Will two good hitting outfielders who starred for the KC Royals get elected?
Carlos Beltran and Johnny Damon were two young players of unquestioned talent and proven production whose on-field heroics endeared them to club and city. But they grew up with a franchise that typically spurned any thoughts of big, expensive long-term contracts, and were bitter losses for fans to swallow when management traded them away.
Damon and Beltran had no say in their unfortunate departures, both occasioned by the players’ impending free agency and the reality that the KC Royals weren’t going to pay what it took to keep them. Damon was the first to go, shipped away to Oakland in the winter before his 2001 “walk year” via a complex three-team trade that brought Angel Berroa, AJ Hinch and Roberto Hernandez to KC. Beltran followed in June 2004, traded to Houston in another three-team deal that reaped the Royals Mark Teahen, Mike Wood and John Buck.
Do Damon’s six Kansas City seasons—the most he played for any team—warrant a place in KC’s Hall of Fame? He played hard, slashed an excellent .292/.351/.438 with 65 home runs, 352 RBIs, a 101 OPS+ and 17.3 WAR from 1995-2000, and averaged over 130 games per campaign. Unlike so many members of the club’s Hall, Damon didn’t finish his career in Kansas City, but it wasn’t he who pulled the trigger on the deal that sent him packing.
Damon’s years in Kansas City were the best of his career. Whether he’s elected or not, a place in the team’s Hall can be justified.
Beltran, who won Rookie of the Year honors as a Royal in 1999, played a half-season longer with the club than Damon, and posted better numbers. Until his 2004 trade, Beltran clubbed 123 homers, drove in 516 runs, and slashed .287/.352/.483 with a 111 OPS+ and 24.8 WAR. His statistical qualifications for enshrinement are inarguable.
What renders his chances for the Hall uncertain has nothing to do with his time with the Royals. Instead, it is the cheating scandal that rocked the 2017 Astros that clouds Beltran’s candidacy. He was the only Houston player identified by name in the Commissioner’s report that laid bare the details of the team’s infamous “trash can” scheme, and he subsequently expressed remorse for the role he played.
Numbers say Beltran is deserving and, taken alone, make him a cinch for induction. He was an Astro, long gone from the Royals, when his team cheated others; whether the scandal will, or won’t, affect the vote remains to be seen, but its potential impact shouldn’t be discounted. For that reason, Beltran isn’t a lock.