Adrián Beltré on track to be a first-ballot Hall of Fame third baseman


ARLINGTON – When the Texas Rangers retired Adrián Beltré’s No. 29 jersey the season after the third baseman played his final game, the celebration included messages from George Brett, Mike Schmidt and Chipper Jones.

All those Hall of Fame third basemen told Beltré that night in 2019 they would see him in Cooperstown as soon as he became eligible for election.

“You will be first ballot. … Can’t wait to sit behind you when you’re making your speech,” Schmidt said in his video message.

Beltré was among 12 first-timers and 26 players overall on the ballot for the Class of 2024 that will be revealed Tuesday. A four-time All-Star with 3,166 hits and 477 homers, his 2,759 games played at third base are fewer than only Brooks Robinson’s total.

“I don’t know how I’m going to feel,” Beltré said when asked about that possibility of being a first-ballot pick. “If it happens, when it happens, I’ll see how I’ll react and see how I’m going to enjoy it.”

While he often displayed an intimidating scowl — including when teammates touched his head — Beltré was beloved in the clubhouse and truly enjoyed playing the game over 21 big league seasons. He debuted in 1998 at only 19 years old and excelled throughout a career filled with big hits, including several home runs hit off one knee. His slick fielding provided defensive highlights at the hot corner.

Players who get 75% of the votes submitted by Dec. 31 will make the Hall, and Beltré has consistently been well above that threshold according to Ryan Thibodaux’s Hall of Fame ballot tracker. Beltré was listed on 98.9% of 177 ballots, an estimated 46% of the total.

Last year, in his sixth time on the ballot, Scott Rolen became only the 18th third baseman elected to the Hall, the fewest of any position. Beltré is likely next.

Beltré reached his only World Series in 2011 during his first year with Texas, where he spent the last eight seasons of his career. He joined the 3,000-hit club in a Rangers home game on July 30, 2017, and his milestone double came only minutes after longtime Texas catcher Ivan Rodríguez had finished his Hall of Fame induction speech in Cooperstown that day.

It was also only four days after Beltré, already with three extra-base hits in a game to get to 2,996 hits, was ejected for moving an on-deck circle. After umpire Gerry Davis motioned for Beltré to get closer to the on-deck circle, the player instead dragged the large plastic mat marking that spot closer to him.

Beltré was a .286 career hitter. His 3,166 hits rank 18th and are the most for a foreign-born player. He also had 1,707 RBIs (25th) in his 2,933 career games with four teams, and three times hit for the cycle — the last when he was 36 years old.

“You had more fun than anybody I saw play the game of baseball,” Brett said in his message the night Beltré had his jersey retired.

Known for some quirky baseball habits, Beltré often pointed to umpires himself when he checked his swing. He shuffled his feet and swiveled his legs in the batter’s box on inside pitches or those in the dirt. There were so many times on the left side of the infield that Beltré and shortstop Elvis Andrus would be only a few feet apart, both with their gloves in the air, one mimicking the other catching a popup.

And Beltré hated being touched on the head, which was mercilessly exploited by teammates when celebrating big moments. Especially Andrus, a little brother-like nine years younger who was with him all eight seasons in Texas. During a pitching change at Seattle in 2013, Beltré threw his glove at a fleeing Andrus after being popped on the head with a glove.

Beltré was 15 when he signed with the Dodgers in July 1994, and never went back down to the minors after being called up in 1998. He played for Los Angeles until 2004, then spent five seasons in Seattle before one year with the Boston Red Sox that preceded going to Texas in free agency.

Michael Young, the Rangers’ career leader for games and hits and now a special assistant with the team, was Texas’ third baseman before becoming a utility player and designated hitter after Beltré was signed.

“All of the things I knew about him, he was just better pretty much in every possible way I could have imagined,” Young said after Beltré retired.