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Tuesday, February 25, 2020

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Jose Altuve’s tattoo problem isn’t the one he has on his neck of the name of his daughter, “Melanie.”

It’s the one that he will carry with him for the rest of his playing career and beyond — the one that says “Astros Cheating Scandal.”


Altuve may be both the saddest and sleaziest figure in his team’s crime against baseball. He has been the face of the Houston club — its bright, shining hero who at the age of 16 was told, after attending an Astros tryout camp in Venezuela, to go home because he was too small — only to return and be signed as a free agent for $15,000.

Since then, he has had a chip on his shoulder — not a tattoo — to prove everyone wrong. He moved through the Astros’ minor league system over four years, making his major league debut in July 2011.

The 5-foot-6 second baseman has been named to six All-Star teams. He won the 2017 American League Most Valuable Player Award and was named MVP of the 2019 American League Championship Series. He was voted Sports Illustrated’s Co-Person of the Year, along with fellow Houston icon J.J. Watt, in part for their work to help relief efforts after the city was hit hard by Hurricane Harvey. He was named Associated Press Player of the Year and Sporting News Player of the Year in 2017.

He capped off his 2017 season by winning the prestigious Hank Aaron Award for the American League’s best hitter. The award is presented every World Series by the greatest living ballplayer, Aaron himself.

“I wouldn’t pay to go see many guys play,” Aaron said when he stood with Altuve to give him the award. “But I would pay to go see him.”

Now Aaron wants him banned from baseball.

Asked on a “Today” show interview recently if Aaron thought the punishments handed down by commissioner Rob Manfred in the cheating scandal — none against the players who were granted immunity by Manfred for their cooperation in the investigation — were enough, he replied, “No, I don’t. I think whoever did that should be out of baseball for the rest of their life.”

Boom. It has all come crashing down for the Astros hero. The game’s greatest living player, who handed a plaque bearing his name to Altuve that presumably hangs in the second baseman’s home, wants the Astros star banned from baseball.

Maybe Altuve has the Hank Aaron Award displayed next to his 2017 MVP Award.

“I mean, these guys were cheating for three years,” Dodgers star and 2019 National League MVP Cody Bellinger told reporters. “I think what people don’t realize is that Altuve stole the MVP from (New York Yankees outfielder Aaron) Judge in 2017. Everyone knows they stole the ring from us.”

Boom. The NL MVP called Altuve a fraud and a thief.

Altuve, 29, has been the focus of attention of much of the post-investigation furor. There was the weak statement he read the first day of spring training in West Palm Beach at the Astros’ disastrous public relations attempt to repair the damage. It was like a hostage statement when Altuve stood before cameras and told reporters, “I want to say that the whole Astros organization and the team feels bad about what happened in 2017. We especially feel remorse for the impact on the fans and the game of baseball. And our team is determined to move forward.”

Sad. Sleazy. Hardly sincere.

There is no moving forward for Altuve. He may go on to have a great career. But he is not A-Rod. He has none of the slickness and style needed to manufacture a redemption story.

Altuve’s story may be irreparable because of how he presented himself as a man of God. The hypocrisy may be an unpardonable sin in the church of public opinion — even in today’s world where no sin seems unforgivable.

The rules may still be different for saints.

In Texas, the Astros have sold Jesus as much as any team in baseball, and Altuve has been the leading apostle.

In a 2017 Houston Chronicle interview, Altuve said, “To achieve success wasn’t to get into the major leagues or have the best season in the world. The best success is to live your life the way God wants you to.

“If you can do that, if you can be good with God, then I think you will have success in your life,” Altuve said.

It’s hard to imagine Altuve is good with God these days. He has been deeply implicated by rumor and innuendo in the Astros cheating scandal, with charges that he wore a “buzzer” under his jersey to alert him to pitches. The evidence being held up is Altuve’s refusal to let teammates pull off his jersey in celebration of his 2019 ALCS game-winning home run against the Yankees.

Altuve credited his faith in God in a postgame interview that day with Fox Sports. “First I want to thank God and all the fans for the beautiful game, for the beautiful playoffs,” he said. “Running around the bases, the only thing I was thinking was thanking God and just thinking we’re going to the World Series once again.”

Obviously, that wasn’t the only thing Altuve was thinking.

His teammates have defended his behavior, with conflicting statements — Altuve was too shy to have his jersey removed (past shirtless photos would refute that) or that he was not happy with his unfinished tattoo of his daughter’s name.

Altuve has maintained he didn’t use a buzzer system. Teammate Carlos Correa went so far as to claim Altuve didn’t take part in the cheating. “Nobody wants to talk about this, but I’m going to talk about this — Jose Altuve was the one guy that didn’t use the trash can,” he told The Athletic.

“The few times that the trash can was banged was without his consent, and he would go inside the clubhouse and inside the dugout to whoever was banging the trash can and he would get pissed. … He played the game clean.”

Correa’s claim that the Astros used the trash can a “few” times has little credibility, based on the investigation by Major League Baseball that resulted in Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch being suspended for a season and subsequently fired for allowing a far more prevalent cheating system than a “few times.”

At this point, it really doesn’t matter if Altuve cheated or how much he did. The man who professed he lives his life the way God wanted him to either cheated or benefited from others cheating and helped conceal it.

I reached out to Kevin Edelbrock, identified as one of the Astros’ team chaplains, to ask these questions — how will the faith of Altuve and the rest of his Christian teammates help them through this crisis, and then how did the faith of Altuve and the rest of his Christian teammates allow this cheating to take place?

“My role with the team is as a volunteer and our organization isn’t allowed to do interviews,” he responded in a Facebook message. “I’m really sorry. We prefer that the stories are about the players.”

There won’t be any problem with that. The stories will be about the players. Any tales of Jose Altuve and God, though, will ring hollow — like the Astros’ apology, sad and sleazy.

Hear Thom Loverro on 106.7 The Fan Wednesday afternoons and Saturday mornings and on the Kevin Sheehan podcast Tuesdays and Thursdays.


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