The biggest surprise this MLB season is, without question, the Minnesota Twins.
Their 41 victories were third-most in baseball entering the weekend, behind the Houston Astros and Los Angeles Dodgers at 43 apiece. Those clubs were expected to do well, but the Twins weren’t.
Nor were the Texas Rangers, who entered play Friday four games above .500 and tied with the Boston Red Sox for the second wild-card entry into the American League playoffs.
The Rangers are doing it without Adrian Beltre, who retired in November.
“For you guys it sounds like a surprise,” Beltre said. “But for me it’s not a surprise. These guys can play.”
The Rangers don’t seem to miss him (but they do, of course) and he doesn’t seem to miss the game. Even when pressed by teammate Joey Gallo if he misses playing, Beltre insisted that he does not.
Retirement has been very, very good to Beltre, so far.
It will get better Saturday, as the Rangers retire his jersey number, 29, Saturday night and place it next to Ivan Rodriguez’s retired No. 7 in left field.
“I didn’t expect this so soon, but getting your number retired is something really cool,” Beltre said. “My memories have been good, and the treatment the Rangers have given me over the years has been beyond good.”
Nolan Ryan is the only other Rangers player with his jersey (No. 34 for those who need a refresher) retired, and jerseys of former manager Johnny Oates (26) and MLB icon Jackie Robinson (42) are also retired.
But who belongs on the Rangers’ Mount Rushmore might be open for debate, though retiring a jersey seems to speak volumes. For the following exercise, Ryan, Rodriguez and Beltre are on there (sorry, Mr. Oates), and that leaves one spot to be determined.
Who gets it? Here are five candidates:
His strong candidacy is built on being the team leaders in — deep breath — games (1,823), at-bats (7,399), runs (1,085), hits (2,230), doubles (415), triples (55), multi-hit games (651) and total bases (3,286). Young was a batting champion, a seven-time All-Star, an All-Star Game MVP, a Gold Glove winner and a two-time Marvin Miller Man of the Year winner. He continues to work for the team as an assistant to general manager Jon Daniels and is in the team’s Hall of Fame.
Let’s start with the two AL MVP awards he won in 1996 and 1998. He’s the career team leader in home runs (421) and RBIs (1,180), second in slugging percentage (.565) and total bases (3,073), third in runs (878), fourth in hits (1,595) and doubles (320). Was it done under a cloud of suspicion? Well, he’s in the Mitchell Report, and that doesn’t help. But he is in the Rangers Hall of Fame, though he didn’t show up for the ceremony.
At least Gonzalez never failed a drug test. Palmeiro did, though not with the Rangers, but the episode has tainted what otherwise was a Hall of Fame career. Most of his accomplishments came with the Rangers over two stints. He collected his 500th career homer with the Rangers and went to three All-Star games and won three Gold Glove with them. He ranks in the top five of most significant offensive categories and trails either only Young or Gonzalez in many. But he can’t even get in the Rangers Hall of Fame.
Based on pure baseball talent, Hamilton belongs. If longevity is a mark against him, he played with the Rangers for six seasons to Ryan’s five. Hamilton won the 2010 AL MVP award, a season in which he also won the batting title and was MVP of the AL Championship Series. He hit four home runs in a game in 2012, a season in which his hit 42 home runs. His exit for the Los Angeles Angels got ugly, but Rangers fans embraced him when he returned in 2015.
Oates was the first manager to get the Rangers to the postseason, when they won the AL West in 1996. They also won it in 1998 and 1999, but won only one game in those three best-of-5 series as they ran into the New York Yankees at the start of their dynasty. Washington brought them back, three times, and the first two ended in the World Series. He is the all-time franchise leader in wins 664. There were two off-the-field incidents that also marked his stay, but Washington is a beloved figure in Rangers history.