Who will be the first openly-gay baseball player? I don’t know, but I know what he looks like

199 Comments

To coincide with the gay marriage cases being argued before the Supreme Court yesterday and today, USA Today features a discussion among several athletes about when various sports, particularly baseball, will have openly gay active players and how accepting their colleagues will be.  It’s an interesting enough piece and follows more or less the contours of previous discussions on the matter.

My thinking, though, informed by some reader comments a couple of years ago and which makes total sense once you think about it: baseball’s first openly-gay player isn’t going to be an active major leaguer who comes out in the middle of his playing career. Rather, it’s going to be a high school phenom with a can’t-miss baseball pedigree who is openly gay at age 17 or something because high school kids these days have way fewer hangups about this stuff than people my age do.

It’ll be a story around draft time. Then, every year when he comes to spring training or reaches the next level of the minors someone will write a rehash column about him. By the time he makes the bigs it will be old news. The entire time his quotes will be polite versions of “whatever, it’s just how it is” as though you were asking any other baseball player about hunting in the offseason.

It’ll be great because it will deflate all of the “Wow, this is big!” hype from people who grew up in and were conditioned by the culture wars to think that someone will have to break through a barrier of bigots in order to be a gay major leaguer. Instead, it will just be a thing that no one the player’s age thinks is all that controversial, and something which the bigots in the player’s midst — due to how quickly attitudes about homosexuality are changing in our culture — will be afraid to make a big deal out of because to do so will almost universally be seen as shameful. If there is blowback from a teammate it will be handled in the same way as if a player today complained about sharing a clubhouse with black or Latino players: he’d be disciplined and/or cast out, not because he’s a bigot as such, but because he’s a crappy teammate and a jerk.

At least that’s my hope. A hope buoyed by what has been an encouraging and quite extraordinary evolution in the discourse about such matters in the just the past few years. An evolution that will create a state of affairs which will make it quite difficult for me to explain to my perplexed children why, when I was younger, people gave a crap about who people loved.

Adrián Beltré is a slam dunk Hall of Famer

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
15 Comments

Rangers third baseman Adrián Beltré officially announced his retirement on Tuesday, ending months of speculation about his future. The 39-year-old put together one of the greatest careers we have ever seen, spending time with the Dodgers, Mariners, Red Sox, and Rangers across 21 seasons.

Beltré will be eligible for the Hall of Fame five years from now. Given how much more analytically-literate the electorate has become in recent years, Beltré will very likely get the requisite 75 percent of the vote to earn enshrinement in Cooperstown. In a just world, he would get 100 percent of the vote, but no player has ever gone into the Hall of Fame unanimously.

Beltré retires having hit .286/.339/.480 with 477 home runs, 1,707 RBI, 1,524 runs scored, and 121 stolen bases in 12,130 plate appearances. Beltré hit for the cycle three times: in 2008 with the Mariners, and in 2012 and 2015 with the Rangers. He won four Silver Sluggers and made the All-Star team four times, both of which seem criminally low. He also won five Gold Gloves and two Platinum Gloves. For the bulk of his career, he was arguably the best defensive third baseman if not just in his league then in all of baseball. Injuries slowed Beltré in his 30’s, particularly in the last two seasons, but despite that, he showed when he was healthy that he could still hang with the young guns in his old age. No one would have been surprised if he hung around for one more season. Despite health issues, Beltré still hit around the league average with above-average defense.

Among Hall of Famers who played at least 50 percent of their career games at third base, Beltré’s career 95.7 WAR ranks behind only Mike Schmidt (106.8) and Eddie Mathews (96.6), per Baseball Reference. He’s ahead of Wade Boggs (91.4), George Brett (88.7), and Chipper Jones (85.2). Those six are the only third basemen in the 80’s when it comes to WAR.

As Jon Morosi points out, Beltré is the only third baseman in baseball history with 3,000-plus hits and 400-plus home runs. Individually, the 3,000-hit club boasts only 32 members while the 400-homer club has 55 members. Beltré’s 3,166 hits and 477 homes rank 16th and 30th, respectively.

Beltré’s numbers are absurdly good, but beyond that, he was a character. He took the game quite seriously, but he was still able to have fun. He became one of the most .gif-able players in the game. Beltré didn’t like his head being touched, so when he approached or went through the dugout collecting high-fives after hitting home runs, his teammates would oftentimes playfully pat him or rub his head. Beltré would pretend to go after them in revenge.

Beltré once borrowed groundskeeping equipment in order to avoid Gatorade baths.

Beltré wasn’t afraid to drop to one knee to hit a homer, either.

Beltré played games with his opponents after successfully swiping a base.

Beltré got into standoffs with opposing players, further proving he’s anything but an easy out.

Beltré made relevant cultural references.

Beltré once trolled the umpire, who asked him to get back into the on-deck circle, by moving the on-deck circle.

Happy trails to not only one of the best players of his generation, but to one of the most entertaining as well. Baseball will be poorer without Adrián Beltré. His Hall of Fame induction ceremony should be tremendous, though.