- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 16, 2020

Ten percent of Major League Baseball managers lost their jobs in a four-day span in the dead of January as part of a shakeup not seen before in the baseball world.

Carlos Beltran and the New York Mets agreed to part ways Thursday after his role in the Houston Astros‘ sign-stealing scheme was revealed in an MLB investigation.

Beltran played the final season of his 20-year career with Houston, winning his only World Series as an Astro. But Beltran was among a group of players who coordinated a sign-stealing system at home games at Minute Maid Park that year, according to the investigation, though MLB did not punish any players.

“We believe that Carlos was honest and forthcoming with us,” Mets COO Jeff Wilpon and general manager Brodie Van Wagenen said in a statement. “We are confident that this will not be the final chapter in his baseball career. We remain excited about the talent on this team and are committed to reaching our goals of winning now and in the future.”

How MLB got here

In November, mere weeks after the Washington Nationals beat Houston in the World Series, The Athletic broke the sign-stealing story with four sources who played for the 2017 Astros — only one of whom went on the record with his name, pitcher Mike Fiers.

The report prompted MLB’s investigation, which confirmed that the Astros used a center field camera to decode catchers’ signals to pitchers, then banged on a trash can to relay the signs to batters so they would know what type of pitch was coming. MLB released its findings Monday and suspended manager A.J. Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow for one year; an hour later, Houston fired them both.

On Tuesday, the Boston Red Sox fired manager Alex Cora, the bench coach of the 2017 Astros, whom commissioner Rob Manfred said “originated and executed” the scheme. The Red Sox are under a similar investigation for stealing signs via camera in 2018, when they, too, won the World Series.

Beltran was the only player mentioned by name in MLB’s report.

“Approximately two months into the 2017 season, a group of players, including Carlos Beltran, discussed that the team could improve on decoding opposing teams’ signs and communicating the signs to the batter,” Manfred wrote. “Cora arranged for a video room technician to install a monitor displaying the center field camera feed immediately outside of the Astros‘ dugout.”

In a statement to ESPN, Beltran apologized and said he failed to be a leader for the Astros clubhouse.

“As a veteran player on the team, I should’ve recognized the severity of the issue and truly regret the actions that were taken,” his statement said in part. “I am a man of faith and integrity and what took place did not demonstrate those characteristics that are so very important to me and my family.”

The Mets hired Beltran after firing Mickey Callaway at the end of the 2019 season, but before The Athletic’s report came out.

On a conference call with Mets reporters Thursday, Van Wagenen implied that no one in the front office asked Beltran about the report or his potential involvement once it became public.

Now the Mets, Astros and Red Sox must fill their top managerial positions with just a month to go until pitchers and catchers report for spring training.

Baseball world reacts

Thursday morning, before Beltran’s departure was announced, ESPN baseball analyst Jessica Mendoza said on the radio program “Golic & Wingo” that she found it “hard to swallow” that Fiers blew the whistle on the sign stealing. The problem: Mendoza also works as a consultant for the Mets, an obvious conflict of interest.

After a swift backlash online, she put out a statement condemning the cheating itself, but still said that Fiers should have gone to MLB with the information first instead of telling The Athletic.

Current and former players haven’t taken kindly to the cheaters, though. ESPN analyst and former Yankee Mark Teixeira said earlier this week that the Mets must fire Beltran.

“The only reason Beltran wasn’t punished as a bigger part of this was because of that immunity (as a player) … It’s really a loophole for Carlos Beltran because he retired immediately after that World Series,” Teixeira said.

Yu Darvish took a more comedic path. The Chicago Cubs pitcher who played for the Los Angeles Dodgers squad that lost the 2017 World Series tweeted that, “If the Dodgers are planning a 2017 World Series parade, I would love to join.”

Nationals players have been quiet about the scandal and its fallout, though last November the Washington Post reported that Nationals pitchers began to “mix their signs more elaborately” at the start of the playoffs — long before a World Series matchup against the Astros was arranged.

“When we start getting into technology, and only one team has access to it,” Nationals reliever Sean Doolittle told the Post, “that’s scary.”

After winning Game 6 of the World Series, Nationals starter Stephen Strasburg said in a postgame interview that he felt Houston was able to score two runs on him in the first inning because he was tipping his pitches. He fixed the issue by shaking his glove, he said. But the game was played at Minute Maid Park, so MLB’s findings pertaining to 2017 create enough reasonable doubt over whether Strasburg was tipping his pitches — or having his signs stolen.

When the Nationals report to spring training in February, they will be focused on launching their title defense, while the team they share their facility with, the Astros, will be starting over after the fallout of one of the biggest cheating scandals in modern sports history.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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