Carlos Beltran: 'Everything I had, I left it on the field'
After nine All-Star appearances, 435 home runs, seven teams and, finally, one World Series championship, Carlos Beltran has retired from professional baseball. His 20-year career saw him grow from young superstar to a revered presence in clubhouses such as the Astros’, where he was a mentor to many of the young stars who helped the club win its first title. Hours after announcing his retirement, he spoke with ESPN The Magazine’s Marly Rivera about what his future holds.
Why today, and why now? Why is this the right time?
I’ve been contemplating this decision for a while now. This summer, when I was in Houston without my family, made me think that it was time. As a baseball player, I am extremely grateful for the opportunity that God has given me to play this game for so many years, and I knew that at some point, this time would come. This is something that I have been contemplating with my wife, Jessica, for many years. Honestly, winning the World Series was spectacular. But whether we won or not, I was going to make the decision anyway.
So winning the World Series did not impact your decision to retire?
Honestly, it did not. I thank God for allowing me to be able to leave the game as a World Series winner, which was a unique experience, a spectacular experience — something I always dreamed of since I got to the major leagues. And I didn’t have the chance until now. It makes a difference for the general public, because having the opportunity to be world champion has value for the fans who follow you. But I am satisfied with what I accomplished before I won the ring. At the end of the day, in the years that God gave me the opportunity to play this game, for the things that I could control, I think I controlled them.
Even after this finale, was it a hard decision to make?
Yes, because those were 20 years of giving it your all, working hard, ups and downs, health issues, injuries, surgeries, work, rehab, travel, leaving your family behind. My wife deserves a plaque next to me if I ever make it to the Hall of Fame, I swear, because she has been the one who has kept this family together. Anytime I decided to forgo a no-trade clause, trying to look for that opportunity to win a World Series, Jessica would tell me, “Let’s do it. I’ll take care of everything. You work hard and do your thing, and we will be there to support you.” My wife’s support has been fundamental in my career. Thank God I feel good; I’m satisfied with my decision. I don’t feel like I left anything on the table. Everything I had, I left it on the field, and now I have to move on and continue supporting the future of baseball.
What do you think about people already debating whether you should be in the Hall of Fame? Is it something you ever thought about?
Look, if I said yes, I’d be lying to you. Honestly, no. When you get to the big leagues, the first thing that goes through your mind is to find a way to establish yourself as a player. Once you have a good year in the big leagues — for me, that first year I was rookie of the year in the American League — I realized that if I worked hard and focused on the little things to keep getting better in the game, I had a chance to play at a high level. I believe that having played for so many years gave me the opportunity to accumulate a lot of numbers that I know will put me in that conversation. At the end of the day, I’m not the one who decides whether I should go in or not. That is up to the writers who covered all those years of my career. It’s in God’s hands, and I will be satisfied with whatever the decision is.
What are you most excited about for retirement?
I’m excited to spend time with my family; having the opportunity to spend time with my children. Since I signed as a professional player in 1995, I don’t know what it is to have a summer off. I’m excited about those things and all you want to share with your family. To be able to travel. To travel the world. To be able to spend time in my school in Puerto Rico with the boys. It’s not like I’m completely going away from baseball. It’s not like I’m going to disappear and nobody will know anything about me. No, baseball is part of my life, it’s part of my career. God gave me this opportunity and this blessing, and in one way or another, I want to continue impacting the game, but in a different way.
What’s your next move? You have said you’d like to manage one day — would you consider a managing job immediately?
Well, look, I’ve talked to Jessica about this, that if an opportunity appears that you can’t say no to, I told her that I would like to do it. If it’s a special opportunity, where one says, “Wow, I have a chance to do this, this is incredible” — well, yes, I would go ahead. At the end of the day, my wife wants me to continue having a productive life; to be active in baseball, which is my passion. I am crazy about this sport. I just won’t play it anymore. I’m not going to wear my cleats. I’m not going to the park to slide around the bases anymore. But I love talking about sports, I love helping and I love contributing in a positive way.
One of the top managing positions in the major leagues is vacant, in an organization with which you have a good relationship — the New York Yankees. If Brian Cashman calls, would you interview for the job?
Well, one has to consider everything. That’s a great job; a position with an incredible impact — not only on players that I already had the opportunity to get to know, but to continue doing positive things. At the end of the day, yes. It’s not every day that there are vacancies available for managing in the major leagues. Just think of this — Joe Girardi was there for 10 years. If I get an opportunity [to interview], I will not rule it out.
You played for seven teams over your career. Is there one team that you identify with the most?
I identify a lot with the Royals, of course, because they signed me. I grew up in that organization, they brought me up to the big leagues. But I also had a seven-year contract with the Mets in Queens, and those were tremendous years in my career. Those are the two teams where I basically spent the most time. My time in St. Louis was perfect for me, because it was a time when, for two consecutive years, I was a star and we went to the playoffs. The three years I spent with the Yankees, I saw another side of playing in New York. But the teams that I identify the most with, because of the amount of time I played there, are the Kansas City Royals and the New York Mets.
What’s your best memory as a player?
I have two, really. When I won [AL] rookie of the year in 1999, it was an amazing thing for me, because I thought to myself, “Wow, amongst all the rookies that played in the big leagues, they chose me,” which was spectacular. The second one was the first time I got to the postseason, when I got traded to Houston in 2004. It was the first time I had a chance to play in the postseason. And the first time you experience that, you say, “This is something I have to accomplish every year.” You want to work hard to get to back there.
I find it curious you don’t mention winning your first World Series ring after 20 years …
Winning the World Series for me really was a blessing that God gave me. And it’s not that you don’t dream of getting to that moment, but I think that when you’re starting your career as a player, those moments at the start of your career are more deeply rooted, because it was the beginning. Getting to the World Series is something special because not everyone has that privilege, but the beginning for me was essential in reaching that final stage.
Is there anything you consider the worst memory?
For me, the hardest moments were the injuries. When I hurt my knee when I was playing for the Mets in 2010 and the doctors told me that basically my career was over; that they could not do anything else because of the situation with my knee. If I had followed the doctors’ opinions, then maybe I would have lost my spirit. I feel that I am a strong person. I’m a hard worker, and I was not going to allow a doctor’s opinion to lower the intensity that I had as a player. I made the decision to seek out other doctors; to look for second opinions. Thank God I met this doctor in Vail, Colorado, [Dr. Richard] Steadman, and when he did the surgery, he told me I was going to be fine, that I would play seven or eight more years. I didn’t retire until 2017!
You are headed to Puerto Rico this week. What will it mean to go back home with your career and a championship behind you, especially after all that’s happened there?
When the situation happened with Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, it affected me greatly. I cried a lot for my people, and I tried to take action, and thank God that’s what we have done. We have not stopped since this catastrophe happened. Our foundation has been active every day, bringing help, supplies. We have a warehouse there with almost $10 million in supplies to take to the people of Puerto Rico. It’s a shame to say this, but it’s been almost 50 days since the hurricane hit and there are still people in need of water and food, and that brings me incredible sadness. What I want during the time that I am there is to bring joy to my people. I know that there will be moments when I will get very emotional, I have no doubt about that. But I am happy, I am happy and, honestly, I can’t wait to get there.
How important was it in your career to wear the Puerto Rico uniform in four World Baseball Classics?
That was spectacular. As a Major League player, you always represent the organization for which you play, but having had the opportunity to play in those Classics with so many Puerto Rican players, many of whom came before me to the major leagues, was a spectacular experience. Representing my people and representing my culture has also been one of the most beautiful moments of my career. This year, I was basically playing with the new generation of Puerto Rican players who, God-willing, will be representing us for many years. I spoke to them in a meeting in one of the cities that we visited, and I told them that we needed to always stay united and support each other, even if we play in opposing teams. What I wanted to create in that team was unity — yes, we understand that we all represent our respective teams, but never forget that we are representing something more important, which is the country where we came from.
How do you think that you have been an inspiration for young people in Puerto Rico?
You don’t think about that when you’re an active player. You think about your career, what you have to improve upon. But what I hope is to have impacted young people in Puerto Rico in a positive way. That they have seen me work hard, that they have seen me go through difficult times and saw me get up. To stay in this game for 20 years is very difficult, and I hope it motivates them. That if there’s something that you want with all your heart, and you dream it and you live it and you visualize it, you can achieve it. You have to have a focused mind and a positive outlook and not let anything or anyone affect your way of thinking or your work ethic.
This year, your teammates spoke out about how much you helped them on and off the field. How has your career changed as you’ve gone from superstar to mentor?
Helping my teammates is something that I’ve done my entire career. It’s not something new. As a player, I’ve always tried to focus on helping others; sharing information with someone and having that person apply it to their game. Suddenly, that person succeeds, and that fills me with incredible pride. The difference is that this year all those guys decided to speak about it publicly. And if there’s something that I want to be remembered for, it’s for being a good teammate. For me, that was fundamental; to always look for ways to make an impact on my teammates in a positive way. I never did it to get credit; I did it because I believe that it was important for me and for my spirit, and I always felt very proud of that.
This year, I got to Houston as a veteran player, and all these young guys who are 22, 23, 24 years old, I got to share a lot of information with them. We won the World Series, and then they all went out publicly and talked about the impact that I had on their careers and their lives. It’s something that fills me with pride, but at the end of the day, I give the credit to all of them because they took the information, they believed in me, they believed that my intentions were genuine and they had good results. That’s what’s important for me.
Is there one particular thing that you hope you left these young players with, especially stars such as Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa?
What I said to them is that I know they are going to be good players for many years — there’s no doubt about that, their talent is incredible and their skills are spectacular — but I told them to take pride in being good teammates. For me, that’s the most important thing. And that’s the message that I wanted to pass on to them. Although you have the responsibility every day to go to the ballpark to work hard and give your best and put up numbers, you also have the responsibility to impact your teammates in a positive way, sharing information, helping them, watching videos with them. If you have compassion for your teammates, that’s what it’s all about. You are part of a team that is united all year, working hard together. That was the message that I wanted to leave with them. And they are extremely good guys, extremely humble, and what matters the most in this game is to have humility.