Carlos Beltran’s Hall of Fame resume was pretty much completely wrapped up heading into 2017, his Age 40 season.
The 1999 American League Rookie of the Year was at the end of an impressive career. He’d topped 400 homers, 300 stolen bases, 2,600 hits, 1,500 runs, 1,500 RBIs and had a hefty 70.9 bWAR. His spot as one of the greatest switch-hitters in baseball was secure; he already had more hits, more RBIs, more doubles, more triples and more stolen bases than Mickey Mantle, the gold standard for switch-hitting stars.
All that he really was missing was a World Series ring, and he was seen as one of the potential final puzzle pieces needed by the up-and-coming Houston Astros, the team with young stars who just needed a bit of veteran leadership — and pop from both sides of the plate — to bring it all together. Beltran signed as a free agent in December 2016.
When the Astros beat the Dodgers in Game 7 of the 2017 World Series, Beltran had his long-awaited championship. I was on the field after the final out with the rest of the media, players and family members. I saw his smile, the one that just wouldn’t quit, as he held his son and celebrated the end of a long career with his teammates and former Astros icons.
His legacy seemed secure, his spot in Cooperstown now assured.
Only, it wasn’t.
In February 2020, news of the Astros’ nefarious sign-stealing scandal broke. And not only was Beltran involved, but he was reportedly the driving force behind the cheating. Other reports indicated that this wasn’t a scheme Beltran had participated in for the first time after he arrived in Houston. His reputation was forever tainted
The scandal cost him his new job, as Mets manager, before his first game.
But what about his Hall of Fame chances? That’s a damn fine question. He’s on the ballot for the first time next winter, as part of the potential class of 2023. We really haven’t seen a case like this. Cheating, sure, with PEDs. It’s what has kept Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro out of Cooperstown. But stealing signs illegally isn’t the same as using PEDs. There’s no health issue, only a massive competitive one.
Will it have the same impact? Is that a bridge that cannot be crossed with Hall of Fame voters? And it’s not just about Beltran, though he’s the first. Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa have lots of years remaining in their careers — and then the five-year waiting period before they qualify for the BBWAA ballot — but they’re on a Cooperstown track. Maybe Alex Bregman, too.
Of course, it’s impossible to know what the landscape will look like in 15ish years.
I’m a Hall of Fame voter, and I honestly have not made up my mind about Beltran. At the World Series this past fall, I spoke with a half-dozen other Hall voters about this exact subject, knowing Beltran would be on the class of 2023 ballot. Some told me the scandal would not affect their vote, while others weren’t sure how they would approach the ballot. I’ll speak with more voters, and others in the game, over the next year. I honestly don’t know how the electorate will approach Beltran, though I do feel relatively sure he will not get into Cooperstown on his first ballot.
Let’s take a quick look at his on-field resume.
The switch-hitting slugger checks in at No. 8 all time on bWAR for center fielders, at 70.1; the average Hall of Fame center fielder is at 71.6, just a hair above Beltran. In a vacuum, that would bode well for his chances of being elected, if not on his first ballot than one sooner than later. He’s a nine-time All-Star, three-time Gold Glove winner and two-time Silver Slugger, and he received MVP votes in seven seasons (though often down-ballot).
He’s one of only five players in MLB history with at least 400 homers and 300 stolen bases — he had 435 and 312, respectively — and the others are Willie Mays, Andre Dawson, Barry Bonds and Alex Rodriguez. He was an All-Star Game regular, with three Gold Gloves
And he was a postseason monster. Remember his 2004 showing with the Astros? In 12 games for the Astros, he hit eight homers with 14 RBIs, six stolen bases, a .435 average and 1.557 OPS. In his 65 career postseason games, Beltran finished with a .305/.412/.609 slash line, with 16 home runs, 11 RBIs and 42 RBIs, with more walks (37) than strikeouts (33). He didn’t make the World Series until that 2017 season with the Astros, but his team’s failings in the NLCS were not his fault; in 26 career NLCS games, Beltran hit .326 with eight homers, 17 RBIs, seven stolen bases and a 1.126 OPS. Though all anyone seems to remember was the called strike three against Adam Wainwright in 2006.
And while he does likely have the stats to get in, he’s not a no-doubt lock. Remember that 70.1 bWAR? Well, another elite center fielder, Kenny Lofton, finished with a 68.4 bWAR and 622 stolen bases (15th all-time) and he didn’t even reach the minimum 5 percent of the vote required to stay on the ballot another year. To be clear, Lofton falling off the ballot after his first year was a travesty — he was surely a victim of a crowded ballot for the Class of 2013 and 10-vote maximum — and I’m not saying that Beltran will even come close to that same Hall fate. Just pointing out that if Lofton wasn’t seen as worthy of a spot in the top 10 on voters’ ballots Beltran probably won’t be seen by most as a lock.
It’s reasonable to think the Astros’ sign-stealing scandal will make sure he’s not elected in his first year on the ballot.