Writers will have to decide on how Beltran’s cheating affects his Hall case starting next year. (Carlos Osorio/AP)

The Hall of Fame and cheating.

The two were synonymous on this year’s ballot, as David Ortiz entered Cooperstown in his first year of eligibility. Far bigger stars, like home-run leader Barry Bonds and seven-time Cy Young winner Roger Clemens, fell off the ballot in their 10th and final year due to controversy over their alleged use of PEDs. Ortiz, who reportedly tested positive in 2003 for using a performance-enhancing drug, received a free pass for the same misdeed.

Next year, a new cheater will enter the ballot for the first time.

Carlos Beltran will bring his own, separate batch of baggage to the 2023 Hall of Fame class. The 1999 Rookie of the Year, nine-time All-Star, three-time Gold Glove award winner and two-time Silver Slugger award winner played for parts of 20 major-league seasons for seven teams, including the Mets and Yankees. He slashed .279/.350/.486 with a 119 OPS+ and 2,725 hits, 435 home runs, 1,587 RBI, 1,582 runs, and 312 stolen bases over that span. And those are just his regular-season numbers.

Across 65 playoff games, Beltran hit .307 with a 1.021 OPS. He crushed 16 home runs and banked 45 runs, 42 RBI and 37 walks plus 11 steals. Sounds like a first-ballot Hall of Famer, right? Beltran won the World Series once, as a designated hitter for the 2017 Houston Astros, which leads us to his baggage problem.

The Puerto Rican center fielder led a commendable career right up until his retirement season. In 2017, Beltran participated in the Astros’ trash-can banging, electronic sign-stealing scheme which led to Houston’s first championship. Players on that squad were let off the hook from any punishment for cooperating with MLB’s investigation, a process that started in 2019. But, by then, Beltran was already retired.

Eligible voters in the BBWAA must decide whether Beltran’s involvement in the Astros’ 2017 sign-stealing scandal will cost him a plaque in Cooperstown.

Beltran was the only player on that Astros championship team who was mentioned by name in MLB commissioner Rob Manfred’s 2020 report that detailed the league’s findings into Houston’s illegal sign-stealing methods. But Beltran never received formal discipline from MLB, unlike Astros manager A.J. Hinch and then-bench coach Alex Cora, who were both suspended for one season. The Mets — then still led by CEO Fred Wilpon and his son, Jeff, in 2020 — fired Beltran as manager for his connection to the scandal.

Cora, in a 2020 interview with ESPN, accepted responsibility for his actions in the Astros’ scandal. But he also said any suggestions that he and Beltran were the driving forces behind the scheme are wrong. Cora maintained that the idea and execution of illegally stealing signs was a team effort.

“If there is one thing I am absolutely sure of, it is that it was not a two-man show,” Cora said to ESPN. “We all did it. And let me be very clear that I am not denying my responsibility, because we were all responsible.”

Bonds and Clemens fell (just) short of the 75% of votes required to enter the Hall of Fame due to the Hall’s character clause. “Voting shall be based upon the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played,” the election rules state. Ortiz, apparently, was exempt from the same scrutiny that Bonds and Clemens received.

Will Beltran receive the same free pass, or will he struggle to garner enough votes? If Beltran doesn’t make it as a first-ballot Hall of Famer — which, to be clear, would only be due to his sign-stealing involvement — he’ll have the next decade to keep trying. The Hall and some voters already messed up once by ostracizing Bonds, Clemens, and others, rather than embracing uncomfortable truths about the sport’s history. Beltran’s Cooperstown candidacy will be their second shot to get it right.