TOP OF THE LIST

Fred Faour: Ranking Houston's 5 most likeable superstar athletes

Fred Faour: Ranking Houston's 5 most likeable superstar athletes
Jose Altuve and J.J. Watt are among Houston's most likeable athletes. Photo by Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images for Sports Illustrated

This is a golden age in Houston sports. The Rockets have more games in a season than ever before. The Astros are about to hoist their first World Series banner. The Texans finally have a franchise quarterback. The city also has a lot of likeable athletes. In John Granato’s piece last week, he mentioned James Harden’s lack of likeability among Houston’s superstars.

It begs the question: Who are the most likeable athletes in Houston? The city is littered with as many superstars as it has ever had, and most are extremely likeable. Using five categories -- play on the field, social media presence/accessibility, commercial presence/marketability, charity/community work, overall national star power. We limited the list to the big three pro sports:

5) Justin Verlander

Sure, he has only been here for a short time, but the Astros don't win the World Series without him, and with a Cy Young and MVP in his back pocket -- as well as his high profile relationship with Kate Upton -- makes him a household name nationwide. The fact that he accepted a trade to Houston in the wake of Harvey only endeared him more to Houston fans. 

4)  Chris Paul

On the court, he has been an amazing addition to the Rockets. Yes, he is a little dirty, but he also has been huge in community work in every city he has been in, his insurance commercials add to his likeability, and if he somehow helps the Rockets win a title...

3) Deshaun Watson

He was already a star after winning a national championship at Clemson, but his small sample size in Houston earned him headlines around the country. Donating a game check to Texans employees after Harvey, his personal story growing up and the fact that he just seems to be an all around good guy. If he can stay healthy in 2018, the sky is the limit.

2) Jose Altuve

MVP. Three time batting champ. World Series champ. The ultimate little guy who made it big. Altuve does not have the social media and commercial presence of the No. 1 guy on this list, and almost all of his is based solely on his play on the field. The fact that he will be here for seven more years and has spent his entire career with the Astros makes fans appreciate him even more. 

1) J.J. Watt

It’s funny; Watt tops this list, but could also make a “least likeable” list as well, because he is so overexposed. But the truth is, beyond the Harvey relief that made him the NFL’s Man of the Year, Watt is one of the most popular athletes to ever play in Houston. On the field, he is a four-time All-Pro and three time defensive player of the year. While injuries have robbed him of most of the last two seasons, even at 80 percent of what he once was he will make an impact. The No. 99 jerseys dominate the city, and Watt is a beast on social media. His “shut you down” fantasy commercials and H.E.B. locally only add to it. There are those who dislike him for all those same reasons, but Watt is a transcendent star.

Honorable mention

Carlos Correa just missed, as his charity work both in Houston and Puerto Rico after the storms really raised his profile. His is a future MVP and will climb this list fast. Dallas Keuchel is well-liked by Astros fans and has a Cy Young. DeAndre Hopkins and Jadeveon Clowney are close as well. 

The good news is there really aren’t enough to make a “least likeable” list. Harden would top it, and maybe Josh Reddick and Alex Bregman could make this list, but even they are just annoying, and it is hard to dislike someone who just delivered a world title. Bregman went after a fan on social media, but he is also young and has a lot to learn. Reddick is unlikeable simply for introducing the Woo. Harden's actions were well documented by Granato. 

In the end, even the unlikeable guys are pretty likeable. It's a golden age talent wise, but also in the quality of people playing the games. Houston fans have a lot to root for going forward.

Most Popular

SportsMap Emails
Are Awesome

Listen Live

ESPN Houston 97.5 FM
Astros on the hunt. Composite Getty Image.

With the Astros' surge from 10 games out of first place to within two games of Seattle, catching and going past the Mariners has naturally become the top objective. It's no given to happen but it's right there. In the final series ahead of the All-Star break, while the Mariners are in the midst of four games with the lowly Angels, the last two World Series champions renew (un)pleasantries at Minute Maid Park.

The Astros enter the weekend five games ahead of the Rangers. They lead the season series with the reigning champs four wins to three. While the Astros can't quite finish off the Arlingtonians by sweeping them in this three game set, shoving them eight games back (even further back of Seattle and the current Wild Card teams) and clinching the tiebreaker would seem close to a death blow. Taking two out of three would be fine for the Astros. If the Rangers win the series, they are clearly still in the American League West and Wild Card races coming out of the All-Star break.

Last year the Rangers had the best offense in the AL. So far in 2024 they rank a mediocre eighth in runs per game. Nathaniel Lowe is the lone Ranger (get it?!?) regular playing as well as he did last season. Corey Seager has been fine but not at the MVP runner-up level of last year. Marcus Semien is notably down, as is 2023 ALCS Astros-obliterater Adolis Garcia. Stud 2023 rookie Josh Jung has been out with a broken wrist since ex-Astro Phil Maton hit him with a pitch in the fourth game of this season, though fill-in third baseman Josh Smith has been the Rangers' best player. 21-year-old late season phenom Evan Carter largely stunk the first two months this season and has been out since late May with a back injury. Repeating is hard, never harder than it is now. Hence no Major League Baseball has done it since the Yankees won three straight World Series 1998-2000.

Chasing down the Division at a crazy clip

From the abyss of their 7-19 start, the Astros sweep over the Marlins clinched a winning record at the break with them at 49-44. Heading into the Texas matchup the Astros have won at a .627 clip since they were 7-19. A full season of .627 ball wins 101 games. If the Astros win at a .627 rate the rest of the way they'll finish with 92 wins, almost certainly enough to secure a postseason slot and likely enough to win the West. Expecting .627 the rest of the way is ambitious.

With it fairly clear that Lance McCullers is highly unlikely to contribute anything after his latest recovery setback, and Luis Garcia a major question mark, what Justin Verlander has left in 2024 grows more important. With the way the Astros often dissemble or poorly forecast when discussing injuries, for all we know Verlander could be cooked. Inside three weeks to the trade deadline, General Manager Dana Brown can't be thinking a back end of the rotation comprised of Spencer Arrighetti and Jake Bloss should be good enough. The Astros have 66 games to play after the All-Star break, including separate stretches with games on 18 and 16 consecutive days.

All-Star MIAs

Viewership for Tuesday's All-Star game at Globe Life Field in Arlington will be pretty, pretty, pretty low in Houston. One, All-Star Game ratings are pitiful every year compared to where they used to be. Two, the Astros could be down to zero representatives at Tuesday's showcase. Kyle Tucker was rightfully named a reserve but had no shot at playing as he continues the loooong recovery from a bone bruise (or worse) suffered June 3. Being named an All-Star for a ninth time was enough for Jose Altuve. He opts out of spending unnecessary time in Texas Rangers territory citing a sore wrist. This despite Altuve playing four games in a row since sitting out the day after he was plunked and highly likely to play in all three games versus the Rangers this weekend. Yordan Alvarez exiting Wednesday's rout of the Marlins with hip discomfort and then missing Thursday's game seem clear reasons for him to skip, though he has indicated thus far he intends to take part. Yordan is the most essential lineup component to the Astros' hopes of making an eighth straight playoff appearance.

Ronel Blanco should have made the American League squad on performance, but pretty obviously his 10 game illegal substance use suspension was held against him. As it works out, Blanco will pitch Sunday in the last game before the break which would render him unavailable for the All-Star Game anyway. Blanco is eligible to pitch, but given the career high-shattering innings workload Blanco is headed for, no way the Astros want him on the mound Tuesday. Just last year the Astros kept Framber Valdez from pitching in the game.

While waiting, and waiting, and waiting on Tucker's return, the Astros have also been waiting on Chas McCormick to get back to something even faintly resembling the hitter he was last year. McCormick routinely looks lost at the plate. He has four hits (all singles) in his last 32 at bats with his season OPS pitiful at .572. During the break the Astros should seriously weigh sending McCormick to AAA Sugar Land and giving Pedro Leon a try in a job share with Joey Loperfido.

*Catch our weekly Stone Cold ‘Stros podcast. Brandon Strange, Josh Jordan, and I discuss varied Astros topics. The first post for the week generally goes up Monday afternoon (second part released Tuesday) via The SportsMap HOU YouTube channel or listen to episodes in their entirety at Apple, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

SportsMap Emails
Are Awesome