Book excerpt: Carlos Beltran = Steve Carell

Thesis: Carlos Beltran’s baseball career looks a bit like Steve Carell’s film career.1

Evidence: Both men burst onto the scene around the new millennium but in supporting roles. Carell stole the show in “Bruce Almighty,” and, even though no one could top Ferrell in “Anchorman,” Carell damned near did with Brick Tamland.2 Meanwhile Beltran won Rookie of the Year, and flew around the outfield somewhat overshadowed by Johnny Damon, and most certainly overshadowed by the fact that he played in Kansas City.

Both men were meant for stardom, however, and for Carell it came in the form of “The 40 Year Old Virgin” and to a lesser extent “Little Miss Sunshine.”3 For Beltran it was being traded at the deadline of the 2004 season. After arriving in Houston, Beltran cranked out 23 home runs and 28 steals in just 90 games, but that was just the beginning. In the 2004 postseason, Beltran hit eight home runs in the NLDS and NLCS combined, hitting well over .400 with a slugging percentage over 1.000.

Naturally, this set unbelievably high expectations for both of these men. Carell was given leads in “Evan Almighty,” “Dan in Real Life,” and “Get Smart.” Beltran was given a seven-year, $119 million dollar contract from the Mets, the biggest contract they had ever signed a player to. Because of these heightened expectations, despite the fact that both men performed quite comparably to previous levels, they were deemed unsuccessful. In Carell’s case, “Evan Almighty” is considered one of the biggest busts of all-time, and people began to question whether Carell could take the lead in a great film. For Beltran he will always be remembered for watching Wainwright’s curve go past him to end the 2006 NLCS. What will be forgotten is the fact that he was worth 8.2 WAR during the regular season, and had hit three home runs in the NLCS already, as good as any other Met. Also, that pitch from Wainwright might have been the nastiest fucking pitch of all-time, and the sign of a great pitcher announcing his arrival.

Once these men had been labeled busts, or at least had been knocked off the perch they were briefly on, they began to exceed expectations again. Carell partnered with Tina Fey in “Date Night,” which may have been his best career move, and allowed people to ignore “Dinner for Schmucks” and focus on his better projects like “Despicable Me” and “Crazy, Stupid, Love.”4 For Beltran a move out of New York meant a move out of the spotlight, which was more than all right with him. In his first two seasons removed from New York, he was named an All-Star each year, and was regularly tabbed as an underrated part of the Cardinals’ success.

What is ignored about both men is that they really performed the same throughout their careers,5 it was just the expectations that changed so much. In Kansas City, Beltran put up 24.6 WAR in 795 games (.0309 per game), and in New York he put up 31.1 WAR in 839 games (.0371 per game). The same thing is true of Carell. “Dan in Real Life” and “Get Smart” are the same Carell6 as “40 Year Old Virgin” just surrounded by immensely different talent, and with much higher expectations of Carell. Both men underwent the same rollercoaster ride of expectations while performing consistently well above average just never reaching the true extended pinnacle reserved for the greats. Of course the parallel goes on with both men having their strong suit – Beltran’s playoff numbers, and Carell’s TV career – being taken at less than face value. In Beltran’s case because the playoffs are such a small sample size, and, since it is a requirement for every sabermetric baseball fan to mention that clutch hitting does not exist at least fifteen times a day, the worth of Beltran’s incredible postseason output is diminished. For Carell, there is still a stigma to TV work, although, thankfully, it is starting to be worn down by the likes of the Kevins – Bacon and Spacey – among other stars (the True Detectives) making the move to TV.

Time will tell how each ages (Carell has a bit more flexibility with aging in his profession), but the comparison holds for now.

1 We’re going to table his role on “The Office” because I am far too in love with the show, and Carell’s Michael Scott, to be a fair judge.

2 LOUD NOISES!

3 Only to a lesser extent because he was not the lead – the movie is brilliant.

4 One of the most re-watchable movies in existence.

5 Again, we’re ignoring Carell’s TV career, in which he clearly make vast improvements from Michael Scott Season 1 to Season 2.

6 Evan Almighty is the 2005 Carlos Beltran – let’s just pretend they didn’t happen. If only Carell had an injury to blame.