What if the Astros, not Carlos Beltran, Were the Villain?

The story has always been that Carlos Beltran was a greedy bastard who strung poor Drayton McLane and Houston Astros fans along just long enough so that he could get a rich deal from the New York Mets in 2004. One of those deals that just made no sense for a man like McLane to match because the money was just too much.

But what if that’s not the story? What if Carlos Beltran really did want to stay with the Astros? What if it wasn’t Beltran who was stringing along the Astros? What if it was Beltran waiting, hoping that beloved Astros owner Drayton McLane would just agree to a no-trade clause?

What if Beltran and the Astros actually did have an agreement in terms of money? What if that amount actually met what the Mets were offering to Beltran? What if Beltran just wanted to make sure the Astros were as committed to him as they wanted him to be committed to them? What if it’s actually Drayton McLane who is the bad guy in the story, that villain who should be treated with boos by the Astros faithful?

That’s never been the way the story has been presented, of course. Carlos Beltran and his people have always been quiet as to what really happened with the negotiations with the Astros, so it’s always been people associated with the Astros and with then-owner Drayton McLane who have willingly gone on the record. They have painted Beltran as the villain, a greedy outfielder who stomped on the love and affection showered on him by Houston, casting the city and its ball club aside for the big bucks and bright lights of New York City.

Carlos Beltran returned to Minute Maid Park this weekend, this time as one of the newest additions to the Texas Rangers, having been acquired in a trade deadline deal. So out came the boos, of course, the Astros fans flooding Beltran with hatred over an event that happened after the 2004 season, after he had played just 102 games for the Astros.

There was something different this time, though. Carlos Beltran told his story. He spoke about wanting to stay in Houston. Of being happy with the Astros.

“I know fans feel like I left because of whatever,” Beltran told the Houston Chronicle’s Brian T. Smith last week. “People can say anything. But the reality is I was very happy here.”

Beltran didn’t leave the Astros over money. The Astros and Mets were apparently both offering him the same sum. But it’s what the Astros weren’t willing to do that finally caused Beltran to give up on the Astros and finally sign with the Mets.

“At the end of the year, my mentality was I wanted to stay — I wanted to stay,” Beltran told Smith. “But, unfortunately, the ownership didn't want to give me the no-trade clause. As a player, you want security. You want to make a commitment to the city and at the same time make sure that you play there for ‘X’ amount of years, without worrying about trades and things like that.”

And for the lack of a no-trade clause, Carlos Beltran became an even bigger villain in Houston than Bud Adams. It’s too late to take it all back, of course, but maybe all those Astros fans owe Beltran some kind of apology. Because this evil guy, this jerk who screwed over the Astros and Drayton McLane and the fans because he wanted money, didn’t actually want money. He wanted to stay here, to play with the Astros. (Astros broadcaster Bill Brown appeared to confirm this during Saturday night’s Astros-Rangers game, stating that both teams had offered Beltran the same money, but that the Astros wouldn’t give him a no-trade clause, and that Beltran’s departure caused the team to rethink that whole no-trade thing in future contracts.)

So does Beltran's telling his story sway the opinion of any of his haters out here in Astros land? Does it matter that he actually appears to have wanted to stay here, or is that he left for the Mets all that anyone considers?

That’s a story for another day, a story for the next time Beltran appears in Houston playing for an opposing team. That's not due to happen again until the Rangers come back to Houston in mid-September. But maybe Beltran wasn’t the bad guy most people thought he was. Maybe he’s just like all of the other Astros fans who have been disappointed by the team over the years. 
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John Royal is a native Houstonian who graduated from the University of Houston and South Texas College of Law. In his day job he is a complex litigation attorney. In his night job he writes about Houston sports for the Houston Press.
Contact: John Royal