Adrian Beltre, who played for four major-league teams over 21 seasons, announced his retirement Tuesday. There are other places where you can find informed analysis of just how good he was, when he’ll get into the Hall of Fame, and where he ranks in a list of all-time third basemen. That’s all valuable and worth discussing, but mostly I want to remember the head touching.
This message from Beltre’s teammate, Rangers shortstop, and frequent head-toucher Elvis Andrus is endearing and poignant:
The on-field rapport between these two talented players was something of a comedy routine. Andrus would start the mischief; an irate Beltre would react. For example, on a routine pop fly, the shortstop would go through the motions like he was about to catch a ball that was Beltre’s from the start. (One time in 2013, they actually got hurt going for one of these.) But these two did actually care for each other.
One recurring gag was built on the fact that Beltre, the older of the pair, hated having his head touched. (Dan Gartland of Extra Mustard admirably compiled a list of as many instances as he could find. I had never seen this beautiful photo before.) The third baseman would scrunch up his face in anger if someone made contact with his noggin, and teammates would recoil in fear. The latter emotion was more genuine than the former. In Beltre’s later seasons, this became a fun league-wide gag. Baserunners like Robinson Cano would flirt with danger. Beverage showers, though? Forget about it.
Beltre’s sense of humor wasn’t limited to the team he played for. When he played for Seattle, he was pals with Mariners pitcher Felix Hernandez, and even when they were no longer in the same club, they could laugh at themselves. Beltre even pulled off the tricky feat of laughing at a pitcher’s horrendous offering without offending said pitcher:
There will never be another Adrian Beltre. That’s a trite claim, but it’s true. How many players had or will have the longevity, the talent, the ability to giggle at their own foibles and briefly shed the tough-guy mask? There might never be another player just like him, but his contemporaries can still learn and take from his finest qualities. It is possible to be great at what you do and still be able to delight in the small stuff.