This year’s Baseball Hall of Fame ballot, like the decade or so of ballots before it, presents voters with an uncomfortable opportunity for moral evaluation, this time in the form of Carlos Beltrán.
But he is the first of those 2017 Astros, the ones marred by a sign-stealing scandal that looms over the franchise to this day, to make his way onto the Hall of Fame ballot. And he will not be the last.
When the Athletic initially reported the Astros used cameras to steal signs during the 2017 season, Beltrán downplayed his involvement in the scheme, which MLB’s investigation eventually revealed he had helped mastermind. The Mets named him their manager in November 2019, at which point he told the New York Post he hadn’t been aware of any cameras. When MLB released its findings a few months later, the Mets fired him before he ever wrote a lineup.
He wasn’t the only one. The Boston Red Sox fired Alex Cora for his role in the scheme, though they reinstated him after he served a year-long suspension and he remains their manager. The Astros fired AJ Hinch, who found a new home with the Detroit Tigers before the 2021 season and has managed them since. Jose Altuve, who is likely to compile a strong Hall of Fame case by the time he is done, still gets booed everywhere he goes. Third baseman Alex Bregman and shortstop Carlos Correa, who may yet build Hall of Fame résumés, remain stained by the scandal, too.
But no one’s baseball trajectory has sputtered quite like Beltrán’s. He was part of YES Network broadcasts of New York Yankees games last season and will be again in 2023 but has yet to reestablish himself as a managerial candidate. The complication, of course, is that Beltrán had already established himself as a bona fide Hall of Fame candidate as a player.
As of late Monday afternoon, Beltrán was not positioned to hit the 75 percent of votes he would need to be elected to the Hall of Fame this year, according to an unofficial tally of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America ballots compiled by Ryan Thibodaux. Thibodaux’s tracker, which accounted for just less than 50 percent of all ballots expected, projects that, to make it, Beltrán would need votes on more than 90 percent of those ballots that were not yet known. It appears unlikely he’ll make the cut.
BBWAA voters do not include eligible Washington Post journalists, who are not permitted to cast Hall of Fame ballots. Results of the vote will be announced Tuesday.
Former San Francisco Giants second baseman Jeff Kent, controversial in his time for a prickly persona but not for any ties to scandal, was supported by 33 percent of voters last year. He will fall off the ballot if not elected this season, meaning he would have to hope for more support from one of the Hall of Fame’s era committees — groups of executives, writers and former players.
Former Philadelphia Phillies and St. Louis Cardinals third baseman Scott Rolen might have a chance this year if he improves on the 63 percent of voters he convinced last year. The same could be true of former Colorado Rockies first baseman Todd Helton, whose box was checked on 52 percent of ballots in 2022. Comparing Hall of Fame candidacies across positions is not always useful, but Beltrán holds up against those contemporaries, too: Neither accumulated as many FanGraphs Wins Above Replacement as he did. Neither came within 60 career home runs of Beltrán’s 435.
Beltrán also holds up against those who played the same position. Only six center fielders over the past 100 years accumulated more FanGraphs WAR than Beltrán. All of them, with the exception of still-active Mike Trout, are Hall of Famers. Only four career center fielders have hit more homers or driven in more runs during that span. In those cases, all four are in the Hall of Fame, too.
He was also a prolific playoff performer, helping five franchises to October appearances. He hit .307 in 65 career postseason games with a 1.021 on-base-plus-slugging percentage.
In the past 75 years, or since Jackie Robinson began the process of integrating the major leagues, 182 players have stolen at least 200 bases. None did so with a higher rate of success than Beltrán, who stole 86.4 percent of the bases he sought.
Beltrán also established himself as one of the more reliable defensive center fielders of an era that didn’t exactly want for them. He won three Gold Gloves. He is ninth in career outfield assists in the past 75 years, fifth among center fielders.
He was an all-star nine times, something 90 other players in history can say. Of those 90 players, 21 are not in the Hall of Fame. Seven are near-locks but not yet eligible. Another, Gary Sheffield, is on the ballot with Beltrán this year. Six — including Bonds, Rose, Rodriguez and Roger Clemens — have ties to performance-enhancing drugs or other scandal.
Exactly how much Beltrán’s ties to the Astros’ cheating scheme will be responsible if he falls short this year will be difficult to discern. Though some writers explain their voting choices in public forums, most do not. And Beltrán did not hit any of those magical thresholds, such as 500 homers or 3,000 hits or some ungodly number of World Series titles, that could solidify him as a sure thing in Cooperstown. But his nascent candidacy is likely to be the first of many that will require voters to consider members of the 2017 Astros and their part in one of the most prominent cheating controversies in baseball history.
Whatever happens Tuesday, the voters will have plenty of time to consider his candidacy in future years; he already has received far more than the 5 percent of votes required to stay on the ballot, according to Thibodaux’s tracker. But whether he can hit the 75 percent required for election is a more complicated equation, one that will require voters to consider that uncomfortable Astros variable along with the otherwise pristine résumé it marred.