The 2023 MLB Hall of Fame ballots were sent out yesterday.
This is a pretty weak set of contestants. Gone are the days of bickering over the eligibility of Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, and Curt Schilling. Now, the argument becomes “Are there even 10 people worthy of Hall of Fame distinction?”
For me personally, there are. There are plenty. Between Álex Rodríguez and Manny Ramirez alone, I’d probably have two guys on my ballot that most voters won’t. I’d also throw Todd Helton, Bobby Abreu (I have my reasons), Jeff Kent, Scott Rolen, Billy Wagner, and Andruw Jones on there for sure. Maybe K-Rod could make his way onto my ballot depending on how hard the Christmas spirit hit me, but it’d take a lot of eggnog and goodwill for that to happen. Of course, none of this matters since I still don’t have a ballot, but I did leave one notable name off — Carlos Beltrán.
If I’m being upfront and honest, I wouldn’t leave Beltrán off for lack of qualifications. He was a great defender, a well-above-average bat at a traditionally non-offensive position, had four seasons with 30-plus home runs, and won a World Series. The reason I’d leave him off is that everyone else will likely vote for him despite his involvement in the 2017 Astros’ sign-stealing scandal.
You might be thinking: “Jon, you have Rodríguez and Ramirez on your ballot. Clearly, you don’t care about cheating.” Right you are! DING DING! Well, sort of, anyway. I care about consistency from the voters’ standpoint. If one cheater doesn’t get in, zero should get in, but in the baseball world’s never-ending quest to rid any of the 2017 Astros of blame, the Hall of Fame voters are clearly letting certain types of cheating go by without repercussions.
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Beltrán is widely regarded as one of the masterminds behind the Astros’ cheating scandal. He was struggling early in the early parts of the season, to the tune of a .231/.285/.409 triple-slash through the first three months of the season. He needed an advantage, and in an interview with YES this year, he claimed that he and his Astros’ teammates thought they were merely “ahead of the curve,” and they would’ve stopped if they were informed what they were doing was illegal. This is obviously a stupid excuse, and even if it were a viable excuse, it wouldn’t be viewed as such by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America (BBWAA), who’s routinely shot down Hall of Fame aspirations from players who have claimed that they unknowingly took PEDs in the pros.
No players from that 2017 Astros team were punished, except Beltrán, who’d retired by the time the full story came out in late 2019. Beltrán was set to become the manager of the New York Mets, but once his involvement in the Astros’ scandal became apparent, he was forced to step down. Maybe voters believe that was punishment enough for Beltrán and that’s why he’s being seriously considered for the Hall. I don’t buy it though.
I believe voters are looking at Beltrán’s career and thinking, “Well, this was only one season. He was a Hall of Famer before 2017.” That’s terribly hypocritical though. Do you know who else was a Hall of Famer before cheating? Barry Bonds. We don’t know when he started juicing, but the consensus was that he started around 1999-2000, right before arguably the greatest four-year run in MLB history.
Prior to that 2000 season, Bonds had already accrued three MVP awards, eight Gold Gloves, 445 home runs, 1,299 RBI, 460 stolen bases, and 163 OPS-plus across 14 seasons. That’s more years than Matt Cain, Huston Street, Jered Weaver, J.J. Hardy, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Mike Napoli played and they’re all on the Hall of Fame ballot, thus, they’ve played long enough to warrant consideration.
The point is that if Beltrán gets allowed in despite his involvement in a cheating scandal, it creates a slippery slope that allows voters to determine which types of cheating are allowed in baseball. Why would anyone refrain from cheating if it won’t affect their legacy? I’m personally for letting everyone in unless their cheating was abhorrent and during an era where cheating wasn’t well-known and still brushed under the rug (like it was during the Steroid Era; Bud Selig is in the Hall of Fame after all). However, as long as one cheater isn’t allowed in, no cheaters should be, thus I find it hard to imagine a world where Beltrán finds himself in Cooperstown any time soon.
The voters have put themselves in a lose-lose situation. Either they induct Beltrán and look like hypocrites, or they make sure Beltrán doesn’t get in, effectively preventing a very talented player from getting the legacy send-off he deserves. I’d bet that the voters will opt for the latter. It’s a shame, but in the name of fairness, it’s what should happen.