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Why Belt’s dozen years with Giants should be remembered fondly

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It was less than a week before the end of his 12th big league season and a few minutes after he had finished taping a wide-ranging interview with the other Brandon. The ballpark was empty and silent, and Brandon Belt took a moment to stand on the top step of the dugout and look around.

Belt softly said that he had a feeling his time in San Francisco might be coming to an end, and as usual, he had the right impression of his surroundings. 

There are a lot of ways to remember Belt’s time in San Francisco, which officially came to an end Tuesday, but there’s a theme that runs through them. The Captain was one of the most confident players to ever put on a Giants uniform and also very self-aware, a trait that wasn’t easy to embrace as the Belt Wars swirled around him from just about the time he was offered that first beer. 

Belt played over 1,300 games for the Giants and will go down as one of the best first basemen in the history of a franchise known for them, but he never won over the full crowd. Those who focused on what he didn’t do, though, missed all that he did. 

After a meteoric rise to the big leagues, Belt posted a .356 on-base percentage in his 12 seasons as a Giant with an OPS+ that put him 23 percent above league average. He never hit 30 homers, but did have six seasons with at least 17. 

 

In his prime, Belt should have won a couple of Gold Gloves, and Brandon Crawford credits Belt’s scoops around the bag for a lot of his own defensive success. It all added up to eight two-win seasons and four in which he was worth at least four WAR. 

The early detractors loved to point to the slumpy-shoulders walk Belt would take back to the dugout, but often, Belt was right. Before the Giants built their whole organizational hitting philosophy around it, Belt focused on making good swing decisions. 

That led to a lot of called strike threes and a lot of grumbles from fans and even some former Giants coaches, but it’s the way Belt is built, and he never changed. Belt seemed to know the strike zone better than most umps did, and on replays, he was generally proven to be the correct party. 

When it came to the other major flaw on his Giants resume, there was often nothing to be done. Early in his career, as he started to become saddled with the “injury prone” label, Belt joked that he would be just fine if people just stopped throwing baseballs at him.

They never did. 

Belt twice missed significant time with hand fractures caused by inside pitches, most notably at the end of a breakout 2021 season. After one concussion in college, he had three with the Giants, including one when a teammate’s throw somehow hit his head during batting practice and another when a looping curveball from a rookie pitcher found his helmet and ended his 2017 season with two months to go. 

That last concussion briefly robbed Belt of his fun-loving nature, leaving him depressed and quiet. But for the last decade, Belt was the most entertaining member of the clubhouse.

He was a target at times, especially when a veteran or Crawford was looking for someone to turkey tap. He was also the player who most often talked of hitting the 69th homer into McCovey Cove — and then he actually did it. 

For years, Belt insisted that he was an all-sports savant while growing up in tiny Nacogdoches, Texas. Behind the scenes, he claimed often that his large feet made him the best swimmer in town and also the best soccer player … from an area that also happened to produce a guy named Clint Dempsey.

The persona hit center stage in 2021, when Belt wore an electric tape “C” out onto the field in Chicago and all of a sudden became the team “captain.” He somehow kept a straight face during a postgame Zoom press conference. 

“You know, somebody has got to step up,” he said. “And when you’re the alpha male on the team it’s got to be you.”

 

What got lost in all the jokes that day was that Belt knew exactly what he was doing. The Giants were entering one of the most pressure-packed months in franchise history and Belt picked the perfect time to add some levity to the room. He backed it up with his play on the field, too.

Belt was one of the streakier hitters the franchise has seen and never was he hotter than in the second half of 2021, when he posted a 1.085 OPS and hit 18 homers in 42 games. After getting drilled on the hand again, he wasn’t in the lineup for the 107th win or playoffs, but he worked hard in October in hopes of returning in the NLCS if the Giants advanced. 

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Belt never got another chance at the playoffs with the Giants, but his best moment in orange and black did come in October. His solo homer in the 18th inning at Nationals Park in 2014 mercifully sent everyone home and helped the Giants win a title.

Less than two years later, Belt signed a lucrative extension that could have set him up to be a Giant for life. Buster Posey took that path and Crawford likely will, but Belt will finish in Toronto or possibly somewhere else. He came in with the other two but always seemed the most likely to finish in another uniform. Belt gave the Giants a dozen good years, though, and his impact on the organization shouldn’t be understated. 

As he stood at Oracle Park in late September, another fresh surgery scar on a knee that has threatened his career at times, Belt said he was optimistic about his future, no matter where he would be playing. He was also grateful for a final season that, while difficult in a lot of ways, allowed him to make a few more memories with Crawford and others. 

“I wanted to just take in all these cool moments of being together since we don’t know what’s going to happen next year,” Belt said that day. “I think I’ve been able to do that. It’s been a tough year, though, physically and team-wise, but for the most part, I’ve been able to take it all in and enjoy it.”

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