Adrian Beltre's first game in the majors came on June 24, 1998, at Dodger Stadium. He wasn't even three months past his 19th birthday when the Dodgers called him up from Double-A to bat eighth in a game against the Angels. In his first plate appearance, against Chuck Finley, he lined an RBI hit to left field, whipping the bat through the strike zone with the same controlled violence he still possesses 19 years later:
That's a pretty amazing video. First of all, Beltre hasn't aged a day. He looked 38 when he was 19. Also, why were the Dodgers wearing blue uniforms? That must not have lasted long. Then there's Beltre at second base, apparently secure with the knowledge this was merely the first of 3,000 career hits. No big deal, no reason to get excited or even to smile.
Nineteen years later, Beltre became the 31st player to reach that famous milestone, lining a stand-up double in the fourth inning off Orioles starter Wade Miley.
I was watching a national show the other day when the host suggested Beltre wasn't a Hall of Famer, which, of course, is a ridiculous suggestion. I guess he felt that Beltre was more of a compiler than a great player. Well, everyone with 3,000 hits is a compiler. That's how you get there. Maybe he believed that Beltre didn't have enough great seasons or something. Here's a list of some players with 3,000 hits and their totals of 200-hit seasons and .300 seasons:
Beltre's figures aren't out of line with those players, and he's obviously added enormous defensive value in his career as well. With 92.4 career WAR, he seems firmly entrenched as one of the six or seven greatest third basemen of all time -- Mike Schmidt, Eddie Mathews, Wade Boggs, George Brett and Chipper Jones also being in the discussion, plus Alex Rodriguez if you count him at third base. That's a first-ballot Hall of Famer.
One thing about Beltre: He's always done it his way, best exemplified when he was ejected a few days ago for moving the on-deck circle, an incident that will go down as one of the classic Beltre highlights:
Even though he's often stoic on the field, few players have more fun. His trek to 3,000 hits has reminded us that he's one of the true gifts in the game for us fans and why seeing him get to 3,000 is certainly a win for those who want to make baseball fun again -- or a reminder that with players like Beltre, it has always been fun.
I mean, who doesn't love a player hitting a home run as he collapses to his knee? He's even done it in the World Series. Or swings and misses as he falls to his knee and then does it again on the next pitch and hits a home run. No doubt, he leads all those 3,000-hit guys in hits from his knee. Just tell the kids not to try it at home.
That unique swing has become his most identifiable trait -- unless it's his paranoia about getting touched on the head. There was the time when he walked up to the plate against switch-pitcher Pat Venditte with his helmet on backward. There's even a whole highlight reel of the antics between him and Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus:
Beltre became a better hitter in his 30s. Similar to somebody like Vladimir Guerrero or Ichiro Suzuki, he has always been an aggressive hitter but has had amazing hand-eye coordination, so the strikeouts are rare. In fact, as strikeouts have skyrocketed across the league, his strikeouts have declined as he got older. This season, he has more walks than whiffs.
That's all before we even get to his defense, where he's won five Gold Gloves and has remained a plus fielder even into his late 30s. Few have ever been better making that barehanded play on slow rollers. At 38, he's still going strong, hitting over .300 after missing the start of the season with a calf injury, a rare injury for a player noted for his durability. He's signed with the Rangers for one more season, proving that the two best deals Jon Daniels has made were signing Beltre in 2011 and then re-signing him to an extension in 2016.
That's one of the enjoyable aspects of Beltre reaching 3,000 hits -- he's still at the top of that game. Compare that to Albert Pujols, next in line to get there, sitting at 2,911 hits. Pujols, a year younger than Beltre, is hitting a woeful .230/.276/.369. Compare to Craig Biggio, who edged over 3,000 hits even though he was worth minus-2.1 WAR his final season.
So congrats to an all-time great. You can smile this time.