In the eleven years since he retired from the majors, slugging first baseman Carlos Delgado says there have been stretches of time when he’s been so busy running his Extra Bases charitable foundation in his native Puerto Rico, that his schedule has mirrored the one he kept during his 17-year baseball career.
“My wife (Betzy) says, ‘I think you work more now than when you used to play.’ I’m like, ‘Not quite.’ I don’t miss airplanes,” says Delgado.
Unlike other baseball peers who hit the links in retirement, or maybe transition into a television career or return to the baseball diamond as a coach or manager — like Delgado’s fellow Puerto Rican countrymen Alex Cora and, briefly, Carlos Beltran, both did — when the 48-year-old Delgado hung up his spikes, he channeled his energy and passion, not to mention his own checkbook, into growing the Extra Bases non-profit that he started in 2001. At the time, he was playing for the Blue Jays.
Delgado originally set out to help disadvantaged children and teenagers throughout the island, and over 20 years, Extra Bases has donated more than $5 million to different organizations to serve that mission. But Delgado says that the last three years have been extremely “challenging,” first dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, and then the twin salvos of 2020, a January earthquake and of course, the coronavirus pandemic that engulfed the globe.
“Maria came, and, oh my God, it was two years’ non-stop,” says Delgado, who had to pivot from his non-profit’s original goals in order to help with the humanitarian effort after Puerto Rico was leveled by the natural disaster in September 2017. Delgado and his small Extra Bases staff did everything from raise money to partner with relief organizations to personally deliver supplies to hard-hit Puerto Rican neighborhoods.
“When we felt like we were getting out of the woods, we had the earthquake at the beginning of (2020) and then the pandemic,” says Delgado. “It’s been challenging. But we’ve had the opportunity to help some great people.”
And while Delgado still keeps tabs on baseball — whether deconstructing the recent Blake Snell trade between Tampa Bay and the Padres or hoping that his good friend and former Mets teammate Beltran gets another chance to manage after Beltran’s fall from grace — Delgado says his main focus now is family (he’s a father of two) and Extra Bases, and that he has no immediate plans to return to the sport, even if an opportunity were presented to him.
“You know what? I would never say never. Just because I love baseball. It’s a great game,” says Delgado. “But it’s time-consuming. At this time, I want to be home. I don’t want to miss the show-and-tell, the recital. I’m sure there’s going to be a time, maybe the next couple of years when my daughter, she’s probably going to get tired of me. She’ll want to be hanging out with her friends all the time. So, (working in baseball) is not a door that I want to close.
“But it’s got to be at the right time.”
Delgado says he and all Puerto Ricans “were devastated” when Beltran and Cora got fired from their respective manager positions — Beltran with the Mets and Cora with the Red Sox — within a week last January, following baseball commissioner Rob Manfred’s report on the Houston Astros’ sign-stealing scandal. Beltran was an Astros player and Cora a bench coach for the 2017 Houston team that Manfred said cheated its way to winning the ’17 World Series.
Beltran was hired by the Mets as manager in late 2019, prior to the report’s release, and Cora had already managed the Red Sox to a World Series title in 2018. But the two men got their pink slips shortly after Manfred’s findings were released. Beltran never even got to manage so much as a Grapefruit League game.
Cora had to serve an MLB-mandated suspension last year, but he has since been rehired by Boston to be the team’s manager again. A.J. Hinch, the former Astros manager of that 2017 team, also had to serve a year-long suspension in 2020, but Hinch has been hired again too, taking the managing reins for the Detroit Tigers.
Beltran remains jobless. He has not been heard from since the Mets severed ties with him last year, but Delgado is in regular communication with Beltran and thinks he deserves “another chance” to lead a major league club.
“Carlos is a dear friend. We’ve kept in touch. Carlos is the godfather to my daughter,” says Delgado. “I don’t ask the tough questions — ‘Do you want to manage again?’ If we have a conversation, it’s usually more casual. I know that he was obviously devastated. I do hope that Carlos gets another chance. He’s a good person, a good baseball man.”
Delgado underscored Beltran’s love for baseball and how driven he was to continue working in the game immediately after he retired in 2017.
“Think about this — (Beltran) interviewed for a big-league job within three weeks of his retirement,” says Delgado, referring to Beltran’s interview for the Yankee manager vacancy in 2017. “He didn’t get the (managing) job with the Yankees. But you figured he was going to take some time off after he just got done with a 20-year career. He’s got kids. It tells you about how passionate he is about the game, and how much he enjoys teaching.” (Beltran worked as a special adviser to Yankee GM Brian Cashman in 2019, prior to the Mets hiring him).
“For a country that is only 3.2 million people, we had four big-league managers at the same time,” adds Delgado, referring to Beltran, Cora, the Blue Jays’ Charlie Montoyo and the Nationals’ Dave Martinez, who was born in New York City to Puerto Rican parents. “We lost two managers within the same week. That’s sad. We all knew what happened.”
Delgado says he felt like interest in baseball among Puerto Rican youth had been gaining strength in the last five to 10 years, highlighted by Puerto Rican-born players like Carlos Correa, Francisco Lindor and pitcher Jose Berrios becoming major league stars. Hurricane Maria and the pandemic, Delgado says, halted some of that momentum.
“One of the many things that the pandemic is doing, I think, is it has hurt Little League sports. I really thought we were on the rise,” says Delgado. “What do we need to do? I think we need to work on the fundamentals, get better coaching. If you learn fundamentals, chances are you’re going to be better off later on in your career.”
The lefty-swinging Delgado, who socked 473 career home runs and who was a key cog to the 2006 Mets’ playoff run, also thinks baseball has evolved so much since he last played. And that the changes and drive for analytics aren’t necessarily a good thing.
“There’s so much information out there,” says Delgado. “You get all these stats, and the launch angle, exit velocity, and kids read about it. If they don’t know how that gets done, you’re only paying attention to the results. You’re not paying attention to the process. If you don’t get the right process from the get go, you’re in trouble.”
“Say you want to hit the ball in the air, and you’re 13-years-old, and you start learning uppercut, uppercut, when you’re 14, it’s a bad habit that nobody can get rid of,” adds Delgado. “I think we need to go back to the basics. Let kids play, have fun. You learn the game the right way, you’re going to enjoy it. And when you enjoy it, you’re going to be better.”
Delgado also laments how young Puerto Rican kids may not appreciate the history of baseball on the island, and the legacy of one of the game’s all-time greats: Hall of Famer Roberto Clemente. Delgado still hopes Major League Baseball will one day retire Clemente’s No. 21 throughout the majors, as it did with Jackie Robinson’s No. 42.
“I truly feel that way — more than anything, it’s just what (No. 21) represents. It’s not just a number,” says Delgado. “Black Latino player who went into the United States, at the end of the ’50s and through the ’60s and part of the ’70s, with the civil rights issues, the racial problems going on. Clemente spoke out about that. He wanted justice, equality, and he still went out and had a Hall of Fame career. I really wish that everybody knew the importance of Clemente as people in my generation did. Having said that, the world keeps moving.”
And so does Delgado, all the while trying to grow his non-profit, while keeping an eye on other business opportunities and on the sport in which he achieved great success. Maybe he’ll return to baseball one day. For now, Delgado is still enjoying this chapter.
“After Hurricane Maria, we were pleasantly surprised with a lot of people from abroad that donated money to Extra Bases,” says Delgado. “They said, ‘We’ve seen over the years that you’ve done a good job. We heard your reputation is good.’ That’s important to me. For me that’s the biggest compliment.”