Carlos Beltran should be a first ballot Hall-of-Famer -- with a Mets cap on his plaque

Carlos Beltran
Carlos Beltran / USA TODAY Sports/SNY Treated Image

Former Mets center fielder Carlos Beltran, who retired after the 2017 season, is on the National Baseball Hall of Fame ballot for the first time and eligible to be elected with the class of 2023.

Already, I've seen one article describing the addition of Beltran to the ballot as "intriguing." Another article argued that Beltran should be kept out because of his role in the Houston Astros' sign-stealing scandal.

Let's be clear about two things...

1. Beltran being on the ballot isn't "intriguing." He is a slam dunk yes vote.

2. The idea that Beltran should be kept out the Hall either on his first try or forever because he took part in a sign-stealing scandal is outrageous.

Because the sign-stealing stuff (and potential ramifications) is such a tired topic, let's knock it out of the way first.

If you want to keep Beltran out of the Hall because he stole signs during one season as part of a scheme that involved banging trash cans while using technology to decode signs, what about Willie Mays? He was on the 1951 New York Giants team that used a telescope in center field to steal signs and rip the pennant from the Brooklyn Dodgers. Should we take Willie out of Cooperstown?

If we're going off integrity, I'd like to see anyone make a case against Beltran (who is widely viewed as a terrific person and teammate, and is also involved in charitable endeavors) while making a case for Ty Cobb, who was viewed as a violent and detestable human being.

Now that we have that nonsense out of the way, let's talk about Beltran the baseball player.

Beltran the baseball player was one of the best two-way center fielders in the history of the sport, whose seemingly effortless brilliance in the outfield wasn't nearly as appreciated as it should have been.

Oct 18, 2006; Flushing, NY, USA; New York Mets center fielder (15) Carlos Beltran singles in the fourth inning of game six of the National League Championship Series against the St. Louis Cardinals at Shea Stadium in Flushing, NY.
Oct 18, 2006; Flushing, NY, USA; New York Mets center fielder (15) Carlos Beltran singles in the fourth inning of game six of the National League Championship Series against the St. Louis Cardinals at Shea Stadium in Flushing, NY. / Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports Copyright © 2006 Howard Smith

Yes, Beltran could make the spectacular play (just one example was his catch running up Tal's Hill in Houston with the Mets in 2007), but he was so smooth that his prowess was not appreciated enough.

And at the plate?

During his 20-year-career, the switch-hitting Beltran slashed .279/.350/.486 with 435 home runs, 1,587 RBI, 1,582 runs scored, 565 doubles, 78 triples, and 312 stolen bases. And he did much of this while being one of the best center fielders in the game.

Beltran was the Rookie of the Year in 1999 with the Kansas City Royals, made nine All-Star teams, was in the top 20 in MVP voting five times, won three Gold Gloves, and was absolutely prolific in the postseason -- slashing .307/.412/.609 with 16 homers in 65 games across 15 series with the Houston Astros, Mets, St. Louis Cardinals, Yankees, and Texas Rangers.

For those Mets fans who still obsess over Beltran taking a called strike three with the bases loaded and two outs in Game 7 of the 2006 NLCS against the St. Louis Cardinals? Stop.

The Mets don't make it to Game 7 without Beltran, who hit a game-deciding homer in Game 1 and hit two homers in the Mets' Game 4 win. The Mets also didn't lose Game 7 because of Beltran. They lost it because -- among other things -- they failed to capitalize on a bases loaded, one-out chance in a tie game in the bottom of the sixth after Endy Chavez's remarkable home run-saving catch in left field kept the game tied, and because a hobbled Cliff Floyd was sent to the plate in the bottom of the ninth with runners and first and second and none out.

Now, back to Beltran's Hall of Fame candidacy...

Beltran's career bWAR is 70.1. The seven center fielders above him in career bWAR? In order from first to seventh are Mays, Cobb, Tris Speaker, Mickey Mantle, Ken Griffey Jr., Mike Trout, and Joe DiMaggio. That's six Hall-of-Famers and one (Trout) surefire first-ballot Hall-of-Famer who should be a unanimous selection.

Just below Beltran in career bWAR are Kenny Lofton, Duke Snider, Andre Dawson, and Richie Ashburn. Snider, Dawson, and Ashburn are all Hall-of-Famers.

Now that we've established that Beltran is a slam-dunk Hall-of-Famer, let's talk about which logo should adorn the cap on his plaque.

Carlos Beltran
Carlos Beltran / Tom Szczerbowski - USA TODAY Sports

Beltran was terrific with the Royals and Mets, spending the prime of his career with those teams, and the numbers tell the story.

With the Royals, Beltran slashed .287/.352/.483 with 123 homers, 156 doubles, 45 triples, 164 stolen bases, 516 RBI, and 546 runs scored in 795 games over seven seasons.

With the Mets, Beltran slashed .280/.369/.500 with 149 homers, 208 doubles, 17 triples, 100 stolen bases, 559 RBI, and 551 runs scored in 839 games over seven seasons.

A case can be made for Beltran going in as a Royal or a Met, but he had his best season as a Met (2006), had postseason success as a Met (the Royals did not make the playoffs during his tenure there), won all of his Gold Gloves as a Met, and was a five-team All-Star in Queens after making the team once in KC.

When it comes to caps on Hall of Fame plaques, while the decision is officially made by the Hall, players generally have their preference honored -- unless that preference is ridiculous, as would've been the case with Wade Boggs and the then-Devil Rays (though Boggs disputes that he wanted to enter as a Devil Ray).

If Beltran wants to enter as a Met, he will. He could also enter with no logo on his plaque, as some -- including Greg Maddux -- have done.

When Beltran was named Mets manager before the 2020 season, it seemed like a cinch that he would enter the Hall as a Met. But that managerial tenure of course ended with Beltran getting fired for his role in the sign-stealing scandal.

Alex Cora and A.J. Hinch were also fired around the same time for their roles in the scandal, but are both back managing -- and Cora is with the Boston Red Sox again. Meanwhile, Beltran remains out, which is a wrong that should be righted.

With Buck Showalter being 66 years old, it would be fitting if the Mets hired Beltran to be the bench coach in a year or two, setting him up to take over whenever Showalter retires. The Mets should also consider retiring Beltran's No. 15, since he is arguably the best two-way player they've ever had -- an honor that might one day be held by Francisco Lindor.

But the next honor for Beltran should be his Hall call in a few months. Let's see if the voters get it right.