The Astros start an important three-game series against the New York Yankees tonight. The Astros are incredibly hot, rapidly gaining ground on the first-place Rangers. The Yankees are fading, but are still on the periphery of the Wild Card race. There should also be lots of scouts in the stands as the Yankees have been hinting that they might be sellers with the trade deadline approaching and many, many teams drooling at the thought of adding a Yankee reliever to a roster lacking only a closer.
It’s also possible the scouts might be watching Yankee outfielder Carlos Beltran. Beltran, in the last year of his contract, has hinted at retirement following this season, but he’s still an adequate outfielder who has been killing the baseball season, slashing .303/346/545 while slugging 21 homers with 62 RBI. If it’s his final season, he’s clearly going out on top, and his bat could clearly help just about every team willing to rent him for a few months, especially the Giants, who have no clue when Hunter Pence will be able to return from injury.
Astros fans are well aware of what Beltran can do for a playoff team in need of a bat. Beltran hit 23 homers for 53 RBI and 70 runs in 90 games with the Astros as they made the playoff sprint. And Beltran was superhuman in the 2004 playoffs, hitting eight homers with 14 RBI and 21 runs in 12 games. Astros fans, however, have often chosen to ignore Beltran’s contributions to that team, instead choosing to act like spoiled brats who didn’t get to have any cake after supper.
It’s understandable why Astros fans were upset with Beltran for splitting to New York and a huge contract with the New York Mets. But the fervor of the anger to which Beltran has been treated ever since has been ridiculously over the top. Randy Johnson was treated like a king during his short stint with the Astros, but there was never any anger with him for going to the Diamondbacks. Fans didn’t really seem to mind that Andy Pettitte and Roger Clemens left the Astros to rejoin the Yankees. But Beltran has been treated as if he’s some combination of Bud Adams and John McMullen.
Beltran and his agent, Scott Boras, did what any person would do, given the same opportunity. They used the offer from one party to get a better offer from another party — that offer being purportedly at the time the biggest free agent contract in Mets history, and a number that Astros Chairman Drayton McLane just couldn’t match. Beltran was supposedly a bad guy for turning his back on a fan base that had supposedly embraced him.
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The Mets ultimately regretted signing Beltran to the seven-year contract — his injuries didn’t help, but being caught up in the Bernie Madoff mess probably made the Mets regret the huge contract more than anything. Beltran has since played for the Giants, the Cardinals and now the Yankees, and as he was with Houston, whenever those teams have made the playoffs, he’s been a nearly unstoppable force — 16 HR in 52 games with 40 RBI, 45 runs and a .332/.441/.674 slash line.
Beltran will retire as a borderline Hall of Famer. He ranks fourth all-time for career home runs from a switch-hitter with 413, behind only Chipper Jones, Eddie Murray and Mickey Mantle (Murray and Mantle are in the Hall; Jones becomes eligible next year). He’s got nearly 2,600 career hits, more than 1,500 RBI and nearly 15,000 runs scored. He’s part of the 400-300 club (400-plus homers and 300-plus stolen bases). He was the 1998 AL Rookie of the Year, won three Gold Gloves, at one point he held the MLB record for career postseason on-based plus slugging percentage, and played on nine All-Star teams.
So maybe as the Yankees and Beltran arrive today, Astros fans should treat him with the respect he has earned for an excellent career. They don’t have to view him as a conquering god the way they did with Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera or David Ortiz, but maybe they can treat Beltran as something other than a pariah. Beltran was a fantastic Houston Astro for 90 games, and played a huge role in the Astros' very nearly making it into the 2004 World Series.
He made the best of his opportunities and got paid. Houston fans have to stop blaming him for that.