REALITY CHECK

Here are the real consequences of irrational Astros hate

Fans are still fuming in New York. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images.

It started in Yankee Stadium last month, but now baseball fans around the league – plus even one NBA arena, Madison Square Garden – are chanting their deep, dark, years-in-the-making anger at the Houston Astros in general and Jose Altuve in particular.

"Cheater!"

"F-Altuve!"

Fans still are fuming over the Astros' World Series-winning cheating scandal from 2017. And beyond if you believe "Cheated," baseball writer Andy Martino's new book that accuses the Astros of continuing to illegally steal signs during the 2019 season when they won the American League pennant.

Curiously, "Cheated" claims that Altuve is the one remaining Astros hitter who did not welcome the well-documented trash can banging when a breaking ball or changeup was coming. Several Astros told MLB investigators that Altuve "didn't want the pitches." The investigation concluded that Altuve "generally" didn't benefit from the sign-stealing scheme.

Altuve was and still is the face of the franchise so he's bearing the brunt of fans' hatred when the Astros hit the road. Is it fair, and what will be the long-term legacy of the Astros scandal spell for Altuve?

Most important, will this impact Altuve's chances of induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame? Or will those "cheater" chants be forgiven and forgotten by five years after Altuve retires and is eligible for the Hall?

Altuve certainly is on track to warrant induction to the Hall of Fame. His lifetime batting average is .310 and he's well past halfway to 3,000 hits, the traditional golden ticket to Cooperstown. He's won three batting titles and one MVP. He's only 31 years old so there's plenty of tread left on his career. Also, he's a good story – one of the shortest players in the league, who once was sent home from a tryout camp because he wasn't big enough or good enough. He became Sports Illustrated's 2017 "Sportsperson of the Year" for his baseball accomplishments and charity work. He used to be lovable everywhere, now just in Houston.

Then there's reality. Let's accept that Altuve didn't want to know what pitches were coming his way and told the Astros to stop banging the trash can when he was batting. Does that give him a "get out of jail card"?

Fans elsewhere are skeptical. While Altuve may not have known when a curveball was coming, the Astro runners standing on second and third base did. Cheating probably boosted Altuve's RBI total. Also other Astros hitters may have chased the opposing team's starting pitcher early, so Altuve got to bat against lesser middle relievers. With runners on base, pitchers may have been forced to face Altuve from the stretch instead of a full windup. These are advantages possibly gained as a result of sign stealing.

We don't know if Altuve tried to get his teammates to stop cheating. If he did, he wasn't successful. That puts him in the same boat as Astros 2017 manager A.J. Hinch.

Like Altuve, Hinch was well liked and respected by Astros players. Like Altuve, Hinch did not approve of the sign-stealing scheme. Unlike Altuve, Hinch was suspended from baseball and fired by the Astros. Fans, especially in New York, believe that an unpunished Altuve stole the MVP award from Yankees home run champ Aaron Judge in 2017.

At best, Altuve is an innocent bystander. As for the stench of scandal lingering on Altuve, barring career-ending injury, for the next 12-15 years when he's eligible for the Hall of Fame? That's a tough one. Induction into the Hall is voted on by baseball writers, historically an older, uptight, stodgy lot who don't cotton to cheaters.

Eight Chicago White Sox players were accused of accepting bribes to throw the 1919 World Series. A jury later acquitted the players, after they played the entire 1920 season. That's when baseball commissioner Kenesaw Landis stepped in and banned the "Black Sox" for life. None of the "Eight Men Out," not even Shoeless Joe Jackson and his .356 lifetime batting average (third all time), who batted .375 in the 1919 World Series, made the Hall of Fame. Jackson batted .382 in 1920, his final season. Actually, Jackson was on the Hall of Fame ballot in 1936 and 1946 but failed to gain 5 percent of the vote. Baseball writers can hold a grudge.

Pete Rose is baseball's all-time hit king and played more games than anybody ever. He is not in the Hall of Fame. Neither is Barry Bonds, baseball's all-time home run champ. Nor Roger Clemens, who won seven Cy Young Awards.

Nobody who flunked a steroids test has been voted into the Hall of Fame.

Baseball is trying to recruit younger, possibly more open-minded writers to decide the fate of Hall of Fame candidates. We'll see if fans' protests of "Cheater" still echo in the Hall when it's Altuve's time for consideration.

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