June is usually when most of us take time off, because that is when things slow down in the sports world. After two weeks off, I returned to find I missed out on quite a bit. After a week in Vegas for the WSOP and another in Canada for some R & R, it's time to catch up on some big topics:
1) The Canada Curse is real
Blame me for the Astros seven game losing streak. Every time I am out of the country, everything goes to hell. The Texans record when I am in Canada? They are 0-3. The Astros did not win a game while I was there. I think it is time for the fan bases to take up a collection to make sure I go when none of the local teams are playing.
2) Despite that losing streak...
Yordan Alvarez might be one of the most exciting prospects the Astros have had since...Carlos Correa? Alex Bregman? He has not missed a beat since coming up from Triple-A, where he was putting up MVP like numbers. He has a smooth, powerful swing, and the scary part is he is only 21 years old. Yes, teams will figure him out at some point and he will have to adjust, but if he is anything close to what he has shown? The Astros will have yet another star. As for the losing streak? These are going to happen in a long season. The Astros are getting healthy again, and at some point adding a third top-line starter will have them back in the mix for another World Series title.
3) Shakeup in the AAC and how it impacts UH
UConn is going to return to the Big East, primarily because of travel and the fact that the school is focused primarily on basketball. The future of its football program is up in the air. What does it mean for UH and the AAC? It's probably a good thing. UConn basketball has fallen off the face of the earth, and the once-proud program offers little to the AAC. The football program, also once on the cusp of success, has been in a tailspin. It would not take much in the way of a program to be an upgrade for the conference. But sticking with 11 would not be the worst thing in the world, either. It would mean a bigger split for the remaining schools, and is there really a program out there that would move the needle? BYU? Sure, but they seem happy as independents. Boise? Success, but offers little in the way of a TV market and travel is an issue. Maybe Air Force or Army, but beyond that, there really is not a program that adds much. Buffalo out of the MAC is on the rise, and might be worth a look, but the conference might be better off at 11. The addition of Wichita State in basketball was a good trade-up from UConn and this might be a case of addition by subtraction.
4) Rockets dead stare
There's a beef between James Harden and Chris Paul. There's not a beef between Harden and Paul. The coach is upset. The coach isn't upset. Who knows what is going on with the Rockets? This team is close, and the Warriors are set to take a step back. But what if the Clippers sign Khawi Leonard? The Lakers have made moves, but they are still a mess, so who knows. The Rockets have to be chafing at the fact that the Toronto Raptors were able to go all in and win the title. Chris Paul's onerous contract will be tough to work around, but they should be adding, not subtracting. One more try with this group would not be a bad thing. But they need some stability, and nothing they are doing right now screams that. At least the Texans have taken some of the heat off...
5) Oh my, Texans
The Texans have become an absolute mess. No GM? No problem, right? Bill O'Brien is on the case. O'Brien is a good coach. But so far, he has not shown himself to be a great one. Or even a very good one. Now he is head coach, de facto OC and GM? While it's a leap to say all the firings were racially motivated, the more likely scenario is O'Brien just wanted "his guys." At worst it is a bad look. So he is basically reading from the Bill Belichick playbook. We have seen this before. The problem is, O'Brien is not Belichick. Neither likes to be questioned by the media or anyone else. The best managers have a combination of people underneath them who understand the vision and goals, and others who will challenge those. Most organizations in the NFL don't like the latter. O'Brien is a perfect example of this. The good news is we will now know how to blame. If it works? O'Brien looks like a genius. But if it spirals out of control - which is a real possibility - there will be no one else responsible. The Texans have been the picture of stability to a fault. Now they seem to be falling part at the seams. Here is hoping it all works out. But skepticism is warranted.
Honestly, things are not that bad. Thank goodness for the Astros, who are run like a model franchise, and UH athletics, which seems to be in a really good place. The Rockets should be fine, once they sit back and realize that adding a couple key pieces could make all the difference in the world. As for the Texans? We will find out soon enough. The flagship franchise of the city, however, is at a crossroads. It is not a rudderless ship, but can the rudder steer them where they want to go? That remains to be seen.
There was the usual – now annual – blowback after the 2024 Hall of Fame voting was announced. Why does the Hall of Fame make candidates wait up to 15 years for voters to decide if they’re worthy? And if they’re still not voted in, a veterans “eras” committee has to infinity and beyond to induct them.
There was grumbling in Houston especially where former Astros closer Billy Wagner was denied election by five votes, despite favorable career stats compared to previously inducted relievers. This was Wagner’s ninth and penultimate year of eligibility on the Baseball Writers Association of America ballot. According to Hall of Fame trends, Wagner should gain the necessary 75 percent of the writers’ vote next year for induction.
As they say on those political talk shows, one “down ballot” race may prove the most interesting result on the 2024 results.
Carlos Beltran was named on 57.1 percent of the ballots cast in his second year of eligibility. That’s up from 46.5 percent last year, well on track for eventual admission to the Hall of Fame.
What’s curious, as an elite center fielder and one of the greatest postseason hitters ever, Beltran’s statistics should have made him a first-ballot candidate last year and a near-lock this time.
So why is he still on the outside looking in? One reason: Beltran was considered the mastermind of the Houston Astros 2017-18 sign-stealing scandal. Several Hall of Fame voters, including those who voted for and against Beltran, both last year and this year, said that Beltran’s participation in the scandal was a factor.
Dan Barbarisi – He’d (Beltran) probably be in this year if it weren’t for the sign-stealing scandal, but he was fantastic over his years with the Royals and Mets.
Rustin Dodd: I added Carlos Beltrán, whose statistical case seems clear to me. His connection to the Astros sign-stealing scandal gave me pause. If you’re not dinging Beltrán for being a nefarious Astro, then his normal Hall of Fame credentials are obvious.
Randy Miller: I also passed on second-year candidate Carlos Beltran, the ringleader of the Astros’ illegal sign-stealing in 2017. The cheating occurred throughout the year and into the postseason, which included beating the Yankees in an ALCS that went the distance and the Dodgers in a seven-game World Series. Hall of Fame voters are instructed to cast ballots “based upon the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.” Beltran doesn’t make the cut for integrity, sportsmanship and character, so he’s never getting my vote.
Now let’s take a look at more telling, targeted comments from Hall of Fame voters that could cause a ruckus down the road for Astros fans
Ken Rosenthal: Few things in this world are black and white. That goes for Beltran’s candidacy, and the future candidacies of other position players from those Astros teams, too.
Steve Buckley: And now we have a brand-new level of madness. How to judge the Hall of Fame worthiness of players involved in the 2017 Houston Astros cheating scandal? And leading off for your Houston Astros, No. 15, Carlos Beltrán! I’m not going to trifle with a long, drawn-out statistical breakdown as to why I believe Beltrán belongs in the Hall of Fame. He has the numbers. On that basis, he belongs. But we all know it’s not about the numbers in this case, just as it has never been about the numbers with Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens. With Beltrán, it’s about being a central player in the Astros’ sign-stealing scheme — which included banging trash cans as a means to communicate to their batters what the opposing pitcher was throwing. Trash cans!
Which brings us to the case of …
Jose Altuve is 33 years old. He has played 13 years, his entire career, with the Houston Astros. He has one more year on his current contract. Most expect that Astros will offer him a four or five-year extension to complete his career in an Astros uniform. He is the heart and soul of the Astros. He’s led the Astros to two World Series titles. He is a fantastic clutch hitter, an MVP, batting champ, civic leader, possibly the most beloved and cherished athlete ever in Houston.
He also was a member of the 2017 World Series champion Astros. The 2017 sign-stealing Astros.
What will happen if Altuve retires after the 2029 season with impeccable, undeniable, first-ballot Hall of Fame credentials? Yet he doesn’t gain enough votes during his first year of eligibility. And Astros fans hear exit-poll comments similar to what they heard about Beltran this year?
This place will lose its mind.
According to former Astros on the 2017 team, Altuve did not participate in the sign-stealing, trashcan-banging scandal. When asked if he was part of the scheme, Altuve would only say that he was a member of the team and he stood with his brothers as a team.
Years later, Altuve still is mercilessly boo’d in every MLB stadium other than Minute Maid Park. National baseball broadcasters continue to label him a cheater. He has the stink of scandal all over him.
All of the Astros players from 2017-18 were given immunity. Although Altuve was never singled out as a cheater (in fact there is evidence the opposite is true), he may suffer baseball’s ultimate undeserved punishment for being an innocent bystander.
And trust me, it will hit the fan in Houston.