There's but one week to go before the next class of Hall of Famers is announced, and four former Cardinals are making their bids to enter the ranks of Cooperstown. Here in part two, we'll cover the careers of Carlos Beltrán and John Lackey, their contributions to the Cardinals, and their chances of getting inducted. If you'd like to check out Part 1, you can find it here.
Making his first appearance on the Hall of Fame ballot is the power-hitting, 9-time All-Star outfielder Carlos Beltrán. Putting up a myriad of fantastic seasons over a career of 20 years, Beltrán ultimately donned the uniform of a whopping seven teams—the first being that of the Kansas City Royals.
Completely bypassing Triple-A, Beltrán went on a tear in the major leagues, running away with the 1999 Rookie of the Year award with an impressive 22 home run and 108 RBI season, which also included a solid 27 stolen bases. This almost wasn’t the case, however.
A big part of this rapid success can be attributed to Beltrán’s switch-hitting, something he picked up just a few years earlier in the minors, and something he was still working on even after he was called up. Frustrated by his supposed lack of progress, Beltrán was on the cusp of abandoning batting left-handed but nevertheless pushed through. That ability, gained by his perseverance, became a core aspect of what distinguished him as a star player, and now, maybe even a Hall of Famer.
Over the next four years, Beltrán quickly established himself as one of the best players in the game, earning his first MVP votes in 2003. His prowess in speed, power, and hitting for average made him a spine-chilling threat at the plate, and consequently, quite expensive.
Beltrán’s price was deemed too expensive by the Royals, and mid-way through the 2004 season, the last year on Beltrán’s contract, he was dealt to the Houston Astros for a handful of prospects.
The Astros had their sights on their first World Series Championship but were forced to play second fiddle to their NL Central rival, the star-studded Cardinals throughout the regular season. While the Astros finished 92-70, a commendable record, they still finished an entire 13 games behind the 105-57 Cardinals.
Despite losing the division, the Astros were able to secure the NL Wild Card, and they marched into the Divisional Series undeterred. Squaring off against the Atlanta Braves, the Astros pulled through in Game 5, thanks in no small part to Beltrán’s incredible series performance in which he slashed .455/.500/1.091 with four home runs and nine RBIs.
It was in the NLCS that the Astros reunited with their bitter rival, the St. Louis Cardinals. Like the Divisional Series, the NLCS featured another stellar performance by Beltrán in which he put up a stat line reminiscent of that of a video game. Coming off his Game 5 performance against the Braves in which he put up a pair of home runs, Beltrán further recorded a dinger in each of the first four NLCS games, establishing a new MLB record that would stand for over a decade.
Despite Beltrán’s efforts, and a number of fantastic performances surrounding him, the Astros would ultimately fall in a crushing Game 7. With the end of the Astros, the season came the end of Beltrán’s contract, and free agency would see him dawn a new set of pinstripes. Impressed by Beltrán’s full offensive package—an abundance of doubles, home runs, and stolen bases to boot—the Mets eagerly offered the 27-year-old superstar the largest contract in franchise history, a staggering seven-year, $119-million contract, full with a no-trade clause. This Beltrán graciously accepted, and barring a mediocre season in 2005, he quickly became a top performer on the team and arguably the face of the franchise.
2006 saw a remarkable turn in fortune for the Mets, convincingly winning the NL East and making their first playoff appearance since 2000. Beltrán featured his finest year to date, and he was appropriately decorated for his stellar play. 2006 saw Beltrán participate in his third All-Star Game, the last two being in 2004 and 2005, and also saw him get awarded the Gold Glove and Silver Slugger for the first time in his career. He slashed .275/.388/.594, recorded 41 home runs, and 116 RBIs, and still showcased a fair bit of speed with 18 stolen bases. Faced with incredibly tough competition from prime Ryan Howard, Albert Pujols, and Lance Berkman, Beltrán merely placed fourth in MVP voting, though it could be argued that he deserved a higher spot.
Sweeping the Dodgers in the Divisional Series, Beltrán would once again be making an appearance in the NLCS, and once again, it was against those pesky St. Louis Cardinals. Like 2004, this NLCS featured a grueling back-and-forth bout, and the series was pushed to the very limit in a critical Game 7. Falling behind 3-1 after surrendering a 2-run home run to Yadier Molina in the top of the ninth, the Mets were on the brink of elimination.
The 2006 Mets were too good to simply lie down and perish, however, and facing the rookie Adam Wainwright, the first two batters reached base on a pair of singles. Wainwright, however, was able to find his groove, and despite the Mets loading the bases, they were down to their final out. Up stepped Carlos Beltrán. He took the first pitch down the middle. Strike one. Beltrán let it rip at a curveball low and away. He fouled it off. Strike two. Everyone in attendance was on their feet—a special moment seemed to be brewing.
And then came strike three. Another incredible season and playoff performance from Beltrán, another crushing elimination at the hands of the Cardinals.
Over the next three years, Beltrán would continue to put up the top-notch seasons expected from him, earning MVP votes in two of those years, two All-Star appearances, another two Gold Gloves, and a silver slugger. The Mets as a whole, however, struggled. For the rest of Beltrán’s tenure in New York, the Mets wouldn’t see a division title or even a playoff berth.
Coming into 2011, this certainly wasn’t the case for the defending champions, the San Francisco Giants. Looking for a big acquisition in the quest to defend their title, Beltrán was deemed their man. With Beltrán waiving his no-trade clause to make the deal work, the Mets handed him $4 million to the Giants in exchange for their top pitching prospect Zach Wheeler. 2011 was the last year on Beltrán’s contract, and he would only play 44 games with the Giants. These would be a very productive 44 games, however, seeing Beltrán hit seven home runs while putting up a .323 average. Nevertheless, Beltrán’s addition to the Giants wasn’t as sufficient a spark as they had wanted, and they were edged out by, you guessed it, the St. Louis Cardinals.
If you can’t beat the Cardinals, you might as well join them. Signing a two-year, $26 million contract with St. Louis, the Cardinals had dished out a contract to someone who wasn’t already in the organization larger than they had to anyone else in the past decade. With superstar Albert Pujols leaving for Los Angeles, the Cardinals had a major hole to fill up in their lineup, and Beltrán was brought in to fill it. Just as he had for every team he’d played for in the past, Beltrán delivered a pair of fantastic regular seasons. He slashed .269/.346/.495 in his first year with the team, recording his highest home run count since 2007, with 32. 2012 also saw Beltrán attend his seventh All-Star game while coming 26th in MVP voting. Once again, though, Beltrán would fall just short in the playoffs, despite another top-of-the-line postseason in which he posted a gargantuan 1.154 OPS.
2013 would play out in a similar manner for Beltrán, seeing him make his eighth All-Star appearance, and putting up a regular season performance nearly on par with that of 2012. The Cardinals, on the other hand, were strikingly different. Winning their first division title since 2009, and posting the best record in the league, the Redbirds were poised and ready for a deep playoff run—and make a run they did. Once again, Beltrán was crucial to the team’s postseason success, though his usual dominant performance was absent, and unfortunately for him, it would never return. Though the Cardinals would make it to the World Series, the first appearance Beltrán would make in his career, the team’s bats fell silent at the most crucial hour, and the Cardinals' season abruptly ended in anticlimactic fashion. So too, did Beltrán’s time in St. Louis.
Despite his increasing age (by this time he was entering his late 30s), Beltrán nevertheless secured the second most lucrative contract of his career. Heading back to the east coast, Beltrán would once again be donning pinstripes, and once again be playing for New York. This time, however, it would be for the Yankees.
Despite the faith the Yankees had placed in Beltrán, father time had started to do his work on him, and 2014 was riddled with injury and offensive struggles. This was easily Beltrán’s worst season to date, and the start of the 2015 campaign seemed to spell a similar story. Despite finishing April with a ghastly .481 OPS, Beltrán was able to pick himself up, finish strong and bring it back up to a respectable .808.
2016 would see Beltrán bounce back for a final time, seeing him voted into his last All-Star game as he put up a season full of milestones and memories. Reaching 2,473 hits at the end of April, Beltrán took sole possession of 10th place on the all-time leaderboard for switch-hitters. 2016 also saw Beltrán notch his 400th home run, becoming the 54th player in major league history to do so. Alongside these incredible achievements, Beltrán was finally playing good baseball again, something all the more impressive considering he was on the cusp of turning 40. Through 99 games with the Yankees, Beltrán slashed .304/.344/.546 for an OPS of .890, better than any of his seasons since all the way back in 2011.
This didn’t stop the Yankees, who were struggling heavily at the trade deadline, from trading him to the much greener, and warmer, pasture of the Texas Rangers. Home to one of the best offenses in baseball, the Rangers took a massive hit with the loss of Prince Fielder and were willing to pay up big to find a replacement. The man deemed for the job was once again, Carlos Beltrán.
Though he would cool down for the rest of the season, Beltrán would finish his regular season campaign with 29 home runs and 93 RBIs, something truly incredible for a 39-year-old. Beltrán’s bat alongside the rest of the Rangers' offense would be absent in the divisional round however, and the team saw a quick first-round exit.
Beltrán would play the last season of his career in 2017. Still looking for their first World Series Championship, the Houston Astros brought back the veteran slugger on a one-year, $16 million deal, one of their several big moves that offseason. Though Beltrán wasn’t a top offensive contributor on the team and his defensive ability was long gone, something understandable given his age, he still provided invaluable veteran leadership to the young Astros core.
In spite of Beltrán’s somewhat lacking contributions, once again putting up the worst season of his career, the Astros won over a hundred games, marched all the way to the World Series, and squared up against the powerhouse Los Angeles Dodgers. The series was wildly considered an instant classic, and despite Beltrán going 0-3 across a span of three games, the Astros would ultimately come home with the ultimate prize in Game 7. After two decades of heart-breaking losses, Beltrán finally had his World Series championship.
This, of course, is still the case, but unfortunately, that championship to many today oozes with fraud and illegitimacy. Two years after the Astros won their first championship, it had come to light that the Astros had been illicitly stealing signs using technology during the 2017 season. Unfortunately for Beltrán, it was also revealed that he had played a major role in the process, a catastrophe for both his legacy and reputation. Apart from that, however, the scandal produced an even more serious consequence.
Having been brought in to be the New York Mets’ new manager in late 2019, Beltrán mutually parted ways with the organization in light of the scandal. Beltrán hasn’t taken up a managerial position since.
Will Beltran Make the Hall of Fame?
Through his 20 seasons in the big leagues, Beltrán has assembled a resume borderline unparalleled in the industry—Rookie of the Year, nine All-Star appearances, three Gold Gloves, two Silver Sluggers, and for the cherry on top, a World Series Championship to end his career. Comparing Beltrán’s career statistics to those of recent inductees, David Ortiz, Derek Jeter, and Larry Walker, Beltran seems like he’d fit in quite comfortably as another addition to the ranks of Cooperstown. Voting thus far has echoed this sentiment, as Beltrán has received approximately 57% of the vote in his very first year.
Though Beltrán has already smashed the base requirement of 5% of the vote to make it onto next year’s ballot, he’s still well below the threshold of 75%, meaning that he’ll likely have to wait at least another year in the process before his induction.
That, of course, is if he gets inducted. Given that he was at the core of the 2017 Astros’ cheating scandal, it’s possible that his potential supporters will place a really high bar on preserving the integrity of the game and might turn up their noses.