Carlos Beltran is at his best when the lights are brightest in October.
Careful, the question posed above might just be a trick one. But we'll get to that in a bit.
First, let's remind readers what Carlos Beltran and David Ortiz have done so far this October in helping get their respective teams, the St. Louis Cardinals and Boston Red Sox, to the 2013 World Series.
Beltran, 36, has continued to make his case as perhaps the best postseason performer ever (at least on a per-game basis) by hitting .256/.383/.538 with two homers, six extra-base hits and 12 RBI—tops among all players—in his 11 games in 2013. He's done all sorts of Beltran things this month, all of which have helped him reach the World Series for the first time in his 16 years in the majors.
Here's a refresher:
As for Ortiz, well, the Red Sox's slugging designated hitter is headed to his third career Fall Classic, but he hasn't been nearly as hot as Beltran. The 37-year-old Ortiz is hitting just .200 but does have a .349 OBP and .486 SLG, and he's still come up big in some key spots, as per usual.
Certainly, Beltran and Ortiz have had all sorts of individual postseason successes, to the point where both come complete with their very own October lore.
Consider their career playoff numbers, laid out in table format:
Clearly, if Major League Baseball were to open up a Hall of Fame for October-only efforts, Beltran and Ortiz would be among the inaugural class of inductees.
Which brings us back to that title question: Would an epic World Series performance from either (or conceivably both) punch their ticket(s) to the HOF?
To answer that, we have to, of course, consider their regular-season numbers. After all, aside from maybe 1960 World Series hero Bill Mazeroski, nobody gets into Cooperstown predominantly on their postseason résumé—even ones as spectacular as Beltran and Ortiz's.
Here are their career numbers from April through September:
The quick-and-dirty assessment is that it's possible, even likely, that neither Beltran nor Ortiz reach the traditional milestones of 3,000 hits or 500 home runs. Still, both have remained extremely productive into their late 30s and could conceivably have another two or three years to tack onto their current digits.
Beltran's strongest argument is that he's been among the best players of his generation for the better part of a decade-and-a-half.
For instance, an All-Star-caliber season is considered by FanGraphs to be worth 4.0-plus WAR (fWAR), and Beltran has reached that standard nine times in his 16-year career. In fact, because he dealt with various injuries at times, he actually reached the 100-game plateau only 12 times—which means he was an All-Star player virtually every single full season. That has him firmly entrenched in the top five among active players in fWAR.
Beltran, by the way, is one of only eight players in baseball history with at least 300 steals and 300 homers. While three of the members of that group—Bobby Bonds, Reggie Sanders and Steve Finley—come up short in terms of Hall of Fame careers, the other four—Barry Bonds, Willie Mays, Alex Rodriguez and Andre Dawson—are all either in or would be were it not for links to performance-enhancing drugs.
Sure, Beltran isn't quite on par with each of the latter quartet, but he's clearly better than the former trio.
And because some like to look at All-Star Games as a way to determine whether a player was, in fact, considered a top performer of his era, and thus Hall-worthy, it should at least be mentioned that Beltran has made eight appearances.
By comparison, Ortiz has nine All-star appearances to his name. Like Beltran, Ortiz also has reached 100 games in 12 seasons, and he's notched 4.0-plus fWAR four times with two other years where he had 3.8 and 3.9.
That may not be as many as one might expect, but it's actually rather impressive considering Ortiz gets next to no fWAR credit for defense because he's been a full-time designated hitter for pretty much his entire career.
Ortiz gets the advantage when it comes to Most Valuable Player voting. He finished in the top five in five straight seasons from 2003 through 2007, with his second-place showing in the AL in 2005 the closest he came to nabbing the hardware.
Beltran, on the other hand, only had two top-10 MVP finishes, with his best outcome in 2006 when he came in fourth in the NL.
It's pretty clear in hindsight that Beltran's all-around game, including his plus defense in the first half of his career, was severely underrepresented in MVP voting, especially compared to Ortiz, who was arguably the AL's most dominant hitter in the mid-2000s but also got plenty of support from the RBI-rule community.
The Hall of Fame Decision
So, what's the verdict?
Who should make the Hall of Fame?
Well, Beltran likely won't be a first-ballot HOFer, but he should get in within his first few years of eligibility. He's been too good for too long to keep out, much like Vlad Guerrero, another dominant outfielder whose career overlapped with Beltran's from the late 1990s and on into this decade.
Like Beltran, Ortiz likely would get in on the merits of his on-field performance. He's arguably one of the five greatest DHs of all time, right up there with Frank Thomas, Paul Molitor, Jim Thome and Edgar Martinez. Still, he'll have to face questions about that very DH factor (much like Martinez has), and he'll need to overcome an even bigger obstacle—his positive test for PEDs, as reported in 2009. If Ortiz doesn't make it in, that's likely to be the reason why.
But putting that aside and focusing purely on production, performance and longevity, Beltran and Ortiz have great cases for Cooperstown already.
Fact is, one more epic effort in the postseason during this World Series isn't going to be what punches their ticket to the Hall of Fame. While that would only add to their causes and be another feather in their October caps, both Beltran and Ortiz very likely have enough to get in as is. Like, right now.
And yet, they're still going strong enough to push even closer to that outcome.
A big, fat Fall Classic showing won't hurt, obviously. But is it necessary? Not likely. Hence the trick part to the question posed above.