Houston Astros: The next sign-stealing casualties

HOUSTON, TX - OCTOBER 19: George Springer #4 of the Houston Astros celebrates as he runs the bases after a home run by Jose Altuve #27 in the ninth inning against the Houston Astros during Game Six of the League Championship Series at Minute Maid Park on October 19, 2019 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images)
HOUSTON, TX - OCTOBER 19: George Springer #4 of the Houston Astros celebrates as he runs the bases after a home run by Jose Altuve #27 in the ninth inning against the Houston Astros during Game Six of the League Championship Series at Minute Maid Park on October 19, 2019 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images) /
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(Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
(Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images) /

Jose Altuve

Altuve suffers for two reasons.

He was a central figure on the 2017 World Series-winning team as well as the 2018 and 2019 Houston Astros. Given his leadership position, the assumption – even if unproven – will be rampant that he was closely involved with the adoption and maintenance of the sign-stealing mechanism.

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Beyond that, his on-air actions during the 2019 ALCS – notably his warning to his teammates not to rip off his shirt following a game-winning home run — and his quick exit into the dugout before emerging in another shirt – are, in the context of what has since become known, highly suspicious.

The best thing Altuve could do to extricate his own reputation from those suspicions would be to make a clean breast of things. It at least would restore the idea that, if not always honest, he was, in the end, contrite. The problem with doing so is that it would likely sour his relationships inside the clubhouse, where the operative culture frowns on players telling secrets.

He addressed this to some degree when spring drills began. But in his interviews with reporters, Altuve failed to directly address the suggestion that he had been wearing a buzzer during the 2019 post-season. Instead, he fell back on the non-denial denial that “the commissioner’s  report didn’t find any evidence of that.”

Since Altuve knows better than anybody whether he was wired when he homered off Aroldis Chapman, his refusal to make a simple, straightforward denial will only serve to continue the speculation.

Altuve’s stakes are more than altruistic. He was the 2017 Most Valuable Player, an award whose merit can now be called into question. And although not yet in his 30s, he has been on a clear Hall of Fame track. Baseball-Reference lists his three most comparable players through age 29 as Ryne Sandberg, Roberto Alomar, and Derek Jeter, all of whom are Hall of Famers.

On the logical assumption that Hall voters look at this in a roughly similar fashion to their reaction to the steroids scandal, Altuve’s developing candidacy is taking a serious hit.