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Adrian Beltre is a first-ballot Hall of Famer, and I’m not sure when that happened

Adrian Beltre is the 31st major leaguer in history to collect his 3,000th career hit. But when did he become an obvious Hall of Famer?

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim v Texas Rangers Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images

Adrian Beltre is the newest member of the 3,000-hit club. He’s a delight and a consistent fount of amusement and wonder, whether he’s falling on one knee to hit a home run, glaring at Elvis Andrus for playing pop-up shenanigans, getting his head touched and cocking his fist back, or moving the entire on-deck circle. He’s the best.

And he’s also a first-ballot Hall of Famer.

I have no idea when that happened. So I’m aiming to find out.

Before the 2011 season, this was a viable take on the internet:

The Texas Rangers are supposedly about to offer Adrian Beltre a six-year, $96 million contract.

Huge mistake.

I disagreed with that at the time. Everyone disagrees with it now. The point isn’t to shame someone for a years-old hot take — and I would remind you that it’s very impolite to search through my old writing. The point is that six years ago, Beltre was most certainly not a first-ballot Hall of Famer. People had opinions on him, and some of them were sour.

And now he’s a first-ballot Hall of Famer. Maybe second. Probably first, though. If you need convincing, read this Deadspin article Friday about the players who managed to slap two different Hall of Fame careers together into a single career.

The current player most likely to be not just a Hall of Famer but a Hendersonian Hall of Famer is…Adrian Beltre?

Yup.

From 1998 to 2010, Beltre put up roughly 52 WAR. In his six seasons since then, he’s added another 38 WAR. Although he’s in his age-38 season, he was worth more than 6 WAR just last year, and projection systems like ZIPS and Steamer forecasted another 3 to 4 in 2017. (Beltre missed nearly two months to start the season with a calf injury, which is a real risk of age, but he’s been great since returning and should still reach those projections.) If Beltre sticks around another four seasons or so (through age 41), he should be able to creep his second-career WAR total into the mid-to-high 40s.

While I’d give him almost no chance of playing at a high level until he’s 41, what he’s already done is amazing, and he’s in. He’s a clear Hall of Famer.

We’ll have to go year by year to see when this happened.

Stage I: Dodgers (1998 - 2004)

WAR with Dodgers: 23
Career WAR to date: 23

It’s worth noting at this point that Beltre was actually younger than his listed age. When he came up for his debut, agent Scott Boras said something like, “Wow! Can’t believe you got called up when you were 20!,” and Beltre responded with, “Actually, I’m 19.” The domino effect led to suspensions and fines throughout the Dodger organization.

Beltre was absolutely not a Hall of Famer at this point. He led the league with 48 homers and finished second in MVP voting in his final year with the Dodgers. But in the six seasons prior, he hit .262/.320/.428, which was good for an adjusted OPS of 97. Those aren’t future Hall of Famer numbers.

On the other hand, here are the players with 23 wins or more before turning 25. There are cautionary tales (Jason Heyward, Cesar Cedeno). For the most part, though, there are Hall of Famers. The ones whom people who don’t even like baseball have heard of. Even if Beltre’s was defense-heavy, it was still a sign that he possessed athleticism that others didn’t.

Verdict: Not a Hall of Famer yet.

Stage II: Mariners (2005 - 2009)

WAR with Mariners: 21
Career WAR to date: 44

Beltre was a hard free agent to peg when he left the Dodgers because not only were his career numbers understated when he left, but he was leaving after an otherworldly breakout season. Do you pay for the year he had or for the years he was likely to have again? It was a juggling act, and the Mariners were the ones to take the gamble.

He was a defensive deity. But he was just OK with the bat, hitting .266/.317/.442. For a plus-plus-plus defender, that’s a pretty sweet line, especially when adjusting for Safeco Field. For a premium free agent who signed a season after hitting 48 home runs, it was kind of a disappointment.

While smart people loved Beltre (like the good folks at Lookout Landing), he was 30, and he hadn’t made a single All-Star team in his 12-year major league career.

He was forced to sign a one-year deal to prove his worth after the season.

Verdict: Not a Hall of Famer yet.

Stage III: Red Sox (2010)

WAR with Red Sox: 8
Career WAR to date: 52

This is the start of Beltre’s Hall of Fame career, really. He redefined himself as a high-average hitter. He moved from the pitcher’s paradises of Dodger Stadium and Safeco Field to Fenway Park, and he was rejuvenated. He made his first All-Star team and led the league with 49 doubles.

But there was a pattern. The year before he was scheduled to be a free agent, he had a monster season. From the article linked above:

I think of the early Seattle Beltre, just coming off his huge year with the Dodgers. He was a true dog in Seattle—content, lazy, distant. Ask him, and he’ll tell you it was the NL-AL adjustment. Baloney. He made the money, and he coasted.

Verdict: Not a Hall of Famer yet. Not really close.

Stage IV: Rangers (2011 - present)

WAR with Rangers: 40
Career WAR to date: 92

For perspective, here’s a partial list of Hall of Famers with less WAR than Beltre has with the Rangers so far:

  • Hack Wilson
  • Bill Mazeroski
  • Pie Traynor
  • Lloyd Waner

Beltre transformed himself into one of the best hitters in baseball: a reliable source of .300 batting averages, 30-homer seasons, continuingly brilliant defense, and hi-jinks. So many hi-jinks. He’s done this for seven seasons with the Rangers, now.

Verdict: OK, he’s a Hall of Famer now. But when did that happen?

It’s hard to see at a glance. So we’ll turn to Google Trends:

Right around the Hall of Fame ceremonies in 2014, Beltre was in the middle of his fourth brilliant season with the Rangers. Greg Maddux, Frank Thomas, and Tom Glavine were inducted, and Beltre was hitting .337 with dingers, doubles, and entertainment value. That’s when people started to wonder, “Is this guy a Hall of Famer?”

He was great in the second half, and while his 2015 was a little slow (look at the dip in Google Trends), his 2016 was nearly as spectacular.

My working theory is this: At the end of 2014, Beltre was a Hall of Famer. He had 395 home runs, Brooks Robinson-like defense, a Let’s-Play-Two infectiousness that was driving the internet wild, and the longevity to get him in before he fell off the ballot.

At the end of 2016, he was a clear Hall of Famer, even if he would have missed on the first ballot like Vladimir Guerrero.

When he got his 3,000th hit, he became a first-ballot Hall of Famer. And he deserves it. He deserved it well before this.

The third base position is historically underrepresented in the Hall of Fame. Ron Santo needed a grassroots movement to get in. Some of the best hot cornerers of all time have been neglected, like Darrell Evans, Graig Nettles, Buddy Bell, Sal Bando, and Ron Cey. Scott Rolen might fall off the first ballot, even though he’s the ninth-most valuable third baseman in baseball history, according to Baseball-Reference’s WAR.

Beltre’s third act, though, surpassed all expectations. He was 30 and inspiring columns about how he would be a mistake for his new team. He was known as a player with one great year and a bunch of middling ones, even if that wasn’t accounting for his defense. Now he’s 38, a member of the 3,000-hit club, and a clear first-ballot Hall of Famer.

It happened quickly. It happened so quickly. The best part is, though, that it’s still going and doesn’t have to stop for years. If Beltre could Julio Franco the heck out of the rest of his career, his Hall of Fame chances would be impervious. And our lives would be immeasurably better.

Raise a glass to Adrian Beltre, then. He’s one of the very best reasons to be a baseball fan, and he deserves to be celebrated for his 3,000 hits. One of these days, I’ll touch his head and let him know how much he’s meant to the sport. One of these days.