Adrian Beltre called it a career on Tuesday after 21 MLB seasons. He was a fearsome hitter, a stalwart defender and, perhaps most memorably, a total joy to watch. He made his big league debut as a teenager and never lost his childlike enthusiasm for the game over the next two decades. His playful antics—dragging the on-deck circle, joking around with Felix Hernandez, faking out Elvis Andrus—are enough to fill an eight-minute video compiled by MLB, which you can see at the top of this page.
There’s one thing that Beltre very much does not find funny, though, and that’s people touching his head. It might be the most recognizable fact about Beltre, but how did it get that way? What follows is a rough timeline of how Beltre’s lovable quirk became such a big deal, along with every GIF and video clip of Beltre’s freakouts that I could find.
It turns out we can thank Hernandez for this delightful detail. When King Felix and Beltre played together in Seattle, Hernandez accidentally found out some very sensitive information about Beltre.
“He thought because I have waves in my hair I didn’t want it to be touched,” Beltre told Yahoo’s Jeff Passan in 2017. “I didn’t tell him why. Then one day I told him, ‘I don’t like it.’ And after that, he tried to do it all the time. It was stupid of me.”
As far as I can tell, Beltre’s hatred for head rubs remained a clubhouse joke during his time in Seattle. It wasn’t until 2010, when he joined the Red Sox, that people began to notice his teammates trolling him by going after his noggin. According to Passan, it was Hernandez who told fellow Venezuelans Victor Martinez and Marco Scutaro about their new Boston teammate’s unusual pet peeve.
After some very deep googling, the earliest reference to Beltre’s head rubs I can find is from the Red Sox’ June 4, 2010 game, when Martinez apparently congratulated Beltre after a homer with three very unappreciated pats on the head. There is also an Imgur album of 22 GIFs of Beltre freaking out after being touched on the head, all from the 2010 season.
After his one season in Boston, Beltre signed with the Rangers and his new teammates carried on the tradition.
By the middle of the 2012 season, Beltre’s distaste for cranial contact was fully A Thing, so much so that SB Nation decided to ask his teammates why they thought it was such an issue. No one could come up with an explanation.
By 2014 it had become commonplace not only for teammates to try to mess with Beltre but also opponents
Now that he’s leaving baseball, Beltre will have more time to spend with his family. That means it’s up to his kids to continue the skull-tap trolling. Even they’re not allowed to touch his head.