3 OF A KIND?

How Jose Altuve, Roger Clemens, and Shohei Ohtani’s legacies now share shocking parallel

Astros Alex Bregman, Jose Altuve, Shohei Ohtani
How will baseball fans treat Ohtani moving forward? Composite Getty Image.

After a trial that lasted 10 weeks in 2012, a federal jury found Astros legend Roger Clemens not guilty of lying to Congress when the fire-balling pitcher swore that he never used performance enhancing drugs. The jury also found Clemens not guilty of making false statements and obstruction of justice.

Clemens, the only seven-time winner of baseball’s Cy Young Award, including one with the Astros in 2004, never tested positive for steroids or any other PED during his 24-years in the big leagues. During his career, he won seven earned run average titles, led the American League in strikeouts five times, won an American League MVP and helped two teams win the World Series.

It’s an easy argument that he is the greatest pitcher of baseball’s modern era.

Roger Clemens is not in the Baseball Hall of Fame. In fact, after 10 years of failing to be voted in, Clemens name won’t be on the ballot this year when baseball writers consider future Hall of Fame candidates.

Why? Because despite his not guilty verdict and never flunking a drug test, Clemens has the stink of steroids on him. Perception is reality.

This week the greatest player in baseball today swore that he has never bet on sports and the only reason that $4.5 million from his bank account wound up in the hands of a bookie is because his friend secretly stole the money.

Two investigations, by Major League Baseball and the U.S. government, will get to the bottom of whether Shohei Ohtani is telling the truth or he was somehow involved in betting on sports

If it’s discovered that Ohtani, the reigning American League MVP who now plays for the Dodgers, bet on baseball, he could be banished from the game. He would join a list of some of the greatest players in history who live in the dark shadow of baseball. Barry Bonds, the single-season and all-time home run leader, is not in the Hall of Fame. Pete Rose, the all-time hits king, is not in the Hall of Fame. Roger Clemens, the all-time leader in Cy Young Awards, is not in the Hall of Fame.

The jury in the court of public opinion is in deliberations already. Is it believable that someone could have $4.5 million stolen from his bank account and not know it? Will Ohtani, whose image was squeaky clean until recent developments, be jeered when he comes to bat in Houston, in New York, and every stadium on the road where fans despise the Dodgers? And that’s all of them.

Before now, Houston fans treated Ohtani with respect and quiet awe for a couple of reasons. One, of course he’s an unbelievable talent, possibly baseball’s best pitcher and best hitter at the same time. But two, until this season he played for the Los Angeles Angels. The Angels weren’t a threat to the Astros domination of the American League West, so it didn’t matter how many homers he hit in Minute Maid Park. The Astros still were going to win.

Now it’s different. When Ohtani steps to the plate wearing a Dodgers uniform he represents the armed and dangerous enemy, a team that is the favorite to win the World Series. The Dodgers could claim the mantle as the best team with the best lineup in baseball. You can practically hear Minute Maid Park fans booing Ohtani now. Innocent or guilty, Ohtani could have the stink of illegal gambling on him.

But let’s assume that Ohtani was telling the truth when he said he has never bet on sports.

Ask Jose Altuve what it feels like to be unfairly painted a cheater. According to his teammates, Altuve was one of a few Astros who refused to participate in the team’s sign-stealing scandal in 2017 when the Astros won their first World Series and Altuve was named Most Valuable Player.

Altuve steadfastly will not proclaim his innocence, though. Altuve has said that he is part of the team and accepts whatever judgment was handed to the team. He metaphorically went down with the ship.

Seven years later, more than any other player, Altuve receives the loudest jeers and insults from fans in every stadium other than Minute Maid Park. He has the stink of a cheater. I was in Yankee Stadium the first time the Astros visited the Yankees after the scandal broke. You should have heard the stadium shake with howls of “F--- Altuve.” I heard small children cursing out Altuve at the top of their lungs. It’s become a thing around the league – fans boo Altuve.

During the Astros-Phillies World Series in 2022, I was talking to my friend Glen Macnow, a prominent sports media personality in Philadelphia. I got the feeling that Macnow believed that the Astros were still up to something fishy. Macnow is a smart guy, not some conspiracy nut job. In fact, up in Philly, he’s known as “The Professor.” I asked him, “do you think the 2022 Astros are cheaters?”

His answer: “Do I think they’re currently cheating? I don’t know. But we all know they got caught cheating before, and that stink will stick to them through the ages. Always and forever, when people look at this franchise they’ll think of cameras and buzzers and using trash cans as bass drums.”

We will get a glimpse of whether Ohtani reeks of illegal gambling next week when the Dodgers play on the road in Chicago and Minnesota.

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