This is really how it’s going to be?
We are actually going to keep Carlos Beltran out of the Hall of Fame simply because he played on the 2017 Houston Astros World Series champion team that was embroiled in a sign-stealing cheating scandal?
We are going to continue to praise A.J. Hinch’s vision in Detroit, worship Alex Cora’s managerial skills in Boston, but still punish Beltran six years later by keeping him out of the Hall of Fame?
Come on, hasn’t he already endured enough?
The statistics will show that Beltran is one of the finest center fielders who ever played the game, but behind the scenes, the man was even greater. His reputation was nothing short of impeccable. He was the 2013 Roberto Clemente Award winner for his humanitarian work off the field. He was revered and idolized by his teammates as one of the great clubhouse leaders. When the St. Louis Cardinals won the National League pennant in 2013, the entire team gathered around Beltran to toast him, thanking him for what he meant to the organization.
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When Beltran retired after the 2017 season, the only question was who’d be fortunate enough to hire him as a manager or front office executive. The New York Yankees hired him as a special adviser to GM Brian Cashman, and he was hired after the 2019 season to manage the New York Mets.
And was fired two months later.
Beltran was the only player who was cited in MLB’s investigation, and days after the report was released, the Mets fired him before he even stepped onto the practice field.
“Over my 20 years in the game, I’ve always taken pride in being a leader and doing things the right way, and in this situation, I failed,’ Beltran said in a statement the day of his dismissal. “As a veteran player on the team, I should’ve recognized the severity of the issue and truly regret the actions that were taken.
“I hope that at some point in time, I’ll have the opportunity to return to this game that I love so much.’’
Well, to this day he remains the only Astros player who was punished in the scandal, and still remains on the outside looking in after Mets manager Buck Showalter’s attempt to hire him as a coach last winter was rejected by his bosses.
Now, the Baseball Writers’ Association of America is taking its turn punishing Beltran, too. He will not be elected in this year’s Hall of Fame class. Beltran is gathering only 56.1% of the votes, according to Ryan Thibodaux’s Hall of Fame tracker, with five other players actually attracting more votes.
Beltran is the only center fielder in baseball who accumulated at least 70 WAR, and is not in the Hall of Fame. He’s the only switch-hitter in baseball history to reach 2,500 hits (2,725), hit 300 homers (435), and steal 300 bases (312). He has the best stolen-base percentage (86.45%) among any player who stole at least 200 bases. He is a nine-time All-Star, three-time Gold Glove winner and Silver Slugger winner. He led five different teams to the playoffs. He was one of the greatest postseason players in history with a .307/.412/.609 slash line, eclipsed only by Babe Ruth.
But we’re really going to ignore all of that and admonish him for participating in the Astros’ sign-stealing scandal.
Are we going to do the same with everyone who played for the Red Sox and Yankees during those years, too, when they were fined and disciplined for the illegal use of Apple Watches and dugout phones to relay signs?
Should we hold that against future Hall of Famer Justin Verlander, who obviously didn’t benefit from the sign stealing as a pitcher, but didn’t tell his teammates to stop it?
We’re not talking about performance-enhancing drugs here. Sign stealing has been going on for the past 100 years. There are teams who have used hidden cameras for years. Team employees flashed signs from outfield seats and scoreboards.
We have steroid users in the Hall of Fame now, dozens of pitchers who illegally doctored baseballs, and plenty of managers and executives who looked the other way when players cheated.
Beltran’s wrongdoing was helping develop a system in which a center-field camera intercepted the opposing catcher’s signals, viewed on a monitor behind the dugout, and relayed to a hitter by banging on a trash can. Everyone had the option of accepting the signs, or disregarding them.
Really, it was just Beltran trying to help his teammates. It’s not as if it was designed simply for his personal use. In fact, he might have prospered the least by the technology. He had the worst year of his career with a slash line of .231/.283/.383 in 2017, and promptly retired after the season.
Besides, he was not the Astros manager who could have stopped it. Not the bench coach. Not the GM. Not even a groundskeeper.
He was just a player, and if anyone in the entire Astros organization wanted to shut down the elaborate sign-stealing operation, it would have been over.
“If the organization would’ve said something to us,’’ Beltran told the YES Network last year where he was employed as an analyst, “we would’ve stopped it for sure.’’
So, here we are, six years later, and the only man still being penalized by the scandal is Beltran.
It is not only brutally unfair, but egregiously cruel.
Beltran received my Hall of Fame vote, and will continue to do so as long as he remains on the ballot.
Outfielder Gary Sheffield, the most feared and intimidating hitter of his generation outside Barry Bonds – one of only 12 players in history to win a batting title and hit at least 500 homers – once again got my vote, too.
So did Jeff Kent, who simply was the greatest offensive second baseman in baseball history – record 377 homers among second basemen, record .500 slugging percentage, eight 100-RBI seasons, an MVP award, four top-10 MVP finishes, four Silver Sluggers.
And also Billy Wagner, who put up insane numbers as a closer – .187 career opposing batting average (lowest since 1900), 11.92 strikeouts per nine innings (best in history) – striking out hitters in record fashion back when hitters were actually embarrassed to strike out.
That was it.
None will make it in this year.
Fred McGriff, who was voted in by the Contemporary Era Committee, should have the stage all to himself at the Hall of Fame induction ceremony this summer.
Third baseman Scott Rolen is the only one who has a shot to join him, and if not, this will be the third time since 2013 that the Baseball Writers Association did not elect a candidate.
If Rolen doesn’t make it in this year, he’ll certainly be in the 2024 class along with first-time eligible third baseman Adrian Beltre.
Beltran deserves to be proudly standing right alongside them.
He has suffered long enough.
Los Angeles Angels center fielder Mike Trout thought long and hard about it, and nearly played in the World Baseball Classic in 2017, and then spent the next five years kicking himself for not playing on Team USA’s gold medal team.
“Last WBC, I was on the fence of doing it or not doing and when I decided not to do it,’’ he said. “Watching the games, it looked like they were having so much fun, making the plays and winning. That’s what I regretted.
“I should have been out there.’’
This time, he’s all in, captain of Team USA, and boldly declares it’s WBC gold medal or bust.
“That’s the whole reason I signed up, trying to win this thing,’’ said Trout, who’s playing in the WBC for the first time in his 13-year career. “There is nothing else. Anything else is a failure.’’
Team USA is the defending champions of the tournament, and Trout made sure that he wants an encore, busily recruiting players, with his first call to Bryce Harper. Harper can’t play as he recovers from Tommy John surgery, but the U.S. squad is a Who’s Who of baseball’s greatest American players with former MVPs Mookie Betts, Paul Goldschmidt and Clayton Kershaw on the team.
Their greatest competition for a repeat could be coming from Japan, which could have its greatest collection of pitching talent in the tournament’s history, led by Trout’s teammate, Shohei Ohtani.
“I get a front-row seat every time he pitches,” Trout said. “It’s pretty nasty. Every person I talk to that faces him says they don’t want to be in the box. It’s going to be interesting. He’s one of my good friends, so it’s going to be fun.”
Oh, and the trash talk has already started with Ohtani telling Trout that he’s not even the best player on the Japanese team.
“There’s no way,” Trout said, laughing, “that there’s somebody better.”
Around the basepaths
► Dana Brown, Atlanta’s vice president of scouting, has emerged as the clear front-runner to become the Astros’ next general manager.
Brown, 55, who has been with Atlanta the past four years, is one of the game’s shrewdest talent evaluators. He has been responsible for Atlanta’s fabulous draft success, recently selecting outfielder Michael Harris and starter Spencer Strider, who finished 1-2 in last year’s NL Rookie of the Year voting.
Brown would become baseball’s lone Black GM, and join vice president Ken Williams of the Chicago White Sox as the only Black executives in charge of baseball operations.
► There was no one happier than the White Sox with the news that the Minnesota Twins traded batting champion Luis Arraez to the Miami Marlins for starter Pablo Lopez and two prospects.
Arraez was a White Sox killer last year, hitting .373 with a 1.273 OPS against them, and has a career .327 batting average against the White Sox.
“That should be good for a couple of wins,’’ one White Sox official said. “He was such a pain for us.’’
While the Twins were ecstatic with their return, including No. 5 prospect Jose Salas, several scouts and executives believe the trade could hurt the Twins’ chances to win the AL Central this year.
“Let’s see how that lineup fares without Arraez batting leadoff,’’ one AL executive said. “He helped those guys so much. This game values starting pitchers so much, but is a No. 4 starter more valuable than a great leadoff hitter?’’
The Twins badly need Byron Buxton to stay healthy to take over the leadoff spot.
► Free agent first baseman Yuli Gurriel is expected to sign with the Marlins on a one-year contract even after the trade for Arraez, but no deal has been consummated. The Astros offered a contract to bring him back in a reserve role, but Gurriel, 38, still wants to be a full-time player.
► While it’s wonderful that the Chicago Cubs honored Mark Grace and Shawon Dunston by electing them to their Hall of Fame, it’s a travesty that Sammy Sosa isn’t in the Cubs Hall of Fame.
The Cubs say they still want him to apologize for allegedly using PEDs, even though an admission could bring charges of perjury considering he testified under oath to Congress that he never used PEDs.
“What the hell does he have to apologize for?’’ said one former Cubs official, “for saving the franchise?’’
Barry Bonds still is idolized in San Francisco.
Mark McGwire is adored in St. Louis.
And yet, Sosa is shunned by the Cubs.
► Sandberg, who was part of the Contemporary Era Committee, on electing Fred McGriff and passing on the likes of Bonds, Rafael Palmeiro and Roger Clemens:
“He (McGriff) followed the rules and integrity and played the game the right way. Integrity is on the seal of the Baseball Hall of Fame.’’
► Now that the Toronto Blue Jays are spending $300 million for a facelift of Rogers Centre, it’s time to reward them with the 2025 All-Star Game, or at least in 2027. The Blue Jays have hosted only one All-Star Game, and that was 32 years ago in 1991.
► MLB’s new umpire crews include Adrian Johnson and Alan Porter becoming only the second and third Black crew chiefs in baseball history.
“I was very happy,’’ said Kerwin Danley, MLB’s first Black crew chief, “hopefully I paved the road for others.’’
► The White Sox, who picked second baseman Nick Madrigal in the first round of the 2018 draft and traded him to the Cubs in 2021 for veteran closer Craig Kimbrel, now have a chance to get him back.
The Cubs no longer have room for Madrigal in the starting lineup after signing shortstop Dansby Swanson and shifting Nico Hoerner to second base, and guess who desperately needs a second baseman?
Yep, the White Sox.
► The Marlins now will be starting a second baseman at third base in Jean Segura; a second baseman at shortstop in Joey Wendle; a first baseman at second base in Luis Arraez; and a second baseman in center field in Jazz Chisholm.
► In the past two off-seasons, eight shortstops have signed free-agent contracts worth a grand total of $1.737 billion.
Corey Seager (10 years, $325 million) Trea Turner (11 years, $300 million) Xander Bogaerts (11 years, $280 million). Carlos Correa (six years, $200 million) Dansby Swanson (seven years, $177 million) Marcus Semien (seven years, $175 million) Javier Baez (six years, $140 million) Trevor Story (six years, $140 million)
► You want a feel-good story in the WBC?
Red Sox minor-league reliever Rio Gomez will be pitching for Team Colombia in the WBC.
Rio is the son of the late Pedro Gomez, the beloved ESPN reporter, who passed away two years ago.
► The Yankees’ trade for starter Frankie Montas at last year’s deadline is looking worse by the day. They sent four prospects to Oakland for Montas and reliever Lou Trivino, but Montas has been a bust. He went 1-3 with a 6.35 ERA in eight starts with the Yankees before shut down with shoulder inflammation, and now is expected to miss at least the first month of the season with shoulder woes.
Their top trade target was Cincinnati Reds ace Luis Castillo, and they put Jasson Dominguez in their trade proposal, but refused to include prized shortstop prospect Anthony Volpe. The Yankees’ loss was the Seattle Mariners’ gain, with Castillo now their ace.
► The Yankees once again stayed out of the marquee shortstop market, and are now a year closer to seeing if their evaluations that Volpe or Oswald Peraza will be everyday shortstops in 2023, or will again turn to veteran Isiah Kiner-Falefa.
Meanwhile, the Yankees continue to let teams know that third baseman Josh Donaldson (who is owed $29 million) and outfielder Aaron Hicks (owed $30.5 million) are still very much available as they’re willing to eat part of the contracts.
► Hard to believe that the Dodgers let nine players walk in free agency, earning $462.5 million, while signing six free agents for just $45.4 million, as ESPN pointed out. Their $296.6 million payroll has been cut to about $235 million this season.
► Cardinals bench coach Joe McEwing, who was drafted in the 28th round by the Cardinals in 1998, and was a mentee of legendary infield coach George Kissell, is honored to now be their bench coach.
“There’s not a day that I go through where I don’t think about that man,’’ McEwing said of Kissell at the Cardinals’ Winter Warmup event. “As a teacher, as a mentor, as a friend. I feel like he’s on my shoulder when I’m teaching, and it’s like, ‘Oh, OK,’ you know. It’s every word that he expressed to me or expressed to others that I learned from, and it’s just the passing down of generation to generation.”
► MLB says that 46% of the current 40-man roster players have firsthand experience with the pitch clock.
► Hard to believe that Atlanta spent less money in free agency this winter than any team in the major leagues, just $1.4 million on outfielder Jordan Luplow.
Of course, they did trade for All-Star catcher Sean Murphy and promptly signed him to a six-year, $73 million contract.
► Aroldis Chapman went from earning $16 million a year to $3.75 million in his new deal with the Kansas City Royals.
The Royals are banking on him having a good first half so they can trade him.
► The Baltimore Orioles are the first team in 20 years to have consecutive No. 1 prospects from the same draft since Baseball America began its rankings in 1990. Catcher Adley Rutschman was the first round pick in the 2019 draft and infielder Gunnar Henderson was the second pick in the draft. The Orioles have a major-league high eight players listed among Baseball America’s top 100 prospects.
► There were six teams who wound up paying a luxury tax with their payrolls last season, led once again by the Dodgers with a $32.4 million bill. The others: Mets ($30.8 million), Yankees ($9.7 million), Phillies ($2.9 million), Padres ($1.5 million) and the Red Sox ($1.2 million).
► Just in case the Red Sox front office had any questions about how their fanbase feels about their moves this winter, boos echoed from the rafters as their Winter Weekend, directed at owner John Henry and GM Chaim Bloom.
They remain furious over letting Xander Bogaerts walk away, and may never get over trading away Mookie Betts.
The Red Sox, who continues to seek patience from their fanbase while waiting for their prospects to arrive, will have one of the oldest teams in baseball once again, with a projected pitching staff averaging 31.8, according to the Boston Herald. They also are expected to have an everyday lineup averaging at least 29 years of age.
► Well, Detroit Tigers catcher Eric Haase isn’t shy about his views of the pitch clock this season, telling Detroit reporters: “I really don’t understand the need for it, honestly. A couple of years ago, they wanted us to take more time between innings to make sure we got the commercials going and everything. Now, they’re trying to speed it up. I just don’t think the game needs it. We’re growing revenues every single year. There’s no shortage of fans. There’s no shortage of young fans at the games. I just don’t see the need for it.”
► Fabulous story from Al Leiter, who was inducted into the Mets Hall of Fame, on being traded to the Mets in 1998 as part of the Marlins’ firesale.
“Dave Dombrowski [the Marlins GM at the time] called me the day before the trade,’’ Leiter said, “and said, ‘I’m not promising you anything, but I have comparable prospect offers and I’m wondering if you had a preference.’ He said, ‘I’ve got an offer from the St. Louis Cardinals, and I’ve got an offer from the New York Mets.
“I said, ‘Dave, are you kidding?’ Then I go through the whole thing, ‘I was a Mets fan, I grew up in New Jersey, and that’d be amazing.’”
A day later, Leiter was traded to the Mets.
“I couldn’t have been more grateful for Dave Dombrowski to do such a thing,’’ Leiter said, “to call reach out to a player.’’
► Quote of the Week: Marlins second baseman Luis Arraez, when asked what he will miss most about leaving Minnesota: “The cold. I started liking the cold when playing my first time in Minnesota. The cold is really good for watching movies with my family.’’
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