Later today the Texas Rangers will announce that they have signed Adrian Beltre to an extension that will run through the 2018 season. More likely than not, that means Adrian Beltre will spend the rest of his career in a Rangers uniform. Hearing this news brought me the kind of joy that one assumes only Adrian Beltre himself is allowed to experience while he is playing the game of baseball.
One of the purest pleasures that I have felt as a fan has been watching Beltre transform from curiosity into the living, breathing embodiment of the team. Beltre was the consolation prize for when Cliff Lee left after the 2010 season. Beltre was a free agent usurping fan favorite Michael Young and leaving him positionless, which meant, to many, Beltre wasn't even a player the then American League Champions needed.
In the stands, Beltre was behind the likes of Josh Hamilton, Young, Elvis Andrus, Ian Kinsler, and David Murphy in the fan-love department. Hamilton, Young, Murphy, and even Mitch Moreland have often received the loudest applause during player introductions on Opening Day over the last decade. That changed this year. Adrian Beltre unequivocally gets the most cheers in Texas.
Part of the reason Adrian Beltre is beloved is because nothing about him is ordinary. At the turn of the millennium, Latin youngsters were getting dinged for fudging their age and identities to appear younger than they really were as a means to get signed. Adrian Beltre was so good he passed himself off as a signable 16 year old when he was 15. The Los Angeles Dodgers didn't mind and signed him out of the Dominican Republic in 1994.
Despite being one of the greatest defenders to ever play his position, Adrian Beltre would make any baseball instructor cringe if not for the fact that his flat-footed, side-armed throw from third is so deadly accurate. Beltre's ability to whip the ball to a base provides one of life's greatest pleasures: witnessing Adrian Beltre field a bunt down the line. Perhaps no one has ever done it better.
With the bat, Beltre is not without his quirks. Be it dancing (literally) in the box when he refuses to offer at a tempting pitch, preemptively pointing to an ump to inform them that he had checked his swing, or, of course, the storied ability to hit dingers from a knee.
The absurdity of hitting a home run on one leg is mythical by itself but it also happened once in Game 5 of the 2011 World Series in a tied series against Cardinals' ace Chris Carpenter with the Rangers down 2-1 in the 6th inning. It could make a person go insane thinking about it.
To me, this is an underrated iconic moment in this franchise's history. When they put a statue of Adrian Beltre at The Ballpark -- and they will -- this is what it should look like. The only other acceptable pose would be of him fielding a bunt like in the video above.
Adrian Beltre's toughness is legendary. Beltre once underwent an emergency appendectomy in his native Dominican Republic during an offseason. The surgery was a disaster and Beltre showed up to Dodgers camp with an oozing gut wound. So, what did Adrian Beltre do? He played with a colostomy bag attached to his belt before the Dodgers made him get patched up as he had 15 inches of intestines removed. He ended up returning to the lineup in May of that year anyway.
In Seattle, Beltre took a hard smash to the hot corner off his nether region, and because Beltre wasn't (and still isn't) wearing a protective cup, he suffered a ruptured testicle. Instead of leaving the game, renouncing the sport, and perhaps joining witness protection to keep baseball from coming after him and his family, Beltre just stayed in the game like nothing happened despite admittedly being in severe pain.
We know about Beltre's superhuman pain threshold here in Texas because we saw him beg his way back into the lineup in September of 2012 after finding out that his botched appendectomy from years ago was causing extreme pain thanks to scar tissue rubbing up against his intestines. Beltre had an OPS of 1.090 for that month. It was his best month of that '12 season.
Last season, as the Rangers made a surprising run to the AL West title, Beltre spent the last three and a half months playing with a torn ligament in his thumb. The injury he suffered on May 31st probably would have put most players on the shelf until late in the season or perhaps even ended their season. Beltre was back after three weeks after he decided he could just figure out how to swing without his thumb and just deal with the pain. In the second half of the season, Beltre hit .318 with an OPS of .884 with basically one hand.
One of the most heartbreaking moments of my sports life came in Game 1 of the ALDS when Beltre hurt his back sliding onto the carpet covered concrete in Toronto. He stayed in the game despite knowing he only had one more swing in him.
In an enclosed stadium with 50,000+ October-crazed Canadians screaming for a team that hadn't been in the playoffs for over 20 years, you could still hear Adrian Beltre's anguished grunt as he singled off ace David Price to drive in the second run of a game the Rangers would later win 5-3.
In tears as he departed, you knew the man who once played through a crushed testicle had to be in a lot of pain to exit. Despite being barely able to run to first base, the physical pain was likely nothing compared to being forced to exit a playoff game. Ron Washington used to say that he was afraid of excluding Beltre's name on the lineup card because he knew Beltre would come looking for him.
For someone who is so stubborn, Adrian Beltre is a man who radiates joy. Beltre wears the mask of comedy and tragedy. An entertainer at heart, Beltre plays the game with a sense of jubilation that envelopes the sport in a fine mist of GIFs and memorable moments.
Evan Grant calls him the lovable grump. One minute he's dancing on the baselines, using his otherworldly reflexes to try to half-heartedly fool the umpires, or needing time because he's laughing too hard at a ball just a bit outside. All of that has happened in just the first ten days or so of this season.
But make no mistake, nobody mean mugs the pitcher from the plate with his lid down low quite like the Rangers' quiet leader.
On the field, Beltre is more myth than man. It would be one thing if Beltre were just a bench-warming fan favorite type like a Kent Bazemore or Munenori Kawasaki. Beltre absolutely has those qualities that endear him to the fans and his teammates, to be sure, but along with being an endless source of amusement, Beltre backs it up by being one of the absolute best third basemen to ever play baseball.
In addition to be being the modern day Brooks Robinson with the glove, Beltre is the all-time leader in hits by a Dominican born player with his current 2,780 hits. Among third basemen, Beltre ranks 2nd all-time behind only Robinson in games played at the position with 2,495 games played.
Beltre is fourth all-time in RBIs by a third baseman with 1,476, and he passed Darrell Evans this season to move to fourth all-time in home runs hit as a third baseman with his 415th blast. Basically, you name it and Beltre is one of the best to do it at the position. Ever.
However, before garnering MVP votes in every season he's been a Texas Ranger, Beltre's legacy was that of a guy who only performed in contract years. In 2004, Beltre had a Bondsian year in his final season with the Dodgers. As a reward, Beltre wound up in Seattle to hit at Safeco where right-handed power goes to die.
Try as he might, Beltre couldn't solve the Pacific Northwest and despite still being known for his sterling defense, he ended up leaving Seattle with a scarlet letter M sewed in teal on his chest. Beltre had succumbed to a reputation of being irrelevant as is the punishment for the crime of being a Mariner.
Beltre landed in Boston on a one-year pillow contract to swat at Fenway Park. As it is the opposite of a right-hander hitting at Safeco, Beltre slashed .321/.365/.553 for the Red Sox as he turned fly balls that succumbed to a Puget Sound marine layer into a career high 49 doubles putting fresh dents in the Green Monster.
But by the grace of the Baseball Gods, the Red Sox were too enamored by the Greek God of Walks Kevin Youkilis to see what they had in Beltre and let him walk at the end of the 2010 season. As we know now, the Rangers failed to retain Cliff Lee and then turned their dollars to Beltre despite already having Michael Young manning third.
Before Beltre signed with Texas, Oakland went hard after his services. Beltre, however, is a dignified man who couldn't see himself spending his twilight baseball years ankle deep in sewage, so he politely turned down Billy Beane's advances. However, Beltre had another AL West rival in mind for his new address.
Beltre, a resident of the Los Angeles area after spending his first seven seasons with the Dodgers, instead tried to drum up interest from the Anaheim Angels. It shouldn't have been that hard, right? After all, the Angels spent the 2010 season with Brandon Wood, Alberto Callaspo, and Kevin Frandsen alternating as their primary third basemen.
Angels owner Arte Moreno wasn't sold, however, and instead focused his efforts on acquiring Vernon Wells and the four years and $89 million remaining on the outfielder's contract. Arte sealed that deal and in a byproduct of the transaction, Mike Napoli eventually ended up in Texas. With an otherwise lukewarm market, Beltre signed with the Rangers.
Wells was among the very worst players in baseball in 2011 and Beltre and Napoli were two of the stars on the 2011 World Series Texas Rangers team. So, you can pretty much thank the best season in Texas Rangers history on a guy in LA who is pretty good at selling billboard ads but not very good at spending his money on baseball teams.
As a footnote to this subplot in my Adrian Beltre love sonnet, Arte tried to shake his free agency spendthrift reputation, and stick it to the Rangers over the next two offseasons, by signing Albert Pujols, C.J. Wilson, and Josh Hamilton to like a billion dollars and...oh god, this article is getting sidetracked but I could seriously write another 2,000 words on this subject.
At the time, the Rangers weren't exactly lauded for bringing Beltre to Texas. Former Commissioner Bud Selig scolded new Rangers ownership for what he felt was an imprudent deal for Texas in their first foray into free agency after buying the team out of bankruptcy court.
The Rangers gave Beltre a five year, $80 million dollar deal with an option for a sixth year at $16 million. No one thought it was a bargain, most thought it was an inevitable overpay for a player nearing his decline.
As it turns out, Beltre signed what is arguably one of the best free agent contracts in history. Dan Szymborski wrote about the best big contracts (over $90 million) last winter and once he included Beltre's option year, Beltre's deal ranked as the second best ever (and would be the #1 non-extension contract):
As a side note, encouraged by the Lone Star Ball gang, if I had cutoff on Big Money Contracts at $80 million guarantee, Beltre would be 2nd.— Dan Szymborski (@DSzymborski) December 15, 2015
One of the best parts about Beltre's stint in Texas so far has been how the perception about him has changed. The fog of being a Seattle Mariner has long been lifted. No one dares question his desire anymore. In many articles, he's portrayed as a future Hall of Famer. Everyone knows about his idiosyncrasies and they seek out his latest gems. He's a part of the fabric that makes up baseball in 2016 and that happened in Texas.
As for me, it feels like I'm cheating on my high school sweetheart to say this, but Adrian Beltre surpassed Ivan Rodriguez as my favorite Rangers player ever. I'm perhaps unhealthily invested in Adrian Beltre. Were it my limitless supply of money, I'd have tacked on another $50 million to his extension to get the deal done if he asked for it. This is why JD doesn't share his secret Twitter.
Please don't let my allegiances be diminished in your mind when I admit that I'm almost hungrier for Beltre to get his ring than I am for the franchise or myself to experience a Championship flag being raised. Sports sacrilege, perhaps, but the good thing now is when one of these things happens, the other thing will more than likely happen along with it.
Adrian Beltre will be inducted into the Hall of Fame some day as one of the very few third basemen to ever make it, and this extension all but assures that when he makes it to Cooperstown, he will do so with a Rangers cap on his plaque. That means more to me than it probably should, but I want to go there some day and see it. I think that would make me very happy.
If in two years Adrian Beltre is done, not just as a Texas Ranger, but as a baseball player, we'll have gotten to see eight years of one of the best players of all time. We'll have watched one of baseball's true elite defenders at third base. We'll have seen one of the funniest players of all time. We'll have applauded for one the most entertaining players of all time. We'll have marvelled at one of the toughest players of all time. By all accounts, we'll have spent our summers following a genuinely good guy.
And, most enjoyably, we'll have had the pleasure of sharing in one of the people on this planet who has derived the most joy from doing the thing they do better than most.