants have a two game lead over the Dodgers in the NL West, and between the Giants, Dodgers, and Oakland Athletics, some of the best baseball on the planet is being played in California. This October, we could see a rematch of the 1988 World Series where Kirk Gibson and Orel Hershiser and the Dodgers defeated Tony La Russa’s A’s, or we could see a rematch of the 1989 World Series where the A’s defeated the Giants, but the series between the Bay Area rivals was overshadowed by the earthquake in that region that put it on hold. Both potential sequels have the chance to be better than the original, but it’ll take a few months to see how it will shape out.
The votes are in for the 2014 Baseball Hall of Fame class. Congratulations to Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and Frank Thomas, who will join Tony La Russa, Bobby Cox, and Joe Torre (who were all unanimously voted in by the Veterans Committee) as his years inductees. That means Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Edgar Martinez, and Curt Schilling, all of whom I think belong in the Hall, will have to wait until next year. As will player I’m on the fence about like Mike Piazza, Jeff Bagwell, Mark McGwire, and Sammy Sosa. This the last year on he ballot for Jack Morris, who I wrote about last month, and he did not make the cut. His fate now lies with the Veterans Committee. As always, there are arguments for and against players, and plenty to criticize the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) for, so now it’s my turn.
With La Russa, Cox, and Torre, the Hall of Fame is now opening its doors to three of the greatest managers in history. The three have combined for seven World Series titles. La Russa managed the Chicago White Sox, Oakland Athletics, and St. Louis Cardinals, and won World Series titles in 1989 (Oakland), 2006, and 2011 (St. Louis). Torre, a .297 career hitter who was a nine time All-Star and the 1971 National League MVP, set a record for participating in more Major League games than any other player, coach, or manager without reaching the World Series. He finally got there in 1996, and won it. He won it again in 1998, 1999, and 2000, and reached the World Series two more times in 2001 and 2003, all with the New York Yankees. He managed the Atlanta Braves, New York Mets, St. Louis Cardinals, New York Yankees, and Los Angeles Dodgers.
It’s fitting that Cox, Maddux, and Glavine are going in together. They were the three most important people for he 90s Atlanta Braves teams that were playing every October. Cox managed the team to 14 consecutive division championships, and Maddux and Glavine were his two aces in the starting rotation. Also on those Braves teams were John Smoltz, Chipper Jones, and Fred McGriff, who should all get into Cooperstown in the future. That team should have won more than one World Series, but their accomplishments are still very impressive. Bobby Cox was their leader. He retired as the fourth winningest MLB manager in history, behind Connie Mack, John McGraw, and Tony La Russa, and ahead of Joe Torre. He also broke John McGraw’s longstanding record for most ejections as a manager, despite not having an explosive reputation like McGraw did.
Greg Maddux, nicknamed “The Professor,” had some ridiculous career statistics that put him on the short list of the “greatest pitcher of all time” discussion. He compiled 355 career wins in a career that started with the Chicago Cubs in 1986 to and ended with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2008, and included an eleven year run with the Atlanta Braves in the prime of his career. Warren Spahn is the only pitcher in the Live Ball Era (anytime after 1920) with more wins than Maddux. He struck out 3,371 batters, and only walked 999 (and even then, 177 of those were intentional). He was an eight time All Star, a four time National League Cy Young Award winner, led the National League in wins three times, led the National League in earned run average (ERA) four times, and won an unprecedented 18 Gold Golve Awards. Inducting Maddux on the first ballot was obviously the right thing to do.
Tom Glavine, a mild mannered lefty from Billerica, Massachusetts, who was once also a hockey prospect, played his first 16 Major League seasons with the Atlanta Braves, before signing with the New York Mets in 2003. In 2008, he returned to the Braves to finish his career. Glavine was the MVP of the 1995 World Series, the Braves only World Series title since moving to Atlanta from Milwaukee to date (I have a theory that the Braves cannot win the World Series again until they move again. They have won the World Series three times: once in Boston, once in Milwaukee, and once in Atlanta. I’m still waiting to be proven wrong.). He compiled 305 career wins in his 22 years in the majors. Voting Glavine in on the first ballot was another easy decision for the BBWAA.
Frank Thomas was playing for the Chicago White Sox in the first Major League game I ever went to at Fenway Park in 1998. The Big Hurt was one of the most feared hitters in baseball for the duration of his career. That last sentence does not do him justice. Frank Thomas was an absolute force to be reckoned with at the plate. Thomas originally went to Auburn University on a football scholarship, but decided to pursue a career in baseball instead. Auburn was also Bo Jackson’s alma mater, which made it easy to draw comparisons to the two dual-sport stars. In the Major Leagues, Thomas was a .301 career hitter with 521 career home runs. He’s best known for his 16 seasons with the White Sox where he was the face of the franchise, a two time American League MVP, and the American League Batting Champion in 1997. In his last season with the White Sox, they won their first World Series since 1917. Thomas was not actually on the White Sox’ playoff roster in 2005 because of an injury, but he did get to throw out the ceremonial first pitch in their first playoff game against the Red Sox. After Chicago, he had a stint with the Toronto Blue Jays, and two stints with the Oakland Athletics. After he retired, the White Sox retired his number 35 and put up a statue of him at U.S. Cellular Field. Only five hitters in history have had both more career home runs and a higher career batting average than The Big Hurt: Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, Jimmie Foxx, Willie Mays, and Manny Ramirez (Ted Williams had a higher batting average and the same number of home runs as Thomas). You might have heard of them. 83.71% of the BBWAA rightfully voted for Frank Thomas in his first year of eligibility.
One thing that irks me about the Hall of Fame voting is the emphasis on how many ballots it takes to get in. I understand that not all Hall of Fame careers are created equal, but right now it seems that the BBWAA is trying to spite the players who played in the Steroid Era. Roger Clemens is one of the greatest pitchers of all time and should be in Cooperstown already, but they want to rewrite his legacy by taking longer to get him into the Hall. The same is true of Barry Bonds. The Baseball Writer feel duped by the Era because they were the ones reporting on baseball and they didn’t do their jobs well enough. Cheating has been part of baseball as long as baseball has been played. Whether it’s pitchers doctoring the ball or putting pine tar on the bat, there have been numerous Hall of Famers who crossed the line for an edge. Major League Baseball took a long time to define the line with steroids because they needed home run milestones and other previously insurmountable records to be broken just to get people interested in the game again, after the players and owners nearly killed it with the 1994 strike. Now the writers who praised Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds without realizing they were juicing are out to punish them for being the best players in an era where everyone was dirty.
What is most annoying about this practice is that the BBWAA thinks they can pick and choose who did and who did not use performance enhancing drugs after they did such a good job of reporting that as it was going on in the 90s and early 2000s. Bonds and Clemens are dirty because they were caught, but Thomas, Maddux, and Glavine are clean? I don’t care if those guys used steroids or not, but I want to see a Hall of Fame where the best players from every era are admitted. Who are they to pick and choose who was dirty and who was clean when they turned a blind eye to the issue while records were being broken. Barry Bonds should be in already. As should Roger Clemens. As should Curt Schilling. The Hall of Fame and the BBWAA lose a little more integrity every year they are left out.