It’s been a lousy week for the Houston Astros.
They were busted for cheating; their general manager and manager were suspended for the season by Major League Baseball, and then summarily fired. The team was stripped of two years’ worth of high draft picks and had to pay out a $5 million fine. Two other managers who participated in the scheme to steal signals while with the 2017 Astros were also dismissed by their teams, and as reporters keep digging into MLB’s dirty secrets, it’s entirely possible that more teams and players will be implicated.
On Thursday afternoon, a Twitter account claiming to be that of the niece of Carlos Beltrán, who lost his job as the manager of the New York Mets because he’d played a central role in the Astros’ skulduggery, dropped a bombshell. If true, what had been reported to date was just the beginning of the Astros’ rule-breaking ways. Namely, during the playoffs, two Astros wore a secret buzzer cleverly concealed beneath their uniform. The buzzer would tip the hitters off to the next pitch. The account holder also claimed it possessed photos to back up the allegations.
On social media, it set off a wild frenzy of conspiracy-mongering. Fans relentlessly parsed videos and posted screenshots of the players who’d been implicated. Players and members of the press haven’t been able to resist this siren’s call, either. For anyone trying to read online about the Astros, it felt like an army of wised-up sleuths were on the case, all of whom were convinced that this length of yarn pinned to this GIF image would finally connect the relevant dots and reveal how deep this nefarious plot really goes.
There was one problem. The account did not belong to Carlos Beltrán’s niece at all. Rather, thanks to the shrewd detective work of one fan, there’s a more than decent chance it’s the handiwork of a guy named “Incarcerated Bob.”
Who is Incarcerated Bob? The short answer is: an online gambling tout with a large following who gained infamy by posting scoops about all the major college and pro sports. Those scoops often turn out to be dead wrong or works of complete fiction. He also regularly employs dozens of sockpuppet accounts to boost his relevance and target his critics. Incarcerated Bob will threaten, harass, and lie about those who question him. And while there’s a non-zero chance that the catfish account wasn’t wrong about additional acts of cheating in baseball, odds are Bob is not the person who’s going to break that story.
The longer answer is a tad more complicated, and far more bizarre.
The fireworks began on Thursday afternoon at around 2 p.m., not long after the Mets and Beltrán agreed to a mutual parting. The Twitter account that is not Beltrán’s niece delivered this scorching-hot bit of gossip: two Astros stars, Alex Bregman and Jose Altuve, had partaken in a different cheating scheme altogether. Barely noticeable electronic devices containing a buzzer had been strapped to their right shoulder. Another Astros employee, the “hallway video guy,” as @S0_blessed1 described him, who was watching a live feed of the game, would suss out the catcher’s signals, then notify them as to what type of pitch would be thrown next. Given that this account had correctly tweeted about Beltrán’s being named manager of the Mets and his eventual dismissal, and because this was coming from a purported family member, the allegation carried a whiff of truth.
What’s more, Joel Sherman of the New York Post reported back in November when the Astros cheating story first was made public that sources had mentioned the possible use of a “realistic-looking electronic bandage placed on a player’s body.” The rumor was resuscitated on Wednesday by the YES Network’s Michael Kay, who cited a video of Altuve’s 2019 American League Championship Series-winning homer. After he crosses home plate, Altuve implores his teammates not to rip off his jersey.
With fans giddy at the thought of further seedy details emerging about the villainous Astros, the rumor took off online. @Jomboy_, aka Jimmy O’Brien, a podcaster and popular video creator with more than 200,000 followers on Twitter, gave @S0_blessed1’s tale a sheen of credibility, adding that five separate sources had also mentioned electronic devices. @Jomboy_ had previously unearthed a few videos from 2017 exposing how the Astros would bang on a trash can to tip off their hitters, so his signal boost was taken seriously.
Minutes later, Cincinnati Reds pitcher Trevor Bauer, a noted Twitter troll, backed up @Jomboy_. (In the midst of this kerfuffle, Bauer also hinted that three-time AL MVP Mike Trout possessed a medical exception allowing him to take human growth hormones, unlike every other pro baseball player. The son of former MLB player Scott Brosius also said as much. Both Bauer and Brosius have since walked back their statements.)
While those following along online were still trying to digest this tranche of shocking news, a reporter actually got someone in a position to know on the phone. Regardless of whether or not the allegations were true, @S0_blessed1 was not manned by Beltrán’s niece nor any other member of his family, ESPN’s Marly Rivera confirmed.
Five minutes after Rivera hit send, the son of former MLB great Gary Sheffield offered his own theory: Of course it wasn’t Beltrán’s niece, you gormless rubes! A former, unnamed player was actually posing as a member of Beltrán’s family.
All of this unhinged speculation and conflicting narratives gave baseball fans license to let their imaginations run wild. As David J. Roth put it in a Baseball Prospectus article, baseball fans trawling social media on Thursday invariably wound up knee-deep in the “Random Things Circled in MS Paint stage,” of a good, juicy sports scandal.
To wit: Online sleuths re-posted and then endlessly poked and prodded at the video Kay had recirculated of Altuve’s homer. They also dug up another post-game video, in which Altuve was asked why remaining shirted was so important, and Altuve says his wife would’ve gotten angry with him.
As of this writing, both videos boast well over a million views. Others parsed clips of Altuve streaking into the dugout prior to joining his jubilant fellow Astros on the field. Altuve’s jersey had been removed for some reason. The other Astros, for some reason, were content to wear the official AL Champs T-shirt over their uniform.
Just so we’re all on the same page, per MLB’s investigation, the Astros didn’t cheat during the 2019 regular season and playoffs. The league also issued a statement refuting any notions about the use of wearable electronic devices. Bregman and Altuve also said the buzzer story was bunk. "We all knew someone made that up," Altuve told reporters on Saturday. That didn’t stop the keyboard detectives from carefully perusing photos of Astros outfielder Josh Reddick, —as @S0_blessed1 had explicitly encouraged. ’Reddick had gotten a piece of confetti stuck to his upper shoulder during the post-game celebration, you see.
Or is it!! What if that’s evidence of a hidden buzzer, just like @S0_blessed1 claimed? And why does it appear as if some kind of wire is dangling out from beneath the so-called confetti?
Pay no attention to this angry tweet posted by Josh Reddick’s wife or, like, this video showing him pluck off what’s clearly a shred of confetti! After all, it’s so much more fun to screenshot creases of baseball uniforms clumsily circled with arrows pointing, suggesting that everyone in the bigs has their own personal. streamlined version of Dubya’s secret prompter. Who doesn’t enjoy doing some deep-bore lip-reading or tweeting images of a shirtless Altuve to disprove the on-camera assertion that he’s “too shy” to ever disrobe in public?
And fans—famous fans, even—aren’t the only ones who’ve been roped in. A segment of the ESPN show First Take was devoted to a full-bore analysis the Altuve videos; CC Sabathia weighed in, as did a Baltimore Orioles reliever; Cleveland Indians pitcher Mike Clevenger made the rounds both online and off to rail against flagrant rule-breakers; two members of the Los Angeles Dodgers also fired off a few pissed-off tweets; and Aroldis Chapman, who gave up the deciding dinger to Altuve, took a victory lap:
Even though @S0_blessed1 deleted their account at some point either late Thursday or early Friday—and then brought it back to life Saturday morning—true String Theorists will never let go of this, not with a member of Congress now demanding a full investigation into what MLB knew and when they knew it. Within this social media maelstrom of half-truths and unknown knowns, discerning fact from fiction can prove an arduous task. More to the point, hewing closely to the gospel truth isn’t nearly as entertaining as going whole hog into titillating gossip and slinging easy jokes.
All of this makes for the perfect environment in which a figure like Incarcerated Bob tends to thrive—a plausible sports rumor, partially backed by reporters with actual sources, but enough online blurring between fact and fiction that he can toss a possibly viral rumor of his own into the mix. If he’s right, it’ll be used to promote his for-sale gambling picks. Unfortunately for Incarcerated Bob, one fan was already clued in to his shtick.
Late Thursday evening, while many were still busy Zaprudering MLB screenshots and videos, Cole, a college student who lives in the tri-state area, dug into the @S0_blessed1 account and became convinced Incarcerated Bob is behind it. (Via Twitter direct message, Cole declined to give his full name, citing the persistent harassment and outright threats leveled by Incarcerated Bob in the past. We’ll get there in a moment.)
He’d been dutifully tracking the Astros cheating scandal, but when the suspensions were handed down by MLB, he got mad. By his accounting, the Yankees would have snagged at least one World Series title in recent years if the Astros’ malfeasance had been uncovered earlier. (Yes, Cole is a Yankee fan.) Naturally, he was intrigued by the implication that batters were being tipped off by electronic buzzers. If Beltrán’s niece wasn’t behind the account, as ESPN reported, Cole wanted to find out who was responsible.
First, Cole discovered he had blocked @S0_blessed1 at some point, which struck him as bizarre. He doesn’t know anyone related to Beltrán personally and refrains from blocking people on Twitter without cause. Then Cole searched Twitter for any interactions he might have had with @S0_blessed1 in the past, and up popped a series of exchanges from December with @S0_blessed1 and Incarcerated Bob’s main account and a handful of accounts he believes are sockpuppets controlled by Incarcerated Bob.
At the time, Cole had battled with those accounts. It wasn’t a pleasant experience. “If you go to attack [Bob], he will send these burners after you,” Cole said. “That guy is a CREEP.” (Incarcerated Bob did not respond to an emailed request for comment.)
Cole compiled the evidence he’d amassed and shared it in a tweet thread.
The post started to pick up steam, and though he hadn’t tagged Incarcerated Bob, he did include @S0_blessed1. As expected, burner accounts came out of the woodwork to snipe at Cole. They included: @TeamMoneyPicks (which since changed its handle to @TeamMoneyPickss and is still active but currently set to private) and the deleted accounts: @BarcelonaPx1 (previously @SayKnuckles) @BK_Brawler7, @SportsMoney_Vic, and @HazzyM9 (which was also @BradyGoat6Chips and @FalconFan343 at different points on Thursday night), according to Cole.
Another Twitter user also provided evidence proving that @TeamMoneyPickss belongs to Incarcerated Bob. You see, he forgot to change accounts when taking screenshots and the icon for his main Twitter account is still visible at the bottom of the photos.
Screenshots shared with The Daily Beast by Cole also show how the @BradyGoat6Chips/@FalconFan343 account changed its username and avatar.
In this video, Cole documented how one burner account does nothing but yell at people who were questioning Incarcerated Bob:
Cole also recalled that @S0_blessed1 had gone by other names before settling on a fictional relationship to the now ex-Mets manager. In this screenshot of a tweet from March, you can see that the account was calling itself “Gabby” and, prior to that, “Chrissy,” My own investigation revealed that two years earlier, its username had been @Chrissy_Escorts. A Twitter search for “@Chrissy_Escorts” only spat out a handful of reply tweets. All of them were responses sent to @S0_blessed1, and about half were to threads started by or about gambling tout accounts. (At some point in 2018, @S0_blessed1 also went by @blessed_Soul1.) And @Chrissy_Escorts had a knack of being present when newsworthy events transpired.
On the night of May 31, 2017, an individual wielding what turned out to be a phony firearm was taken into custody at Orlando International Airport. @Chrissy_Escorts’ supposed first-hand account of the ordeal was believable enough that the airport’s official Twitter account checked to make sure everything was OK and a reporter asked “Chrissy” for an interview. Two days earlier, by dint of luck, @Chrissy_Escorts somehow was also in London at the zoo when a lion escaped. One Twitter user grabbed a screenshot of the now-deleted tweet, pointing out how unlikely @Chrissy_Escorts’s claim was.
None of this is new for Incarcerated Bob. He has a record of creating multiple sockpuppet accounts and flinging around false statements going back nearly a decade. David Purdum, a staff writer for ESPN who has covered the sports betting industry for the last 11 years, was targeted for having the temerity to ask for an interview. Reached by phone, he called Incarcerated Bob: “the originator of fake news in the gambling world."
Back in 2013, Incarcerated Bob came into his purview thanks to a post alleging that the boxer Floyd Mayweather had bet $6 million dollars on the Miami Heat during the 2013 Eastern Conference Finals. Mayweather has long been connected to exorbitant wagers, but for anyone who was familiar with the action Las Vegas gambling books were accepting at the time, it was clear that even a million-dollar bet on a Heat-Pacers game would have been "extremely, extremely rare," he said. LarryBrownSports.com broke down Incarcerated Bob’s alleged use of sockpuppets to promote the sham and how a few mainstream outlets were suckered into taking him at his word. “Nice formula,” the site’s eponymous author wrote. “Hype up a rumor on one of your Twitter accounts, write about it on your other, and watch the clicks file in.”
Five years ago, an Ole Miss fan successfully duped Bob, sending him a fake letter from the NCAA regarding an upcoming suspension. The letter included this sentence from an Ole Miss chancellor: “I spend a considerable amount of time LOLing at Incarcerated Bob.” Incarcerated Bob published it as if it were true on his website.
Another story about Jameis Winston allegedly shaving points that TMZ sourced to Incarcerated Bob fell apart completely. One of his alleged burner accounts tweeted that the Las Vegas sports books had taken a huge bet on the MVP of the NFL. One problem: the Las Vegas books don’t offer that bet. When challenged, Incarcerated Bob changed his story, saying the bets had been placed with offshore book, thus making the assertion impossible to verify one way or another. “He completely made that up,” Purdum said.
In the process of reporting out the story, Purdum ran a background check on a name that sources had told him was actually Incarcerated Bob. (The Daily Beast was not able to independently verify Purdum’s reporting, so we are not naming this individual.) He had communicated with Incarcerated Bob, much of it publicly on Twitter, for transparency’s sake. Once Purdum had run the check, the tone of the messages he received began to change “dramatically.” Someone—either Incarcerated Bob or someone connected to him—began by poring through Purdum's Facebook page. He doesn't recall the exact wording in the tweet, but the message contained a screenshot of a Facebook post about his sister’s birthday and asked “how’s your sister” which Purdum took as a threat. “It crossed a line,” said Purdum. “extremely.”
Before the article was published, Incarcerated Bob wrote a lengthy blog post on his website about Purdum. The post, which has since been deleted, featured an entirely fabricated email exchange with Purdum where he extorts Incarcerated Bob and uses a racial slur.
According to Purdum, Incarcerated Bob penned a follow-up blog post which bore an equal lack of resemblance to reality. That too appears to have been deleted. Still, the harassment continued for weeks afterward, and at one point, Purdum’s account started swelling with paid-for fake Twitter followers. Though he can’t provide definitive proof, he’s certain Bob was responsible. This is a tactic Incarcerated Bob has purportedly used before. Further, Purdum noted in his article that 90 percent of the over 100,000 followers Incarcerated Bob had on Twitter at the time were fake or inactive. To Purdum, this was a clear indication they had been purchased. (The Daily Beast was unable to audit the account because it has been set to private since at least Friday morning.)
Though he never did get to interview Incarcerated Bob, he eventually called the individual who he believes is partly responsible for running Incarcerated Bob’s site and network of apparent sockpuppet accounts. (Purdum also is of the opinion that “Incarcerated Bob” may in fact be more than one person. Given the amount of time required to run not just the site, but all the burner accounts—more than a dozen were tweeting at Purdum back in 2013—would seem to be too much of a workload for someone to handle alone, he speculated.)
On the call, the individual replied “yes,” when Purdum said his name. Then, after Purdum identified himself, the line went quiet for a lengthy period of time and the individual hung up without uttering another word.
Five minutes later, someone else called back claiming to be Incarcerated Bob and spat curses at Purdum for a bit before hanging up. Purdum hasn't heard from him since.
The sockpuppet accounts are a tool for Incarcerated Bob, Purdum explained. In Bob’s case, his initial goal was to get people to subscribe to his gambling tout service. Boast enough followers, and get enough burner accounts shouting about his skills as a gambler and sourced-up guy who breaks news, and the idea of credibility is baked in. (It doesn’t hurt that more than a few media organizations have either ignored or failed to mention Incarcerated Bob’s tactics and shoddy track record, but rather treated Incarcerated Bob as if he’s an expert in the world of gambling.) “That gets you in the door with a customer,” said Purdum. But there’s an additional benefit beyond marketing. According to Purdum, Incarcerated Bob seemingly uses the other accounts to bet both sides of any wager.
It's an ancient technique employed by gambling touts, dating back to when picks were offered over the phone. Half of the recipients are told Team A will win, the other half Team B. No matter the outcome, half of your potential customer base is happy, and might be tempted to sign up. In the updated version, after the game ends, the incorrectly tweeted recommendation easily be deleted.Even if gambling aficionados on Twitter screenshot an incorrect wager and calls Incarcerated Bob a fraud, his influence is large enough to keep running the same racket. If social media does raise enough of a stink, well, then the sockpuppet accounts can make someone’s life unpleasant enough it’s not worth engaging.
I should know. Like Purdum, Incarcerated Bob used what I took to be a sockpuppet account to falsely claim I tried to extort him, too.
A few months before Purdum tried to interview Incarcerated Bob, he had gotten some attention for claiming he’d broken a story about an on-court exchange of words between Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Garnett. According to Incarcerated Bob, sources had told him Garnett trashed-talked the then New York Knicks star forward by saying his wife LaLa “tastes like Honey Nut Cheerios,” the implication being that he’d slept with her (Black Sports Online was the first outlet to publish the story. They did not credit Incarcerated Bob. While Anthony did confront Garnett outside Madison Square Garden that same evening, resulting in a one-game suspension, everyone involved denied that Garnett had specifically invoked a breakfast cereal, including LaLa.)
We talked on the phone for about 40 or so minutes and he had a gruff charm. I liked him. Incarcerated Bob told me he had been a frequent WFAN caller, and so “Incarcerated Bob” became the handle bestowed upon him. (As of late, he’s taken to dialing up The Michael Kay Show.) As to actual prison time, Incarcerated Bob said he served eight months because he’d gotten in a fight during the 2008 Super Bowl. To what degree any of the things he told me are true, I have no idea. The police record belonging to the individual Purdum uncovered shows that person has done some jail time, but not for assault.
After the story went up, Incarcerated Bob was irked. First came the emails, one of which insisted that I, “stop entertaining clowns [online] with nothing to do but start bullshit.” (To the best of my recollection, what may have set Bob off is that after I’d tweeted out a link to the story, Purdum responded.) Should I fail to “stop slanting shit on your Twitter and acting like a 15yr old school girl entertaining the haters,” Bob wrote, he would release his recording of our interview. I told him if he wanted to add a comment disputing anything in the article, I would discuss it with my editor and possibly amend the article.
The emails stopped, as did the tweets from his main account, but Incarcerated Bob’s apparent sockpuppet accounts took things up a notch, to say the least. One day after our final email exchange, the now-suspended account @b00kiebreaker2, which employed the exact same kind of all-caps festooned verbiage and linguistic style as Incarcerated Bob, tweeted out a few variations on this ludicrous, entirely false statement: “@BobSaietta HAS FINANCIAL ISSUES AT HOME NOW TRYING TO SHAKEDOWN @INCARCERATEDBOB ASKING FOR $5,000 NOT TO PRINT STORIES #NYTIMES WE EXPOSE.” (I reported the tweet to Twitter, which is why I still have a record of its content. Twitter determined it did not violate their terms of service.)
Mentions of the @b00kiebreaker2 account can be found in the hashtag #IBNFrauds. In this case, ”IBN” is shorthand for the Incarcerated Bob Network, the moniker he’s given his erstwhile media empire. Be careful clicking on the non-archived version of his site. Every time I did so on Friday, I received a warning it contained malware.
Purdum and I aren’t the only reporters who’ve incurred Incarcerated Bob’s wrath. Barstool Sports blogger and radio host Kevin Clancy wrote in 2013 about his own less-than-friendly interaction with him online. The images in the article have been lost, and it is unclear to what degree Clancy was being facetious, but in addition to calling out Incarcerated Bob’s subpar track record and purchased Twitter followers, he wrote: “if you argue with [Bob] on twitter, he will want to kill you in real life.” A concurrent tweet shows Incarcerated Bob suggesting a face-to-face confrontation with Clancy in Queens.
Other Barstool bloggers have also had a similar experience.
Two other members of the media who have crossed paths with Incarcerated Bob declined to comment, citing fears of retaliation. That, too, didn’t come as much of a surprise.
“The lengths that he’ll go is crazy,” Purdum said. “I would not put anything past that guy.”