It is only two years ago that Alex Rodriguez got his 3,000th hit. There seemed to be a lack of interest in baseball in his pursuit of that major milestone. I pay as much attention to the game of baseball as a person can, and I remember being oblivious that Rodriguez was close to 3,000 hits until he hit number 2,999. It did not seem like anybody was publicizing it, not even the Yankees themselves.
My explanation for that is likely the same as everyone else’s: fans and the media felt that A-Rod’s accomplishment was tainted because of his steroid use. I am not exactly a big believer in the performance-enhancing power of steroids, but enough people believe it and don’t want to give Rodriguez any credit for such a major milestone. It seemed to me that Yankees fans were happy for the guy, but nobody else was.
I am sure that A-Rod’s perceived misdeeds were a factor in the lack of interest in his 3,000th hit, but major milestones of other future Hall of Famers demonstrate that it might not have been the only factor. Albert Pujols recently hit his 600th home run, and Adrián Beltré is only 45 hits away from 3,000. There seemed to be little excitement over Pujols’s achievement, and so far I have not seen anything about Beltré’s pursuit since before the season started. Perhaps there is a fair amount of coverage at the local level, but I have not seen much nationally.
Part of the reason for this is likely the decreasing level of interest in counting stats and arbitrary, round numbers. The sabermetric movement did a lot to devalue those things in favor of rate stats, which are far more informative as to a player’s production and value. But milestones are less about information and more about celebration. What Pujols did and what Beltré is about to do are still major accomplishments.
Pujols is only the ninth player ever to reach the 600 HR milestone, and he will likely pass Sammy Sosa (609) and Jim Thome (612) on the all-time list before the season is over. He will probably pass Ken Griffey Jr. (630) next season. Willie Mays might be tough to catch, at fifth place all-time with 660 HR. Pujols is 37 years old, and despite his 28-HR pace in 2017, he is hitting poorly, with a triple slash of .236/.286/.388. That is a 79 wRC+ from a DH. Pujols is signed through 2021, but he has always said he will retire before that if he can no longer be effective. If he really does do that, it will probably be no later than after next season at the rate he is going, especially if he himself hits number 3,000. He is only 114 hits away from it right now.
The 3,000-hit club is less exclusive than the 600-HR club, with 27 members. Membership can be a mark of sustained excellence over a long career, rather than the incredible ability that’s basically required to hit 600 HRs. The list also has many “compilers,” who are players who hung on way past when they should have, just to hit that arbitrary number. The one player who arguably benefited the most from it is Craig Biggio. He was atrocious in his final season with -2.1 WAR. He should have retired the year before when he was worth only 0.4 WAR. Yet if he had not played that final season, he would not have retired with over than 3,000 hits, which is probably why he is in the Hall of Fame right now, even though he was just as much a Hall of Famer with 2,930 hits.
I believe that last sentence says a lot about the lack of coverage of Pujols and Beltré. Had Biggio retired a year early, it would be interesting to see how it would have affected his Hall of Fame entry. He had to wait too long for entry as it was, because voters have historically struggled with all-around players such as Biggio. There are likely still voters who can’t be bothered to look beyond whether a player got 3,000 hits or not, but the electorate is gaining a higher percentage of voters who actually know how to evaluate players’ careers with nuance.
I speculate that the lack of excitement over Pujols and Beltré are because these milestone, while major accomplishments, change nothing about their Hall of Fame cases. They are both absolute, no-brainer Hall of Famers. Pujols will undoubtedly get in on his first chance, and Beltré might too, and certainly will before he falls off the ballot (assuming he ever retires).
Albert Pujols is the second-greatest first baseman of all time behind Lou Gehrig, and I would argue that has been the case for several years. Had he retired after his last game with the Cardinals in 2011, he would have deservedly gotten into the Hall of Fame on his first chance. You could even argue that Pujols was a Hall of Famer after only seven or eight seasons. You really could! Getting 600 HR is awesome, but it changes nothing about Pujols’s legendary career.
Adrián Beltré is obviously a very different player than Pujols. Even with the resurgence his bat has enjoyed since joining the Rangers, it is nowhere close to Pujols in his prime. and his career 115 wRC+ is underwhelming, until it’s combined with his outstanding defensive work at third base. In my estimation, he has been a worthy Hall of Famer for only a few years, but he is now at the point that any voters who declines to vote for him should have their privileges revoked.
Beltré is one of the greatest defensive players at a position that lacks Hall of Fame representation more than any other position. He also has true longevity, meaning he has not only played for a long time, but he has actually been very good during that time. Too many players are credited with longevity when they were terrible for their last few years or more. Coincidentally, that is how some players, such as Biggio, got their 3,000 hits.
To Beltré’s credit, he is not a compiler at all. The man is 38 years old and was worth 6.5 WAR last year. At the rate he is going, I would not be surprised if he reaches 3,500 hits in his career. Barring injury, he will likely reach 500 HR next year. As with the hits, it does little to nothing to change the fact that Beltré is one of the greatest third basemen ever. It also does little to affect his status as one of the greatest Rangers of all time.
I am not saying that these major milestones do not matter. They are tremendous accomplishments by Pujols and Beltré, and they do deserve to be celebrated. However, they do little to change their legacies, and I believe the lack of media coverage over these accomplishments reflect that more and more people understand that. Albert Pujols and Adrián Beltré are all-timers at their respective positions, and gaudy home run and hit totals do little to add to that.
Luis Torres is a Featured Writer at Beyond the Box Score. He is a medicinal chemist by day, baseball analyst by night. You can follow him on Twitter at @Chemtorres21. All WAR values are from Baseball Reference unless otherwise specified.