Adrian Beltre has been many things to fans over the course of his amazing, 21 year career. Dodgers fans old enough to run for Congress got to see Beltre young and full of promise, including a 2004 season might be the greatest of all time by a third baseman. Since that year, only Mike Trout‘s 2012 and 2013, and Mookie Betts’s 2018 have topped the 9.7 WAR Beltre put up. Mariners fans had to settle for five years of Gold Glove-quality play at third base with a closer to an average bat, before a shoulder injury in 2009 forced him to take a one-year deal with the Red Sox. Boston fans watched one great year before Beltre moved to Texas and cemented his status as a surefire Hall of Famer.
On Tuesday, Beltre announced he is retiring.
— #ThankYouAB (@Rangers) November 20, 2018
He wasn’t necessarily thought of as such at the time, but in terms of offense and defense, Beltre was a modern-day Brooks Robinson. The great Orioles third baseman enjoyed an impeccable defensive reputation and aged well, averaging 4.4 WAR per season from his age-32 through age-37 seasons. And Beltre was up to the challenge, averaging 5.4 WAR during those same seasons. As offensive numbers around the league dropped, Beltre stayed the same. His .275/.328/.462 batting line when playing in the more cavernous ballparks in Los Angeles and Seattle turned into .304/.357/.509 when transplanted to the more hitter-friendly climes of Arlington. As strikeouts rose dramatically, Beltre struck out about once every other game. That consistency turned into one of the best third acts of a career we’ve ever seen.
There are only 10 position players since 1947 who accrued more WAR beginning at age 32 than Beltre has. Of those, only Barry Bonds, Edgar Martinez and Pete Rose haven’t been inducted into the Hall of Fame. The rest are inner-circle greats Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Ted Williams, Stan Musial, Mike Schmidt, Ozzie Smith, and Roberto Clemente.
And Beltre’s own WAR-based case for the Hall is impenetrable. Jay Jaffe’s JAWS has Beltre as the fourth-best third baseman of all-time behind only Mike Schmidt, Eddie Mathews, and Wade Boggs. Looking at FanGraphs’ third base Leaderboards, Beltre’s 84 WAR places him seventh with Alex Rodriguez, Chipper Jones, and George Brett joining Schmidt, Mathews, and Boggs, though Jones and Brett each lead him by less than a single win. Jay Jaffe tracked Beltre this past season as he became the all-time leader in hits for players born in Latin America, as well as internationally. He might not have an MVP, finishing second in 2004 and third in 2012, and his Rangers fell a strike short of a World Series win in 2011, but by any metric, Beltre is an all-time great, and that’s before you consider that he hit a homer off his knee in the World Series.
Beltre’s career is the rare sort in which a player’s statistical accomplishments actually match the personality and joy he displayed on the field. Jeff Sullivan wrote in 2016 that Beltre would be remembered “for being an excellent third baseman, for having an aversion to being touched on the head, and for sometimes playing through inconceivable pain.” Beltre’s age-defying statistical feats may be his true legacy, and those feats have been covered in some detail here at FanGraphs. August Fagerstrom wrote about it way back in 2015. I discussed his refusal to age when he signed a two-year extension in 2016 that would ultimately take him to the end of his career. Travis Sawchik and Paul Swydan each took turns in 2017 as Beltre worked his way to his 3,000th hit.
But for all that, Beltre’s ability to defy age with his bat and glove doesn’t measure up to his ageless spirit. There is his aversion to being touched on the head, his enduring and humorous friendship with King Felix. His dancing on the basepaths was a sight. He alternated between demanding space and ceding it with infield partner Elvis Andrus. There’s a giraffe named after Adrian Beltre at the Fort Worth Zoo, and Beltre-the-third-baseman has gone to see it. He’s given fake signs to the opposition. When told by umpire Gerry Davis to get back in the on-deck circle, he reacted as any 38-year-old would, and opted to move the circle itself; he was ejected from the game. On MLB Network Radio this morning, former Rangers manager Jeff Banister described Beltre dressing up like a clubhouse attendant and sweeping the dugout while on the disabled list.
When I think about what I hope and wish to see in a baseball player, I want someone who is a marvel with the bat and superlative with the glove. I want years of greatness combined with longevity. A toughness that shows off commitment. Someone who flashes moments of unique brilliance. A player with energy, whose love for the game seems boundless despite the money and routine that can sap that life from the best of us. Adrian Beltre might not be a perfect player, but he is one to me. I imagine I’m not alone.
Craig Edwards can be found on twitter @craigjedwards.