Carlos Beltran showed up for a cup of coffee with the Wichita Wranglers in 1998, when the Wranglers were the Double-A affiliate of the Kansas City Royals.
He batted .352 with 14 homers and 44 RBI in 47 incredible games that summer and was soon to be off and running on a big league career that could land him on the doorstep of Cooperstown.
Or will it?
Beltran, 38, is having a resurgent second half of the 2015 season with the New York Yankees, his sixth MLB team. He was traded by the Royals in 2004, one of those trades nobody likes to acknowledge.
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In the three-team deal that involved the Oakland A’s, Beltran ended up with Houston while the Royals gained catcher John Buck, infielder Mark Teahen and pitcher Mike Wood.
But no sense beating up KC for that trade all these years later. Instead, it’s more fun to examine Beltran’s Hall of Fame credentials as he winds down his career. He is signed with the Yankees through the 2016 season.
I’ll say up front that before I really examined Beltran’s numbers, I doubted his Hall of Fame worthiness. I had him pegged as one of those many players who just didn’t quite do enough to make it to Cooperstown. A case could be made, yes, but it wasn’t strong enough for induction.
Now I’m not so sure. In fact, if pressed, I’d say Beltran is a Hall of Famer and it’s not because of what he’s accomplished in the regular season.
Beltran is an eight-time All-Star and he was Rookie of the Year with the Royals in 1999. He’s had a splendid career, batting .281 with 386 homers and 1,424 RBI. He has 2,425 career hits, 311 stolen bases and 1,433 runs.
But what kicks Beltran from borderline Hall of Famer to a player who should be giving a speech someday in Cooperstown is his postseason success.
In 51 postseason games with Houston, the New York Mets and St. Louis, Beltran is batting .333 with 16 homers and 40 RBI. His OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) is 1.128.
It looks like Beltran will get to a fifth postseason this season, with the Yankees. He’s played in only one World Series – in 2013 with the Cardinals.
In his prime, Beltran was a Gold Glove-level outfielder. He won consecutive Gold Gloves with the Mets from 2006-08. And he stole 149 bases with the Royals and Astros from 2001-04.
Beltran’s first center-stage moment came in the 2004 National League playoffs after he had been traded from Kansas City to Houston.
In the NLDS against Atlanta, Beltran batted .455 with four homers and nine RBIs against the Atlanta Braves as Houston held on to win Game 5 and advance to the NLCS against St. Louis.
He stayed hot in that series, batting .417 with four homers as the Cardinals prevailed in seven games.
Beltran was electric while Royals fans everywhere were incensed as to how the team could trade a 27-year-old blossoming superstar and end up with Buck, Teahen and Wood.
Beltran is batting .325 since the All-Star break this season and hit .353 with a 1.067 OPS for the Yankees in August. Just when it appeared his career was winding down after a slow first half, he’s visited the fountain of youth as part of a feared New York lineup that includes Brett Gardner, Brian McCann, Mark Teixeira, Jacoby Ellsbury and, yes, Alex Rodriguez.
Beltran has more extra-base hits in his career than Mickey Mantle, Willie Stargell, Robin Yount and Eddie Mathews.
He has scored more runs than Rod Carew, Tony Gwynn, Roberto Clemente and Andre Dawson.
He has a higher OPS than Clemente, Carl Yastrzemski, Kirby Puckett and Eddie Murray.
Beltran’s all-around skills and numbers are enough to get him on the Hall of Fame doorstep. What he’s accomplished in the postseason kicks the door in.