2023 HOF BBWAA ballot: Two problematic newcomers . . .

Carlos Beltrán

Beltrán got to retire a World Series winner, returning to the Astros for 2017 . . . but he turned out a co-mastermind of Astrogate. Will that damage his Hall of Fame chances?

This is the dilemna: The one genuine, should-be Hall of Fame lock among the newcomers on the Baseball Writers Association of America’s 2023 ballot is also the first major figure from the Astrogate cheating scandal to arrive upon a such a ballot.

With Barry Bonds (actual or alleged performance-enhancing substances), Roger Clemens (see Bonds), and Curt Schilling (vile public commentaries since his retirement, despite his overwhelming Hall case) out of their BBWAA eligibility and now in the hands of the Contemporary Era Committee, it didn’t mean controversy left the BBWAA voters with those three. This new candidate by himself makes up for the loss, unfortunately.

There’s another new candidate among many on the ballot. This one might have had a Hall of Fame career if not for a series of injuries on the field that made him a very unfair pariah. His name is Jacoby Ellsbury. We’ll discuss him in due course, after first addressing . . .

The Newcomers: Carlos Beltrán

Before the exposure of the Astro Intelligence Agency’s illegal, off-field-based, electronic sign-stealing operation of 2017-18, Carlos Beltrán figured to have ended his playing career (as the Astros’ 2017 designated hitter) looking forward to accepting a plaque in Cooperstown. That and managing in the major leagues.

The number-nine center fielder of all time (according to Baseball-Reference via Jay Jaffe) who’d been respected as a student of the game and managerial material in the making found himself having to yield the bridge of the Mets (for whom he’d once starred as a player)—before he had the chance even to manage a spring training exhibition.

Though Commissioner Rob Manfred handed all 2017-18 Astro players immunity from discipline in return for spilling AIA deets, Beltrán was the only player Manfred singled out by name in his Astrogate report. It was Beltrán who suggested the Astros needed to “upgrade” from mere replay room reconnaissance, prompting then-bench coach Alex Cora to arrange the long-infamous real-time camera feed to an extra clubhouse monitor for sign deciphering and the long-infamous trash can transmissions.

That was despite Manfred’s September 2017 warning against using replay room reconnaissance and other such off-field chicanery, after the Red Sox (eventually using their own Rogue Sox Replay Room Reconnaissance in 2018 regardless) and the Yankees were caught trying a few tricks from the dugouts.

Beltrán landed the Mets’ managing job twelve days before Ken Rosenthal and Evan Drellich (in The Athletic) dropped the first full Astrogate revelation in November 2019. Within 72 hours of Manfred’s January 2020 report, all three incumbent managers named in the Rosenthal-Drellich exposure—Beltrán, Cora (who managed the 2018 Red Sox to a World Series championship), and the Astros’ A.J. Hinch (who acted feebly at best when catching onto his AIA cheaters)—were out.

Hinch was fired by Astros owner Jim Crane in hand with general manager Jeff Luhnow, but after sitting out his Manfred-imposed season’s suspension and some very contrite interviews, he found new life on the Tigers’ bridge. Cora sat out his Manfred-imposed season’s suspension, gave a few interviews in which he expressed genuine remorse for his Astrogate role, and was brought back to manage the Red Sox.

Beltrán said little about his Astrogate culpability until he returned to baseball as an analyst for the Yankees’ YES cable television network in April. There, he owned up in an interview with YES colleague Michael Kay:

Looking back now—yes, we did cross the line. I made my statement about what happened in 2017, and I apologized . . . This happened in such an organic way for ourselves. We all did what we did. Looking back today, we were wrong. I wish I would have asked more questions about what we were doing, I wish the organization would have said to us, “What you guys are doing, we need to stop this.” Nobody really said anything—we’re winning.

Obviously, Beltrán either didn’t know or chose not to know that “the organisation” as headed by Luhnow was in it up to its kishkes, having deployed the Codebreaker sign-stealing algorithim despite its creator’s warning that it was legal to use only before or after games but not during.

Had Astrogate never happened, Beltrán would have been a very likely first-ballot Hall of Famer. He played twenty seasons, and his peak with the Royals, the Astros (the first time, helping them reach a postseason with his second-half term there), the Mets (helping them to the 2006 postseason), and the Cardinals (two postseasons) was All-Star caliber or better. (He was actually a nine-time All-Star.)

He earned 67.6 wins above replacement-level (WAR) from his first full Kansas City season through the second of two with the Cardinals. That was despite missing significant time due to injuries in his final Met seasons. And his value wasn’t strictly in his bat, though my Real Batting Average metric (total bases + walks + intentional walks + sacrifice flies + hit by pitches, divided by total plate appearances) shows him not far off the middle of the Hall of Fame center field pack that played in the post-World War II/post-integration/night-ball era:

HOF CF PA TB BB IBB SF HBP RBA
Mickey Mantle 9907 4511 1733 148 47 13 .651
Willie Mays 12496 6066 1464 214 91 44 .631
Ken Griffey, Jr. 11304 5271 1312 246 102 81 .620
Duke Snider 8237 3865 971 154 54* 21 .615
Larry Doby 6299 2621 871 60 39* 38 .576
Carlos Beltrán 11031 4751 1084 104 110 51 .553
Andre Dawson 10769 4787 589 143 118 111 .534
Kirby Puckett 7831 3453 450 85 58 56 .524
Richie Ashburn 9736 3196 1198 40 30* 43 .463
HOF AVG .574

Now, however, marry it to Beltrán’s defensive prowess. He’s the number seven center fielder all-time for run prevention above his league average with +104. He was rangy, smart on the fielding lanes, and was a top of the line reader of batted balls from his position before Father Time finally began to exact a penalty.

Until Astrogate, of course, Beltrán had only one genuine black mark against him, especially so far as Met fans were concerned: frozen solid by an Adam Wainwright curve ball for strike three called—with the bases loaded, the Mets down two runs, and the pennant on the line in the bottom of the ninth, in Game Seven of the 2006 National League Championship Series.

You know something? It happens. Even to Hall of Famers. Beltrán wasn’t the first superstar to get himself tied up at the last minute of that critical a postseason set, and he won’t be the last. That’s not enough to damage a man’s Hall case. No eleventh-hour shortfall should have been. Not even for Babe Ruth.

You want to continue condeming Beltrán for that? How about The Big Fella getting himself caught stealing on a likely busted run-and-hit play to end the 1926 World Series in the Cardinals’ favour—with Bob Meusel at the plate and Hall of Famer Lou Gehrig on deck?

How about Willie McCovey—with second and third, two out, and the Giants down only 1-0—hitting a howitzer shot speared by Bobby Richardson to end the 1962 Series in the Yankees’ favour instead of sending the tying and maybe winning runs home?

How about Carl Yastrzemski fouling out with two out and the Red Sox down a single run to end the 1975 Series in the Reds’ favour?

How about Mariano Rivera surrendering a Series-losing base hit to Luis Gonzalez in 2001 or—after Dave Roberts stole second off a leadoff walk—an RBI single to Bill Mueller to tie the game at four when the Yankees were only three outs from a 2004 ALCS sweep?

None of those fatalities kept Ruth, McCovey, Yastrzemski, or The Mariano out of Cooperstown when their time eventually came. Getting frozen solid by a great pitch shouldn’t keep Beltrán out, either.

But it’s entirely realistic to suggest that, had Beltrán not gotten himself into the thick of the 21st Century’s worst major league cheating scandal, in his final season as a player, he’d probably be looking at unvarnished, uncontroversial first-ballot Hall of Fame election. Right now, we don’t know how many Hall-voting BBWAA writers will hold it against him enough to make him wait a ballot or three. Or more.

The Newcomers: The Saddest of them All

The rest of the newcomers had their moments but didn’t turn them into Cooperstown cases. A lot of them looked like potential Hall of Famers at first, too. Maybe the saddest of them all is . . .

Jacoby Ellsbury (CF)—Was there any 2010s sight sadder than Ellsbury—whose 2007 cup of coffee turned into shining in that Red Sox-winning World Series—taken down piece by piece by injuries? There was, in fact. It was the sight and sound of Yankee fans battering him mercilessly and witlessly over yet another injury doing nothing worse than playing the game.

The injuries compromised him in Boston and made him an unfair pariah in the Bronx. He had Hall of Fame talent: some power, above-average center field defense, and a knack for turning baserunning into guerrila warfare. Especially the day he scored on a wild pitch—from second base. Especially in Game Six of the 2013 World Series.

Jacoby Ellsbury

Jacoby Ellsbury toying with the Cardinals as he thwarts a rundown in Game Six of the 2013 World Series. He made them resemble a quartet of wolves outsmarted by a flea.

The first of Navajo descent (his mother) to play major league baseball, Ellsbury was treated unfairly by fans and perhaps a teammate or three on the grounds that his injuries, and his sensible enough need to recover fully before playing again, equaled a character flaw. They derided him unfairly as a fragile goldbrick. They tried to make him feel as though injuries incurred in honest competitioin equaled weakness.

It got bad enough that, when one of Ellsbury’s four children was born on the Fourth of July 2019, and the proud father announced it on Instagram, he was attacked mercilessly by the worst of the Twitter twits and other social media mongrels. The guy who helped the Red Sox win a pair of World Series rings before leaving as a free agent could have been in traction and the worst Yankee fans would have accused him of staging it.

Once upon a time, Ellsbury broke the Red Sox’s consecutive-game errorless streak record. He hit four doubles and stole a base in the ’07 Series and looked on the way to becoming one of the all-time Red Sox greats.

Then, in April 2010, he crashed into a human earth mover named Adrián Beltré (himself a future Hall of Famer) at third base. He suffered four hairline rib fractures on the play, came back too soon, saw a thoracic specialist who recommended more rest and rehab, rejoined the Red Sox that August . . . and re-injured the ribs on another play against the Rangers later the same month.

More injuries followed often enough. Then Ellsbury, fed up with whisperings that he took “too long” to recover from them, elected to walk as a free agent without so much as a quick glance back at the Red Sox. In Year One as a Yankee, he played the way Jacoby Ellsbury at his healthiest could play. (He led the American League with a 22.7 power-speed number.)

From an essay I wrote when the Yankees finally released him in 2019 (for using a rehab facility outside the organisation—without their permission, as if a man injured so often didn’t know himself what might be best for him) . . .

2015—Right knee sprain on 20 May; out two months, rest of the season nothing to brag about, unfortunately. 

2016—Uninjured but production falling further, including his lowest total stolen bases to that point during a healthy season.

2017—Smashed his head against the center field wall while making a highlight-reel catch. Concussion. Missed 29 games and lost his center field job to Aaron Hicks, but somehow managed to break Pete Rose’s career record for reaching base on catcher’s interference, doing it for the thirtieth time on 11 September, which also happened to be his 34th birthday.

2018—Strained his right oblique at spring training’s beginning. Turned up in April’s beginning with a torn hip labrum. Missed the entire season (and underwent surgery in August) because of it.

2019—Started the season on the injured list with a foot injury; also turned up with plantar fasciitis in the foot (the same injury plus knee issues that reduced Albert Pujols as an Angel to a barely replacement-level designated hitter) and another shoulder injury. Took until September for the Yankees to admit Ellsbury was lost for the year.

I repeat further what I wrote then: Not one of those injuries was caused by anything other than playing the game or performing other baseball-related activity. Remember that before you continue condemning Ellsbury the man or the Yankees as a team over him. 

“Some people give their bodies to science. I gave mine to baseball,” said long-ago Met (and Giant, Expo, and Cardinal) Ron Hunt. Ellsbury did likewise. It cheated him out of a Hall of Fame case, and it made too many fans believe he was no better than a gunsmith running weapons to Russia against Ukraine.

Ellsbury didn’t become a Yankee because he believed his previous injuries really began draining the talent that was once as electric as a generator. He didn’t wear the pinstripes believing he’d become an orthopedic experiment. He isn’t owed a plaque in Cooperstown,  either. But he’s certainly owed more than a handful of apologies.


* The sacrifice fly wasn’t made an official statistic until the 1954 season. Several of the Hall of Famers listed in the RBA table played a third or more of their seasons prior to the rule coming on line. How to overcome that hole?

I tinkered with a few ideas until I tripped over a best-case scenario. I took those players’ numbers of recorded sacrifice flies and divided them by the number of seasons they played under the rule. Then, I took that result and multiplied it by the number of Show seasons they actually played.

The formula is sacrifice flies (SF) divided by sacrifice fly-rule seasons (SRS), multiplied by total MLB seasons. It shows an estimate of the sacrifice flies they might have been expected to hit if the rule was in place their entire careers.

Keep José Altuve off the Astrogate hook

Jose Altuve

It’s been said before Peter Gammons revived it Friday: José Altuve wanted no part of illegally-stolen signs when he was at the plate. Stop hammering him with the “chea-ter! chea-ter!” chants once and for all.

When the World Series shifted to Philadelphia, after the Phillies and the Astros split the first two games in Houston, the Citizens Bank Park crowd wasn’t shy about letting the Astros have it over You-know-what-gate. The good news was that they saved the chea-ter! chea-ter! chants for the only three position players left on the roster from the forever-tainted 2017-18 team.

The bad news was that one of the three actually spurned taking the illegally stolen signs in the batter’s box. That was second baseman and Astros franchise face José Altuve. It didn’t matter to the chanting Phillies fans. But it should have.

When SNY’s Andy Martino published Cheated: The Inside Story of the Astros Scandal and a Colorful History of Sign Stealing in June 2021, the chapter called “The Scheme Begins” included a revelation that should have jolted anyone hammering the Astros rightfully enough over their Astro Intelligence Agency plot:

Altuve was the most reluctant of the Astros stars. When the option to have a teammate bang the trash can [to relay the signs stolen by way of an illegal off-field-based real-time camera to an illegal additional clubhouse monitor—JK] first arose, he declined.

When Altuve was batting, and there would be a bang, he would glare into the dugout.

“He doesn’t want it,” teammates would say frantically. On more than one occasion, Altuve returned to the dugout after his at-bat and yelled at the others to knock it off.

It jolted me, too. Especially since I’d actually missed the first such revelation, in February 2020, from then-Astros shortstop Carlos Correa, usually the face of the team when it came to defending the 2017 World Series title before he signed with the Twins last winter. (Correa is now a free agent again.) I missed it, and I shouldn’t have.

Commissioner Rob Manfred handed down his Astrogate verdict in January 2020—suspensions for 2017-18 general manager Jeff Luhnow, manager A.J. Hinch, and bench coach Alex Cora (subsequently a World Series-winning manager for the 2018 Red Sox . . . who had their own Rogue Sox replay room reconnaissance ring operating that season and possibly beyond); heavy fine for owner Jim Crane; key draft picks stripped.

The Astros faced the press when spring training opened the next month. Depending upon how you saw and hear, they seemed either unapologetically apologetic or apologetically unapologetic. “Yes, there’s no better way to show good old-fashioned genuine remorse than by refusing to speak the misdeed you committed,” wrote since-retired Thomas Boswell, the longtime Washington Post baseball eminence.

Crane and his team used their showcase to insist they keep their phony title and that Major League Baseball was correct not to fine or suspend any Astros players. Also, we should just trust that they stopped cheating in 2018. Why? No reason at all. Just felt like stopping, even though they, you know, won the previous World Series doing it.

. . .Maybe, with time, some Astros will be more forthcoming with authentic feelings, not practiced phrases, that will show their human dilemma—most of them not $100 million stars or future Hall of Famers, just normal ballplayers caught on a runaway train with, realistically, no emergency brake available for them to pull.

But even Boswell might have missed that Altuve didn’t want any part of the AIA. Before the original coronavirus pan-damn-ic compelled that spring training’s shutdown, Correa talked to The Athletic‘s Ken Rosenthal, one of the two reporters (with Evan Drellich) who first exposed the true depth of scheme. (Former Astros pitcher Mike Fiers had finally agreed to go on the public record in November 2019, following long, futile efforts to get someone/anyone to investigate.)

They talked aboard MLB Network a couple of days after the presser that did the Astros more harm than good. Correa steamed over Dodger outfielder/first baseman Cody Bellinger’s fuming that Altuve cheated Yankee rookie star Aaron Judge out of the 2017 Most Valuable Player award he might have won if not for Altuve’s career year in Houston. “Cody,” Correa began, “you don’t know the facts.”

Nobody wants to talk about this, but I’m going to talk about this. José Altuve was the one guy that didn’t use the trash can.

The few times that the trash can was banged was without his consent, and he would go inside the clubhouse and inside the dugout to whoever was banging the trash can and he would get pissed. He would get mad. He would say, “I don’t want this. I can’t hit like this. Don’t you do that to me.” He played the game clean.

. . . When you look at Altuve’s numbers on the road, he hit .400 on the road (.381, actually, compared to .311 at home). He didn’t cheat nobody of the MVP. He earned that MVP. He’s a six-time All-Star, three-time batting champion, MVP, five-time Silver Slugger. He’s been doing this for a long time.

For [Bellinger] to go out there and defame José Altuve’s name like that, it doesn’t sit right with me. The man plays the game clean. That’s easy to find out. Mike Fiers broke the story. You can go out and ask Mike Fiers: “Did José Altuve use the trash can? Did José Altuve cheat to win the MVP?” Mike Fiers is going to tell you, straight up, he didn’t use it. He was the one player that didn’t use it. (Emphasis added.—JK.)

The foregoing arises again because another Athletic writer, Peter Gammons, the longtime Boston Globe scribe/analyst who’s a Spink Award Hall of Famer, wrote of the Astros’ post-Astrogate manager Dusty Baker and winning team cultures in a piece published Friday—and returned to that 2020 spring training opening. Including the impossible position into which Altuve was pushed.

There he was, sitting at the table, looking as though he’d rather undergo root canal work without an anesthetic. Now we should ask just what the hell Crane was thinking when, seemingly, he insisted Altuve sit at the head table for that 2020 spring presser. The owner with a reputation for rejecting direct accountability forced “the one player that didn’t use” the AIA’s espionage to take it like a man.

Gammons talked to assorted Astros near the end of the opening workout later in the day. “They were subdued, clearly remorseful,” Gammons wrote, “but when I told Altuve that players, coaches and a number of people in the organization had told me that he did not participate in the sign stealing, he politely declined to discuss it, and asked that I didn’t talk about it on television, or write about it. ‘It would be a betrayal of my teammates’.”

Two years later, he still did not want to be singled out. But while he and [third baseman Alex] Bregman were asked by management to speak to the scandal for all the players and he received the most obscene treatment from beered up louts in Boston and New York, he never pointed to 2017 home/road splits that showed a 200-point OPS difference in favor of the road, where there was nary a banging trash can to be heard.

“He is,” Baker said, “the ultimate teammate.” That from a man who played with Henry Aaron and Reggie Smith.

Altuve’s 2017 OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage) was 248 points higher on the road—where the AIA couldn’t operate—than it was at Minute Maid Park. He also hit six more home runs out of town than in Houston. With only four more plate appearances on the road than at home in ’17, his Real Batting Average (my metric: total bases + walks + intentional walks + sacrifice flies + hit by pitches, divided by total plate appearances) was .529 at home . . . but .679 on the road.

The Gammons story seems to have jolted for the Altuve “revelation.” In its email newsletter Morning Bark, offering links to stories based on its choice of a day’s top ten sports stories, Yardbarker linked to it with this teaser, which also headlined a brief news item about the piece: “Insider reveals interesting detail regarding José Altuve and Astros’ cheating scandal.”

It’s only a “revelation” if you missed either Rosenthal’s original or Martino’s book. I missed the former upon its original arrival, but I pounced on the latter when it was published. SNY, after all, stands for the Sports New York regional cable network. And the Yankees, whom Martino’s normal coverage includes, had their own skin in the sign-stealing world.

Theirs wasn’t quite as extensive as the 2017-18 Astros, of course. Neither was anything by any other teams who might have done as the Red Sox did, using their MLB-provided replay rooms for such sign-stealing reconnaissance. (MLB has since tightened up on guarding the replay rooms.) The 2017-18 Astros went far above and far beyond just boys-will-be-boys replay room roguery.

But Martino taking Astrogate book depth had no reason to want Altuve whitewashed. Especially considering Altuve—when Yankee manager Aaron Boone elected to let his faltering closer Aroldis Chapman pitch on to him, with two out in the bottom of the ninth, instead of putting him on at 2-1 with a spaghetti bat on deck—hit the monstrous two-run homer on an up-and-away slider that won the 2019 Astros the pennant.

In fact, Cheated‘s footnotes included the original Correa/Rosenthal revelation. Martino had me convinced before the footnotes section. Reading the Correa/Rosenthal revelation both recently and once again after the Gammons piece Friday, I’m convinced even more.

Saying Astrogate won’t disappear until the last member of the 2017-18 team no longer wears an Astro uniform is one thing. So is saying the 2017-18 cheaters stained baseball almost as deeply as the 1919 Black Sox. But it’s something else to keep including José Altuve among the tainted when he doesn’t deserve to be among them.

The further evidence should be even more clear by now. Altuve wanted no part of the original Astrogate scheming and bawled teammates out when they didn’t respect his wishes. He played the game straight, no chaser, then and now. He’s taken it across the chops unfairly since.

“Your credibility is further impacted . . .”

Jeff Luhnow

An excerpt from the forthcoming Astrogate book by the reporter who co-broke the scandal story originally makes deposed Astros GM Jeff Luhnow look even worse.

“Winning fixes everything” became a catch phrase around the Astros in the wake of Astrogate’s presumed denouement. It also became the title of a forthcoming book examining the Astros’ organisational culture that fostered, enabled, and entrenched the team’s illegal, off-field based, highest-tech electronic sign-stealing in 2017-18.

The author is Evan Drellich, one of the two Athletic reporters (partnered with Ken Rosenthal) who first exposed Astrogate in depth by way of whistleblowing former 2017 Astro pitcher Mike Fiers in late November 2019—after the Astros lost the World Series to the Nationals in seven games none of which were won by the home team.

First, the book was to be called Winning Fixes Everything: The Rise and Fall of the Houston Astros and published a year ago. That would have been on the seventieth anniversary of the off-field based telescopic sign-stealing cheating by which the New York Giants mounted the staggering stretch drive comeback from the dead to force the fabled 1951 National League pennant playoff.

Then, the publication date changed to this past March. Then, to last month. I actually messaged Drellich via Twitter after the beginning of this year to ask the wherefore of the delays. Quite kindly, he answered that the book ended up taking longer to report out and write up than he thought going in, not to mention pan-damn-ically inspired supply chain issues prompting a possible July arrival.

But now, the book will arrive in due course under the title Winning Fixes Everything: How Baseball’s Brightest Minds Created Sports’ Biggest Mess. The newly scheduled publication date: next Valentine’s Day. Astro fans still divided between sorrow and whataboutism about the now-long-tainted 2017-18 Astros won’t necessarily consider it a love letter.

If an excerpt published in The Athletic Thursday suggests nothing else, it suggests that the ultimate mastermind of what would become Astrogate in the first place outsmarted himself when Fiers exposed the Astro Intelligence Agency and thus prompted commissioner Rob Manfred to launch a complete investigation into the AIA.

Jeff Luhnow’s organisational culture when he ran the Astro show already lacked for what enough who escaped one way or the other described as basic humanness. It went beyond the team’s newly data-driven approach to tanking in order to rebuild a winner.

“In Casablanca,” Major Strasser said infamously, “human life is cheap.” In Luhnow’s Astroblanca, people learned the hard way that human decency was cost prohibitive. And Luhnow appears to have been willing to launch a high-tech coverup to keep Manfred and his bloodhounds from unlocking the Astrogate.

“In any investigation,” Drellich wrote, “the league notifies people of interest in writing that they need to preserve their cell phones . . . Luhnow, investigators learned, had instructed one of his lieutenants, Bill Firkus, to give a personal heads up to others with the team that MLB might collect their devices, a person with direct knowledge of the league’s investigation said.”

In a “quick and hurried manner,” Luhnow asked Firkus to tell “others” not necessarily to wipe their cell phones but ‘let them know their phone might be confiscated, and that they should be comfortable with what was on there.’ But the same sources having such deep knowledge of the Manfred probe said the Astros’ then-manager of pro scouting analysis, Matt Hogan, believed Firkus’s heads-up translated as, “MLB is coming, and that there’s a chance they can take your phone, so if you have things you don’t want anyone to see, I would get rid of them.”

Maybe nobody can isolate the actual language by which Luhnow counseled Firkus and what he did or didn’t actually suggest. But MLB, Drellich wrote, thinks it found only one individual wiping a cell phone after ordering Astro personnel to preserve those phones: Luhnow.

Manfred himself sent Luhnow a letter dated 2 January 2020, slightly over a month before the notorious spring training presser at which the Astros either apologised non-apologetically or non-apologised apologetically, depending on your translation. It laid out the evidence against the AIA. When the Wall Street Journal (which also exposed the Codebreaker algorithim that paved the path to Astrogate in the first place) published a story about the letter, it didn’t mention the cell phone wipes.

But Drellich revealed that the Manfred letter spanked Luhnow for the attempted Astrogate coverup. From the letter itself:

Your credibility is further impacted by the fact that you permanently deleted information from your phone and its backups in anticipation that my investigators would seek to search your phone. You did not tell my investigators that you had done this until they confronted you about it in your second interview. While you explained that you were simply deleting sensitive personal photographs, I have no way to confirm that you did not delete incriminating evidence.

“According to people with knowledge of the league’s investigation, the GM of the Astros had wiped every back-up from his phone, besides one, and other data was missing as well,” Drellich wrote.

. . . Investigators found that Luhnow’s phone had no standard call logs, even though Luhnow had known phone calls with A.J. Hinch that should have been there. MLB also could not locate known email exchanges that should have been on his phone that were found on others’ devices. But as MLB’s investigators saw it, if Luhnow had been trying to delete a large amount of information, he didn’t do a perfect job: the phone had Skype and WhatsApp call logs dating back to 2009.

When Luhnow offered a kind of apology for Astrogate in October 2020, he told a reporter for Houston’s NBC affiliate, Vanessa Richardson, that by God nobody told him about the illegally installed extra center field camera in Minute Maid Park, nobody told him it was sending real-time imagery to a clubhouse monitor illegally, nobody told him someone figured out what to bang on the can after deciphering that illegal intelligence, and by God he’d have told them no, nein, nyet if they’d gone to him asking permission.

Sure. Just the way Albert Fall told Harry Sinclair where to stuff it with his presents in exchange for getting to bid low and win the right to draw oil from Teapot Dome. Just as Lyndon Johnson told his pal/adviser Bobby Baker to quit swapping sex partnerships for Congressional votes. Just as Richard Nixon demanded names and heads on plates when he learned about a burglary at the Watergate Hotel.

Drellich never pretended other major league teams weren’t up to electronic chicanery. Neither did Cheated author Andy Martino, whose Astrogate book detailed how the Yankees and the Red Sox and others took to anything from AppleWatches in the dugout to replay room reconnaissance for sign stealing.

But the AIA was something newer, far more advanced, and far more disturbing. It continued even as Manfred formally wrist-slapped both the Yankees and the Red Sox for swapping electronic sign stealings in 2017 and warned all teams simultaneously not to even think about it. It went above and beyond the 2018 Rogue Sox’s replay room reconnaissance ring.

It went above and beyond such telescopic cheaters as the 1899 Phillies, the 1909-1910 Highlanders (Yankees), the 1940 Tigers, the 1948 Indians, the 1951 Giants (stole the pennant! The Giants stole the pennant!), and the 1961 Reds.

MLB handed the replay room reconnaissance ringers the replay rooms they discovered could be used for espionage. It didn’t hand the Astros a license to operate their own sign-stealing closed-circuit television station.

A commenter on The Athletic‘s page publishing the Drellich excerpt asked, “Why are we still talking about [Astrogate]?” News bulletin: Baseball fans and historians haven’t stopped talking about the Black Sox scandal, the ’51 Giants, the 1957 Cincinnati All-Star ballot-box stuffing scandal, the political chicaneries driving the Dodgers and the Giants out of New York, the 1985 Pittsburgh drug trials, the Pete Rose scandal, the Steinbrenner/Spira scandal, or the scandals around actual/alleged performance-enhancing substances, either.

I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again. Astrogate won’t go away at last until the last member of the Astrogate teams standing no longer wears the Astro uniform. Even, then, books such as Martino’s and, in due course, Drellich’s, won’t let the scandal die the death the most stubborn Astro fans wish.

What the Yankeegate letter won’t do

Affirming the 2017 Yankees as cheaters won’t exonerate or excuse that year’s Astros or the next year’s Red Sox.

Remember the somewhat infamous admonitory letter from commissioner Rob Manfred to Yankee general manager Brian Cashman, regarding proof that the Yankees were up to some 2017 electronic sign-stealing of their own? The letter the Yankees have fought to suppress with the same ardor as they exercise trying to break a decade-plus World Series ring drought?

The Yankeegate letter’s going to come forth in a fortnight, ESPN says. We’re going to learn at last whether Manfred told the whole story of any such Yankee panky or, if he did, just what it actually involved, other than the once-infamous dugout phone/Apple watch slap on the wrist. It only took two years from the day federal judge Jed S. Rakoff ordered the letter unsealed and disclosed to the public with minimal redaction.

Maybe it was only the dugout phone and/or the Apple watch. Maybe it included the Yankees trying to get cute using a television broadcast camera/monitor for a little extracurricular intelligence gathering. Maybe it included the Yankees operating a replay-room reconnaissance ring similar to that known to have been run by Red Sox players in 2018. Maybe.

The bad news, at least for the DraftKings fantasy baseball group, is that releasing the Yankeegate letter won’t reinstate their $5 million lawsuit over Astrogate and Soxgate and aimed at both those clubs plus MLB itself. The worse news is that, whatever is or isn’t in the Yankeegate letter, it won’t take the 2017-18 Astros especially, or the 2018 Red Sox as well, off the hook.

Memory summons back that some around the Astros—and no few of their fans—believed to their souls that high-tech sign-stealing was prevalent enough that they would have been left in the dust if they didn’t think about a little such subterfuge themselves. Mostly, it involved replay-room reconnaissance. The Red Sox got bagged for it over 2018, but few pretended they were the only team with that kind of spymanship.

The Rogue Sox and their fellow replay-room spies, whomever they were, still required a little of the old-fashioned gamesmanship technique: their pilfered intelligence was useless unless there was a man on base to receive it and thus signal it to the man at the plate. That doesn’t justify, either. Sign-stealing from the basepaths or the coaching lines is one thing. Picking it off replay monitors is something else entirely.

But those rooms were provided by MLB itself, to the home and visiting teams in each ballpark. Expecting them to be there without one or another team giving in to the sign-stealing temptation was (I repeat, yet again) something like Mom and Dad making off for a weekend getaway without the kids and leaving the liquor cabinet keys behind.

The 2017-18 Astros took it quite a few bridges farther. For one thing, a front office intern created a sign-stealing algorithm (Codebreaker) that he warned was legal to use before and after games but not during games, a warning then-general manager Jeff Luhnow pooh-poohed while fostering a since-exposed organisational culture in which, to be polite, human decency, never mind honest competition, was seen as an encumbrance.

For another thing, there was that little matter of either an existing camera altered illegally from its mandatory eight-second transmission delay; or, a second, illegally deployed real-time camera. Either or both of which sent signs to be deciphered from an extracurricular clubhouse monitor and then transmitted to Astro hitters with the infamous trash can bangs.

Nobody with credibility says the replay-room reconnaissance rings were right. And nobody with credibility should ever say those rings made the 2017-18 Astros less guilty. As things turned out, the Astros had such a broad reputation inside baseball for their kind of cheating that their 2019 World Series opponents took themselves to extraordinary lengths to thwart it.

No, the 2019 world champion Nationals didn’t build their own extralegal closed-circuit television spy network. They merely provided every one of their World Series pitchers with five individual sets of signs each to switch up in a split second’s notice, with their catchers provided wrist-band cards featuring every one of those sign sets just in case.

Whataboutism is no defense whether you’re a rogue police officer, a corrupt politician, or an illegal off-field-based electronic sign-stealing cheater. The Astros couldn’t just whatabout their Astro Intelligence Agency and get away with it in the public mind. Nor could the Rogue Sox whatabout it when their 2018 edition was exposed for replay-room reconaissance cheaters.

The Yankees won’t be able to whatabout it if the infamous letter shows their 2017 edition to have been replay-room or broadcasting-camera cheaters, either. But we’ll have to wait at least a fortnight before we know at least some the rest of the Yankeegate story.

The Twins deliver a stunning signing: Carlos Correa

Carlos Correa

Almost nobody expected the longtime Astros shortstop to sign with the Twins.

It’s hard to look at Carlos Correa signing with the Twins for three years and $105.3 million without knowing the Astros’ remaining Astrogate contingent is reduced officially by one. There are now only three position players and one pitcher remaining from the tainted 2017 World Series winners.

This should be good for the Astros in terms of leaving the Astrogate taint further and further behind them. But I suspect it won’t be. With only four Astrogate-team members left last year, the Astros still heard it loud and long from fans on the road. Some of it was mere booing, catcalling, and “chea-ter!” chants. Some of it was inflatable and actual trash cans hitting fields.

I still suspect it’s not going to stop until the last Astrogater standing no longer wears an Astro uniform. Not until second baseman Jose Altuve (who actually didn’t partake all the way in the Astro Intelligence Agency’s 2017-18 off-field based, illegal camera-abetted, electronic sign-stealing operation), third baseman Alex Bregman, first baseman Yuli Gurriel, and pitcher Lance McCullers, Jr. move to other teams if not into retirement.

As it happens, I have tickets for what will now be Opening Day, period, in Angel Stadium on 7 April. Guess who the Angels host to start their regular season. My son and myself will probably wonder en route the ballpark how many other Angel fans will turn up with inflatable trash cans, bangable trash cans, and more to continue letting the Astros have it.

It took decades before the 1951 New York Giants were verified once and for all as off-field based sign-stealing cheaters en route the comeback that forced the fabled pennant playoff. It took only two years from the 2017 World Series to expose and verify the AIA. And it took only a couple of hours during the pandemically-aborted 2020 spring training for the Astros to show the world they didn’t quite think their cheating was that big a deal.

Correa since the infamous spring training 2020 presser has been maybe the most stubborn defender of the Astros’ 2017 Series title. “When you analyze the games,” he said before the coronavirus closed that spring training and half the season to come, “we won fair and square. We earned that championship.”

Funny, but that’s not exactly what Correa said at the infamous presser. While Astros owner Jim Crane tripped over himself, Bregman tossed word salad, and since-gone outfielder Josh Reddick “couldn’t really say [the AIA operation] did or didn’t” give the Astros an advantage, Correa said, essentially, not so fast:

It’s an advantage. I’m not going to lie to you. If you know what’s coming, you get a slight edge. And that’s why [then-general manager Jeff Luhnow and then-manager A.J. Hinch] got suspended and people got fired because it’s not right. It’s not right to do that. It was an advantage. But . . . it’s not going to happen moving forward.

After the Braves nailed last fall’s World Series at the Astros’ expense, Correa spoke in terms that would have made him a fit on the 20th Century Yankees.

Second place is not good enough for us. I know it’s not good enough for you guys. But it speaks volumes of how good our organization is, how talented our clubhouse is. Five ALCS in a row. Three World Series in five years. I don’t know what else you want to ask from a great ball club . . .People expect greatness when you talk about the Houston Astros. They expect us to make the playoffs every year. They expect us to be in the World Series every year.

But the only one they won is the one that just so happens to be tainted.

And, speaking of the Yankees, take a poke around the vast multitudes that root for or at least follow them and it seemed as though the number one thought in and out of their minds Saturday morning was, How on earth could the Yankees miss out on signing Correa? Did they really take Josh Donaldson’s contract on in that trade with the Twins just to let the Twins snatch Correa with the savings?

Others thought Correa outsmarted himself into taking considerably less with the Twins than he thought he might get on a market that got forced into overdrive thanks to that ridiculous owners’ lockout. But he’ll pull down the fourth-highest single-season salary of 2022, behind pitchers Max Scherzer (Mets) and Gerrit Cole (Yankees) plus outfielder Mike Trout (Angels).

The deal also includes opt-outs after this season and next. Turning 28 in the final third of this coming September, and assuming he has a typically Correa season in Minnesota, he could still opt out and play next winter’s market for something more to his supposed liking. Maybe he didn’t really outsmart himself, after all?

Maybe the Yankees still have a spring surprise yet to play. They unloaded Gio Urshela (shortstop) and Gary Sanchez (catcher) to bring Donaldson (third base), Isiah Kiner-Falefa (shortstop), and Ben Rortvedt (catcher) aboard. Maybe they have Kiner-Falefa in mind to play support after they sign free agent shorstop Trevor Story? Maybe?

Or maybe the Twins have decided, yes, they’re coming into it to try to win it, including enticing the shortstop anchor from the penthouse of the American League West for a season at least. Maybe they can make Correa happy in the Twin Cities, after all.

Maybe he can join his fellow high 2012 draft pick Byron Buxton (Correa and Buxton were numeros uno and two-o in that draft) to yank them from the basement to the penthouse. He did prove last year that he knows how to win without any funny business that anyone knew of, even if the Astros came up two bucks short in the World Series.

‘[T]he makings of a formidable lineup are present in Minnesota, though they’ll need a few things to break right,” writes MLB Trade Rumors’s Steve Adams, who also notes their “patchwork starting [pitching] rotation” remains a cause for some alarm even with trading for Sonny Gray from the apparently tanking Reds.

From the defensive side of things, Correa gives the Twins a pair of Platinum Glove winners, joining Buxton in that regard. With quality defenders like [Max] Kepler, Urshela and young catcher Ryan Jeffers also occupying key spots on the diamond, the Twins should have a strong defensive team overall. The Twins already ranked 12th in the Majors both in Defensive Runs Saved and Outs Above Average in 2021, and Correa should boost both marks.

There’s something else Correa could do now that he’s become a Twin, too. Something not exactly unprecedented. He could become the latest 2017 Astro to drop all pretenses, denials, and whataboutisms, and come a lot cleaner about Astrogate.

That began with utilityman Marwin Gonzalez, who signed with the Twins as a free agent for 2018, then with the Red Sox as a free agent for 2021, got released by the Red Sox last August, and signed to return to the Astros for their run to the World Series.

Gonzalez broke the ice around the time of the infamous 2020 Astro presser. “I’m remorseful for everything that happened in 2017,” he told reporters, “for everything that we did as a group, and for the players that were affected directly by us doing this.”

He, too, didn’t use the C word. Maybe it’d be too much to expect Correa to use it, too, if he decides it’s safe to come all the way clean now. But it would give him a better look either way than the one he often had clinging stubbornly to the idea that the 2017 World Series title wasn’t really tainted.