The baseball sat on the carpeted floor in front of Carlos Beltran’s locker, beneath a chair, as he talked with reporters about its significance, the meaning of his 400th home run.
Beltran certainly improved his Hall of Fame chances by swatting that two-run shot in the Yankees’ 7-5 comeback win over the White Sox. He joined Mickey Mantle, Eddie Murray and Chipper Jones as only the fourth switch hitter to reach that milestone, and just the fifth player with at least 400 homers and 300 stolen bases.
That’s select company. But as great as Beltran has been during his 19-year career, there’s more depth to him, and sometimes it comes through in the little things.
The Yankees brokered a deal with the fan who snagged No. 400. The negotiated price? Two autographed bats and four signed baseballs. But after meeting up, he signaled to a clubbie for two of his jerseys, as well. Beltran added those himself, in appreciation.
“Why not?” Beltran said, smiling.
For a player who enjoys the game as much as Beltran does, Sunday’s achievement was even bigger than he let on. But he’s always been good at containing his emotion, something that we first were introduced to during his previous tenure in Flushing.
Too often, that was mistaken for a cool indifference, and Beltran’s Mets legacy probably suffers some because of it. That, combined with debilitating knee issues, the franchise’s steady decline, and one infamous at-bat against Adam Wainwright. Bottom line: Look at his numbers.
All Beltran has done since then is add to them, along with finally getting to a World Series — with the Cardinals in 2013. Making it this far, after his career teetering on wobbly knees with the Mets, shows Cooperstown-caliber resilience to go with his elite talent.
“After 2011, a lot of people probably thought I was out of baseball,” Beltran said. “I’m still in baseball.’ ” And after saying thanks to God, he added, “I’ve also got to give myself a little credit because I really worked hard for it.”
At 39, Beltran leads the Yankees with eight home runs, and no one else has played in all 36 games. With Alex Rodriguez on the disabled list, and Mark Teixeira hitting .200, Girardi has been forced to lean on Beltran for as long as possible. Fortunately, A-Rod’s absence has opened up the DH spot, and that’s allowed Beltran to get off his legs occasionally.
With the proper rest, Beltran looks like he could probably DH until he’s 50, and he’ll likely be doing that full-time for another team once his time runs out in the Bronx at the end of this season. Or Beltran could choose to call it a career. Even though we believe Beltran already has built a solid case for the Hall of Fame, he sounds like he wants to keep chasing a ring.
“I don’t get caught up in the numbers, because for me, what is important is trying to win a championship,” Beltran said. “And that’s something that I have never experienced in my baseball career. I’ve been to All-Star Games, I’ve won Gold Gloves, silver sluggers — great accomplishments. But winning a World Series, that’s the greatest accomplishment you can get as a ballplayer.”
He’s tried. In 52 playoff games, Beltran has hit .332 with 16 home runs, 40 RBIs and a 1.115 OPS. The way the Yankees are going right now, aside from the 7-3 homestand, we don’t see Beltran having a legitimate shot in pinstripes. Should they be July sellers, however, Beltran might get that title shot somewhere else. If that never happens, Cooperstown isn’t a bad consolation prize.
“It’s great that people mention that,” Beltran said. “It motivates me that people consider me for that. But at the same time, I have seen players that have played this game a long time, had successful careers, and are not Hall of Famers. So I don’t know how people judge that. Just being considered, for me, means a lot.”
Hitting No. 400 Sunday didn’t make Beltran any more special. Just solidified what we already knew.
Carlos Beltran has slowed down some on the basepaths, but he’s still one of only five members of the 400-homer, 300-stolen base club:
Player HRs SBs
Barry Bonds 762 514
Alex Rodriguez 692 328
Willie Mays 660 338
Andre Dawson 438 314
Carlos Beltran 400 311
Most home runs for a switch hitter:
Total RH LH
Mickey Mantle 536164 372
Eddie Murray 504142362
Chipper Jones 468107 361
Carlos Beltran 400 116284