By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) -- A Wall Street Journal report from the weekend cast an entirely new light on the Astros' sign-stealing operation, revealing knowledge of an advanced "Codebreaker" system that made its way all the way up the front office. On Tuesday, a new report from The Athletic -- the original source of the Astros' cheating allegations -- re-centered the scandal back on Carlos Beltran and Alex Cora.
In a story written by Evan Drellich and Ken Rosenthal, an anonymous source said that Beltran and Cora took the Astros' "Codebreaker" system and elevated it to new levels.
"What happened was Cora and Beltran decided that this video room stuff [director of advance information Tom Koch-Weser] was doing was just not working, inefficient, too slow," an anonymous source said. "They just had some lower-level guy put up this monitor and did it themselves."
The story added: "The front-office clearly had a role in developing the Astros' rule-breaking methods, and the environment in which those flourished. But the trash-can banging -- the sign-stealing main event -- originated with uniformed personnel."
The story framed Beltran as a bully of sorts, with the helpless adults either playing for or managing the Astros unable to do anything except to go along with whatever sign-stealing operation Beltran told them to employ.
The lede went like this:
You're an accessory to a robbery, and now you're in the backseat of the getaway car. You never intended to be part of a criminal act. But the doors are locked, the driver is speeding away, and you're unable to escape.
One member of the 2017 World Series champion Astros uses that analogy to explain the feeling in the clubhouse as the team deployed a real-time sign-stealing scheme that season.
As the story claimed, "Some Astros players, even manager A.J. Hinch, felt powerless to stop [Beltran]."
Another line: "Members of the 2017 Astros use various terms to describe Beltran — El Jefe, the Godfather, the king, the alpha male in the building."
According to the report, the only person to tell Beltran to stop was Brian McCann. And according to the report, "[Beltran] disregarded it and steamrolled everybody."
If that all seems a bit extreme, that's because it is.
Of course, it's no coincidence that Beltran no longer works for the Astros, nor does Cora. So for anyone involved with the Astros to pin the bulk of the blame on the people no longer with the organization makes sense.
Still, the presentation of professional athletes and managers as captives in a getaway car fails to squarely place any blame on people who knowingly participated in rule-breaking activity.
In fact, the story cited one source who did not remember any players protesting the system that helped lift them to a World Series title.
"No one ever said anything about how they didn't agree with the system," an unnamed member of the 2017 Astros told The Athletic. "They loved hitting with the system."
Additionally, when Beltran and Cora left the team following the 2017 season, the sign-stealing operation in Houston did not stop, according to the players who spoke to The Athletic.
If Hinch and younger players were too timid to have stopped Beltran from forcing them to up their cheating game in 2017, it's unclear why the Astros kept on doing it in 2018.
(Red Sox fans will be interested to see this tidbit: "Beltran played for the Yankees during the 2014, '15 and '16 seasons before joining the Astros in '17. But it was Beltrán who, according to multiple sources, told the Astros that their sign-stealing methods were 'behind the times.'" It's largely irrelevant, considering MLB really didn't enforce proper protocols on use of the video replay room until 2017, but it will nevertheless add to the internet fodder.)
In any event, it's clear that illegal sign-stealing was going on, and that the banging of a trash can elevated the Astros' offenses to different heights. Based on The Athletic's reporting and MLB's investigation, Cora and Beltran were clearly key players in the system.
But this framing of Beltran and Cora as the bad guys doesn't pass the sniff test. And the idea that Hinch (43 years old in 2017) and other professional baseball players were helpless fawns who were so focused on learning how to walk that they couldn't possibly have opted out of the sign-stealing operation? It pushes the bounds of credulity.
In the meanwhile, Hinch has lost his job, and both Beltran and Cora have been ousted as big league managers. Whether any of them gets another shot is an unknown. Equally mysterious is whether the full, unadulterated and honest story about the Astros' sign-stealing ever sees the light of day. The scapegoating of former employees by anonymous players and Manfred's issuance of immunity to any player participating in the investigation has made it a challenge to get the full and proper scope.
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