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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The Astros play Game 1 of the ALDS Tuesday. Composite image by Brandon Strange.

With a nod to Charles Dickens, October is the best of times (Astros) and the worst of times (Texans and Rockets) for Houston sports fans. At least this October.

October is the one month when all three of Houston’s major sports teams are guaranteed to be in full swing at the same time. It’s possible, if the Astros make the World Series that November will have all three teams in action, too. But let’s not jinx things.

The Astros start their playoff run Tuesday on TBS. Since the Yankees also play that day, also on TBS, we can assume the Astros will get the daytime slot, the Yankees in prime time. Now before Astros fans start screaming east coast bias, it really only applies to TV. Fun fact: no New York Met has ever won an MVP Award, and only one Yankee has won it in the past 37 years – Alex Rodriguez in 2005 and 2007. How’d that work out for him? Most important, a New York team has won the World Series only once in the past two decades – the Yankees in 2009.

The Astros could play as many as 15 more games in October, five in the Division Series, seven in the League Championship Series and three in the World Series before the calendar flips to November.

Meanwhile, the Texans plod on with three more games in October, and the Rockets have 11.

The winless Texans are at home against the Titans at NRG Stadium, on the road against the Jaguars and Raiders.

The Rockets, coming off the worst record in the NBA last season, have three games at home at Toyota Center and eight on the road.

This presents a problem of abundance, an embarrassment of riches, for Houston sports junkies. Who are you going to watch on TV? Which team will you pay to watch in person? Who are you rooting for the most? Whose jersey will you buy?

David Puddy is right, you “gotta support the team,” but who will own Houston this month?

What to do? If it’s true that nothing succeeds like success, and everybody loves a winner – it’s an obvious choice.

The Astros.

The Astros just completed their regular season with 106 wins, second most in franchise history, another American League West title, the best record in the American League and will have home field advantage throughout the AL playoffs. Even though fans had high hopes for the Astros entering 2022, the team smashed everybody’s expectations. Vegas put the Astros over/under wins at 92 games. The Astros seemingly flew by that number during spring training.

They are the first team in American League history to win 100 games in four of their last five full seasons. Not even Babe Ruth’s Yankees of the 1920s and 1930s did that. This core of Astros has won five of the last six American League West titles. They’ve played in three of the last five World Series. This is a dynasty right before our eyes. We’re witness to greatness. How ‘bout them Astros?

What a season it was. Who could have figured that 39-year-old Justin Verlander, out of action for two seasons after Tommy John surgery, would have a career year, a ridiculously skinny earned run average and the overwhelming pick for the Cy Young Award? Jose Altuve would return to a .300 batting average, Cristian Javier would lead the team in strikeouts, Yordan Alvarez would finish No. 2 between Aaron Judge and Mike Trout in OPS, and rookie Jeremy Pena would slug 22 home runs, the same number as Carlos Correa? Remember last offseason and cries of “pay the man!” Some of a team’s best deals are the ones they don’t make.

Strap yourself in for an October to remember. The storylines are endless. There’s bad blood between the Astros and the Yankees, between the Astros and Dodgers, between the Astros and boo birds in every stadium not named Minute Maid Park.

It’s going to be fun.

As for the Texans, Deshaun Watson returns to action Nov. 4 against the Texans here at NRG Stadium. And we’ll catch up with the Rockets when the NBA season starts for real on Christmas Day. But until then … play ball!

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