Carlos Betran played his first big-league season in 1999. That was so long ago Tony Muser was still the Royals’ manager, and, actually, that was so long ago Tony Muser was still the manager and many Royals fans were optimistic.
Beltran was a star, right from the beginning. That first year he hit .293 with 22 homers, 27 doubles, 112 runs, 108 RBIs and 27 stolen bases while playing a graceful and beautiful center field. He was a nearly unanimous selection for Rookie of the Year.
The Royals lost 97 games that season.
Beltran was the Royals’ most talented player from 1999 until they traded him 2004. His teams, despite a decided advantage at one of the game’s most important positions, lost 97, 85, 97, 100, 79* and 104 games.
* 2003 really was a mirage in the desert.
Watching the Royals in those years was a little like watching Benny play with those other kids in “The Sandlot.” Most nights, he was the best reason to watch an otherwise hopeless team. Too many nights, he was the only reason.
He did so many amazing things on the baseball field. Simply watching him run was to watch supernatural athletic gifts in motion. He glided, so smooth the biggest knock was that he didn’t try hard enough. That wasn’t true, but surrounded by incompetence, it was a natural criticism.