Late this morning, I went down a YouTube rabbit hole, as one does, clicking baseball video after baseball video. I happened upon one of MLB’s compilations of fun Adrián Beltré moments, which got me thinking: pound-for-pound, I don’t think any player has made me smile based on his personality alone more than Beltré. I’m a Phillies fan, so naturally players like Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, and Cole Hamels have brought me plenty of smiles, but many of them due to displays of skill or other successes on the field. Which is not to say that they didn’t have personalities — Rollins certainly did — but they weren’t quite like Beltré’s.
Beltré, who debuted in 1998 and retired after the 2018 season, was mostly known for how he hated having his head touched, which only made his teammates want to do it more. Especially shortstop Elvis Andrus. One time, during a May 2013 game in Seattle, the Rangers infielders were congregated around the mound during a pitching change. With Beltré’s attention focused elsewhere, Andrus stealthily touched Beltré’s head with his glove. Beltré playfully tried to kick Andrus in retaliation but was too slow, so Beltré did the only thing he could: he took off his glove and hurled it at his teammate.
In late July 2017, during an interleague series with the Marlins, the Rangers got shelled, trailing 18-6 in the bottom of the eighth inning. The Rangers, to their credit, mounted a bit of a threat, loading the bases with two outs. With Nomar Mazara at the plate, Beltré was next in the batting order, taking his practice cuts on the warning track behind home plate. Umpire Gerry Davis told Beltré he needed to be on the batting circle, closer to the dugout. Beltré lifted up the batting circle and dragged it to where he had been taking his practice cuts. Davis didn’t like the joke and ejected Beltré. Then-manager Jeff Banister argued the ejection and got tossed himself.
Once I got done with the Beltré video, I started thinking about other great personalities in baseball. Joey Votto immediately came to mind for me. I’ve written about his antics quite a bit here. Votto is a future Hall of Famer and one of the absolute best hitters of his generation, but he has never taken himself too seriously.
Votto, in fact, wants to be a bus driver (or a crossing guard) when his playing days are over. How many baseball legends do you know that have wanted to do that?
Former Marlins pitcher José Fernández was on his way to becoming arguably baseball’s biggest personality. Through four seasons, the right-hander won the 2013 NL Rookie of the Year Award, finished third in NL Cy Young voting in ’13, was a two-time All-Star, and never finished a season with an ERA above 2.92 (though he was hobbled by injuries). Sadly, he was killed in a boating accident in the offseason ahead of the 2017 season. Despite a brief career, Fernández was responsible for plenty of memorable moments for otherwise very forgettable teams.
Perhaps Fernández’s best moment was in August 2013 when the Marlins were hosting the Rockies. With two outs in the top of the first inning, Troy Tulowitzki lined a Fernández fastball right back up the middle. It’s a single 99 times out of 100, but Fernández was a great fielder and had lightning-quick reflexes, so he snagged the liner out of the air. Tulowitzki, stopped dead in his tracks, asked Fernandez, “Did you really catch that?” Fernández, flashing his million-dollar smile, nodded joyously in response.
— Bill Baer (@Baer_Bill) April 30, 2020
I made an incomplete list of other great personalities baseball has had in recent years and also asked my Twitter followers who has made them smile (without taking into account the players’ skill or on-field accomplishments). Some of the answers I received included Munenori Kawasaki, Carlos Gómez, Brandon Phillips, and Adam Jones. I would add Javier Báez, Andrew McCutchen, Kiké Hernández, and Francisco Lindor to the list. As I mentioned, it’s a woefully incomplete list, so help round it out: which players’ personalities have given you the most smiles over the years? They don’t have to be recent players.