I have been following baseball since I was 6 years old in 1970. In that time, I have seen the tail end of some great careers (Aaron, Mays, Killebrew, Banks), some amazing entire careers (Schmidt, Yount, Puckett, Carter), and, recently, the beginnings of some assuredly incredible careers (Arenado, Bryant, Betts, Trout). I’ve been very fortunate to have watched these guys play the game that I love. This morning, Adrian Beltre announced his retirement. What an absolute joy it has been to watch this guy over the last 2 decades. When you look at his numbers, they almost seem unreal.
- 3,166 hits
- 477 HR
- 1,707 RBI
- 1,524 runs scored
- 636 doubles
- 121 SB
- 4x all-star
- 5x Gold Glove
- 4x Silver Slugger
- Hit for the cycle 3 times (tied for most all time)
These are first ballot numbers, no doubt. In addition to what the stat sheet says, Beltre’s greatness went far beyond the box score. He brought a presence to the locker room; an intensity to the team. He knew how to win, he knew how to inspire. Most of all, he knew how to have fun. We’ve all seen the videos, the ones where his teammates joke around with him in the dugout. Adrian Beltre always seemed to be simply enjoying life when he was playing baseball.
My initial season of watching baseball included seeing my beloved Reds lose to the Baltimore Orioles in the 1970 World Series. Brooks Robinson made an instant impact on me. I loved watching him play, even though he was beating my team with stellar defense. A few years later, I got to see the emergence of the Phillies’ Mike Schmidt. This guy had so much raw power, it was intoxicating. He also played a pretty good 3B. Over the years, these were the guys I would talk about when the conversation veered toward the best in the game. I can now say with complete confidence that Adrian Beltre is the best all around 3B to ever set foot on the diamond. No one will ever match Robinson’s defense and it will be hard to surpass Schmidt’s HR total. But if you want the complete, all around best, Adrian Beltre is the guy at the hot corner.
After I saw the announcement this morning, I headed to the Rangers’ Twitter account. I expected the tributes, but I did not expect the emotion that I felt as I was watching them. Adrian Beltre was one of baseball’s greatest players and greatest characters. As my vision started getting a little murky, I couldn’t help but laugh as I watched him move the on-deck circle in the middle of the game. Video after video of that all out HR swing where he would quite often go down to a knee due to the brute force of his swing. The dugout celebrations where no one was allowed to touch his head, his smile after a game winning hit, the joy his teammates found just playing with this guy. The best; Adrian Beltre was the best.
We often say that everyone is replaceable. I’m not sure that applies here. What Beltre left us is a lifetime of memories. He gave us a career that we can always look back on and know that we saw one of the best to ever play. We should be happy, honored even, that we got to witness it. So let’s be thankful for that and just be happy that we can reflect on it over the coming years. Just don’t touch his head.