When Carlos Beltrán retired after the 2017 season, it appeared that the World Series he had just helped his Houston Astros win could well be the capper to a 20-year career that strongly merited Hall of Fame consideration.

Now, however, that championship and Houston’s entire 2017 season have been doused in notoriety, after a report last month by MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred detailed and meted out punishment for an illegal sign-stealing scheme used by those Astros. Beltrán was the only then-player for the Astros named in the report, with the fallout quickly costing him a newly landed job as manager of the New York Mets, and an article published by the Athletic on Tuesday portrayed him as the driving force behind the scheme.

The full scope of the scandal has likely yet to be realized, particularly if similar efforts by other major league teams come to light, but at this point, Beltrán is arguably the figure most closely tied to an episode that could rival the 1919 “Black Sox” scandal in its damage to MLB.

As such, it seems fair to suggest, as many did Tuesday, that Beltrán’s hopes of making the Hall of Fame when he first becomes eligible in 2023 — or possibly at any point after that — are in grave jeopardy.

The Athletic had previously cited sources in describing Beltrán as having “played a key role in devising the sign-stealing system the team used that season,” along with then-Astros bench coach Alex Cora, who was subsequently let go as manager of the Red Sox.

The report Tuesday by the Athletic went much further. Beltrán, as a long-established and highly respected veteran star surrounded mostly by inexperienced teammates, was said to have possessed such a “sway over the clubhouse” in 2017 that even then-manager A.J. Hinch felt incapable of deterring his outfielder’s plan from full implementation.

Another veteran on those Astros, Brian McCann, was reported by the Athletic to have eventually asked Beltrán to cease the operation, but the latter “disregarded it and steamrolled everybody,” an anonymous member of the team told the website.

“Where do you go if you’re a young, impressionable player with the Astros and this guy says, ‘We’re doing this’?" that team member added. “What do you do?”

Beltrán initially denied having done anything illegal, and in November he told the New York Post via text message that he was “not concerned” about possible repercussions.

However, after parting ways with the Mets in January, Beltrán issued a statement in which he said, “As a veteran player on the team, I should’ve recognized the severity of the issue and [I] truly regret the actions that were taken. I am a man of faith and integrity and what took place did not demonstrate those characteristics. … I’m very sorry. It’s not who I am as a father, a husband, a teammate and as an educator.”

Since then, Pete Rose has used the sign-stealing scandal as a basis for a petition requesting reinstatement, following his 1989 ban from baseball for betting on the sport while serving as the Reds’ manager. “Given the manner in which Major League Baseball has treated and continues to treat other egregious assaults on the integrity of the game,” his petition stated, “Mr. Rose’s ongoing punishment is no longer justifiable as a proportional response to his transgressions.”

If reinstated, Rose would be eligible for the Baseball Hall of Fame, and the fact that he is MLB’s all-time leader in hits could well gain him induction at that point. It also is possible, though, that selectors for the Hall could still hold him in disfavor for what he did and keep him out, in much the same way that other superstar players tarnished for their association with performance-enhancing drugs, such as Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, have been denied enshrinement.

Already one member of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, members of which get the first vote on prospective Hall of Fame inductees, has asserted that Beltrán won’t have his support.

“I’ve never voted for any players that I believed to be proven cheaters,” Randy Miller of NJ Advance Media wrote last month. “ … Beltrán’s cheating crimes are just as bad and maybe worse than the juicers because of his willingness to be an Astros’ sign-stealing ringleader."

Another BBWAA voter, whose identity was withheld, has adopted more of a wait-and-see approach, telling CBS Sports, “My policy is not to prejudge any candidate until he reaches the ballot. And especially in this case, I’m sure we’ll know more when Beltrán shows up on the ballot — about all of this. His role. Their team. Every team. So I’m neutral right now on everybody.”

Those comments came before the Athletic claimed Tuesday that Beltrán didn’t just play a central role in devising the Astros’ sign-stealing scheme, but his force of personality pushed the operation forward over others’ objections. However, by 2023 that and other reports may have faded in significance when placed alongside Beltrán’s considerable on-field achievements.

Here are a few of the highlights to which supporters of his candidacy could point:

  • .279 batting average, 435 home runs, 1,587 RBI, 1,582 runs, 2,725 hits and 1,078 extra-base hits (24th all-time)
  • 312 stolen bases, with the best percentage (86.427) among players with at least 200 stolen bases
  • Nine all-star selections
  • Three Gold Gloves
  • 1999 AL Rookie of the Year
  • 57.0 JAWS (Jaffe WAR Score system) mark the ninth-best all-time among center fielders, with everyone above him a Hall of Famer except expected shoo-in Mike Trout
  • 1.021 postseason OPS, the fifth-highest all-time (minimum 150 PA), behind only Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Albert Pujols and George Brett (via cooperstowncred.com)

That résumé had Beltrán looking like a very compelling candidate for the Hall of Fame, if not a lock. Things have changed drastically, though, and it is difficult to say whether his allegedly crucial role in Houston’s scheme would be less or more problematic for voters if it emerges that he and his Astros teammates were hardly alone in trying to gain an illegal advantage.

In one instance that has already come to light, the Red Sox were fined by Manfred in September 2017 for using an Apple watch to send signs from the Yankees to their batters. The 2018 Red Sox, who won the World Series that year under Cora, are currently under investigation by the commissioner’s office for allegations of having “engaged in impermissible electronic sign stealing.”

According to the Athletic, Beltrán himself has suggested the cheating was more pervasive, reportedly telling the Astros their sign-stealing practices were “behind the times” when he joined them in 2017. After joining the Yankees as an adviser following his retirement, Beltrán reportedly told an official in that organization that what had been going on in Houston was “nothing no one else is doing.”

Joe Musgrove, a member of the 2017 Astros who is now a pitcher for the Pirates, said Tuesday (via the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette), “If MLB did an investigation as thorough as they did on the Astros with every team in baseball, they’re going to find a lot more than they want to find."

For now, though, the focus of the scandal — not to mention the wrath of fans, other MLB players and at least one Hall of Fame voter — is squarely on members of that championship Houston squad. If he wants to become enshrined in Cooperstown in three years, Beltrán may need to hope that the scandal becomes viewed as either less consequential than it appears to many now, or so widespread that his role is less magnified.

As some suggested Tuesday, Beltrán’s chances of getting in on the first ballot, if nothing else, almost certainly took a major hit. That might just be the least of his worries, given the enormous damage to his reputation and the possibility that he may go from manager of the Mets to being too toxic for any position in baseball.