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Altuve May Be the Face of the Astros, But He’s Not the Face of Cheating

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It’s time for people who care about baseball to start defending Jose Altuve.

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Houston at Texas Max Faulkner/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

Over the past two years, it’s been hard to watch Jose Altuve go from one of the most beloved players in baseball to a player with widespread hatred from other fan bases. They chant “F*** ALTUVE!” at games.

Not just Astros games either. This is occurring in games where the Astros and Altuve aren’t even playing.

I completely understand the hatred of the Astros. They were caught cheating, it was well documented, and any article written about it became an instant magnet for clicks.

Hatred for Jose Altuve is a different matter.

It’s easy to simply hate on the Astros, and with Altuve being the face of the team, I understand why he would be a spotting point for those looking to direct their Astros ire.

I also understand most will view my article as biased. It is, after all, being published on an Astros fan blog, but I’m hoping to help dispel some of the myths. I’m hopeful fans of other teams take a quick read of the article and see while I completely understand the hatred for the Astros, the focus on Altuve - is entirely misplaced.

Jose Altuve didn’t use the trash can.

On November 12, 2019, Ken Rosenthal and Evan Drellich broke the story on the Astros’ electronic sign stealing, complete with how details on how the Astros would bang on a trash can to provide an audible alert for the batter that an off-speed pitch was coming.

The next day, Crawfish Boxes editor CKuno went to investigate for himself.

The bangs were there. The report was true. But the absence of any banging signals for Jose Altuve stood out to CKuno, and he wasn’t the only one who noticed the silence in Altuve’s at-bats.

Another Astros fan, Tony Adams, spent an absurd amount of time documenting all available Astros home game pitches for the season, recording a total of over 1,100 bangs across 8,200 at-bats. If you’re interested in digging deeper, his website signstealingscandal.com has basically any information you’d want.

Count of Trash Can bangs across 8,200 pitches
Tony Adams - SignStealingScandal.com

The graphic above is a bit of an eye chart, so here are the rankings based on the percentage of bangs for all players with 200+ pitches seen:

  • Jake Marisnick - 22.8%
  • Marwin Gonzalez - 18.2%
  • Carlos Beltran - 18%
  • Yuli Gurriel - 16.6%
  • Alex Bregman - 16%
  • Carlos Correa - 15.4%
  • Evan Gattis - 15.4%
  • George Springer - 14.4%
  • Brian McCann - 8.4%
  • Derek Fisher - 7.6%
  • Norichika Aoki - 6.1%
  • Josh Reddick - 3.7%
  • Jose Altuve - 2.7%

The bangs should theoretically only occur when an off-speed pitch occurs. (Although in actuality, they were wrong enough times that it may have made the system counterproductive.) Some people react to this data by stating that maybe a higher percentage of fastballs were thrown to Altuve, but the site also documents that, showing that 454 / 886 pitches (51%) should have resulted in bangs. Jose Altuve received 24 bangs total (2.7%).

So why did he have the lowest bang percentage of all of the starters?

Jose Altuve did not want other players signaling pitches for him.

Mike Fiers, the player who brought the sign-stealing scandal to light in his interview with The Athletic, specifically stated that some players did not like and/or use the scheme.

The impact of the Astros’ sign-stealing is difficult to assess. Not every player used it in Houston.

“There were guys who didn’t like it,” Fiers said. “There are guys who don’t like to know (what’s coming) and guys who do.”

Based on The Tony Adams data. One of those “guys” was Josh Reddick (3.7 %), who recently reportedly asserted his innocence to Milwaukee right field bleacher fans:

Another one is Jose Altuve.

I understand other fans not believing Carlos Correa, but Correa specifically stood up for Altuve stating:

According to Correa, Altuve was “the one guy who didn’t use the trash can.”

“The few times that the trash can was banged was without his consent, and he would go inside the clubhouse and inside the dugout to whoever was banging the trash can and he would get pissed,” Correa told The Athletic.

“For him to go out there and defame José Altuve’s name like that, it doesn’t sit right with me. The man plays the game clean. That’s easy to find out. Mike Fiers broke the story. You can go out and ask Mike Fiers: ‘Did José Altuve use the trash can? Did José Altuve cheat to win the MVP?’ Mike Fiers is going to tell you, straight up, he didn’t use it.”

Last year, LA Times had done a full analysis on the impact of cheating, and included the following:

As for Altuve, Arthur concludes that it’s true that Altuve shunned the cheating. He received the fewest bangs of any full-time Astro batter, and his statistics don’t show the sort of batting that would reflect the knowledge of what was coming.

Rob Arthur of Baseball Prospectus echoed this too. In his 2020 piece, “Jose Altuve Didn’t Cheat, But The Red Sox Sure Did,” Arthur confirms what the Tony Adams’ data suggested, by showing that Altuve’s swing profile in 2017 was not consistent with a pattern of someone who had advanced knowledge of pitches.

More recently, Andy Martino released his book Cheated - The Inside Story of the Astros Scandal and a Colorful History of Sign Stealing. Andy Martino is a former staff writer for the Philadelphia Inquirer / New York Daily News and currently is a reporter/analyst for SNY network. I’d assume most would agree he does not have any bias towards the Astros.

From the initial report by Mike Fiers, the documenting of every pitch and every bang, to interviews and investigation, to players who played alongside him, every indication is that Jose Altuve was against the usage for his at-bats.

There is an argument that he should have stopped his teammates from doing it, although it was reported that veteran Brian McCann had attempted to stop it and was steamrolled by Beltran. And the manager - AJ Hinch who took bats to the monitors - was not successful in stopping it either.

Sometimes the only person you can control is yourself. And doing the right thing when everyone else around you is doing the wrong thing and taking the easy way isn’t just hard in baseball. It’s hard in life. While Altuve not stopping the scandal is one side, not using it when everyone else did speaks to his integrity as well.

There is no buzzer, and there never has been.

The other major source for assigning culpability to Altuve is the idea that the Astros used a wearable device instead of banging a trash can. This has been debunked several times over, but let’s examine some of the “roots” of the belief about buzzers.

Jomboy, previously known for silly voice-overs and lip-reading, became a major face of the sign-stealing scandal. I don’t blame him in any way, he’s made an entire business out of this scandal, although it’s a shame that when information was proven wrong, he was not more forthcoming and did not remove original claims when retracting.

As almost everyone knows by now, it turns out the random account on the internet claiming to be Carlos Beltran’s niece, was actually... not Carlos Beltran’s niece. Here is Jomboy somewhat back-tracking, and it’s since been repeatedly confirmed that the account was a fake.

The correctly reported things were fairly obvious like Carlos Beltran’s term as a manager coming to an end given the sign-stealing scandal.

Jomboy also reported that Josh Reddick was caught using a buzzer based on an interview after the game. He was quickly proven incorrect, and posted this as a retraction:

In MLB’s official investigation, they mentioned finding no proof of the Astros utilizing buzzers or other electronic devices and that not all players (most) used the system. Again, this does not definitively prove that they did not use buzzers. When asked about it, Manfred stated that he did not see why the Astros would lie after being granted immunity and admitting to the sign-stealing scandal.

“The players were candid about 2017 and the fact that they violated the rules in 2017,” Manfred said. “They were candid, chapter in verse, consistent that rules were violated in 2018. And they were equally consistent in the denials, and everybody, every single witness in the denials, about this buzzer allegation.

“I think in my own mind, it was hard for me to figure out, given that they were immune, why they would be truthful, admit they did the wrong thing in ‘17, admit they did the wrong thing in ‘18 and then lie about what was going on in ‘19. Can I tell you I’m 100% sure about that? You’re never 100% sure in any of these things, but that was my best judgement.”

Again, I understand the lack of trust as Baseball fans and MLB Players have spoken out in regards to Manfred’s report and corresponding punishment. But with players knowing up front that they had immunity, interviews with 68 witnesses, access and review of over 70,000 emails, and phone communications, the MLB completed one of the largest investigations in its history.

The other main incident that has ignited interest in the theory of an Altuve buzzer was Altuve’s game-winning home run on a hanging slider from Chapman and the events of the subsequent celebration. There are two key aspects that people refer to when stating this.

Jose Altuve did not run to the dugout to change his shirt instead of celebrating.

The idea that Altuve escaped to the dugout as part of a cover-up attempt arose from edited videos on social media. And if you didn’t realize they were edited then it makes sense that you might come to that conclusion, but here is the full, unedited video.

As you can see, Jose Altuve does NOT immediately run to the dugout instead spending time celebrating in the field. Here is a clip of Harold Reynolds looking at the sequence and the pitch itself, as well as his own analysis.

There is a long history of previous walk-offs explaining Altuve’s desire to keep his jersey intact.

If you don’t regularly watch Astros games, you might wonder why a player would randomly scream not to tear off his jersey? Well, the Astros had a history of doing exactly that on Jose Altuve walk-off wins. For those who want to see more details, I recommend checking out this article: Jose Altuve and the Presumption of Guilt.

Here were a few examples from their article:

Altuve is an excellent hitter and an excellent clutch hitter at that. As a result, he has more than his fair share of walk-off hits. In fact, he just hit a walk-off grand slam last night. But when you’ve seen these over and over again, these examples help to clarify why he would immediately assume they would rip off his jersey and request them not to. Additionally, even the times he waved them off and they ripped off his jersey, there was no indication of any types of electronic devices.

Altuve is saying “Camisa”, not “A piece on”.

Jose Altuve, for those who aren’t familiar, speaks Spanish as his native language, particularly with his team and Correa who is charging at him and has a history of ripping off his shirt. This one is obviously less provable than the others as we’re talking about lip reading and not an exact science. Some people have claimed he’s shouting “I got a piece on... No”, but “Camisa... No” makes a ton more sense (Camisa means shirt in Spanish).

Additionally, if Altuve was wearing a wire, the assumption that no one else on the team would know and they’d rip his jersey off simply does not make a lot of sense.

As Jeff Passan concluded in his reporting, there is “no evidence that there was a wire on any of them.”

And for what it’s worth, Altuve did make a statement that does not leave much flexibility if it was proven to be a lie:

Scott Boras, the agent for Altuve, told SI, “Jose Altuve called me and said he wants it known that he has never, ever worn an electronic device in a major league game—ever. He never received any form—of a trigger or any information—via an electronic product that was on his body or in his uniform. He has never worn any electronic device. Ever.”

Additionally, the Astros were granted immunity as part of this deal, and with admitting the other elements of cheating - it seems unusual to lie about one weirdly specific part.

Jose apologized for the team because, at his core, he considers himself a team player.

The sentiment from the initial press conference with seemingly forced apologies prompted by owner Jim Crane did not inspire a lot of confidence. It felt more like a generic presentation to a business than a real sentiment in my personal opinion, but Altuve has since spoken about the situation a number of times.

Even after the news came to light that Altuve was against using the sign stealing, he did not downplay it and apologized as he was part of the team:

Why should you care?

I get it, it’s easy to use a broad brush and just hate all of the Astros. And honestly, while I disagree with that sentiment, it makes sense. What is irrational to me, is targeting the one starter who did not use the system as the “face” of it. The “F Altuve” chants, simply don’t make sense.

The biggest shame of all of this is that Altuve has overcome overwhelming adversity, coming from a very poor area where he struggled to be able to afford baseballs and was often hitting bottle caps with a broomstick as a kid. He was turned away by MLB scouts due to his size, but he just kept coming back, and after the Astros turned him away twice, they eventually signed him for the grand sum of $15,000.

The story of how Altuve got here today by itself does not, of course, absolve him from the sign-stealing scandal, but I think it helps lend some insight into the player we’re talking about. Learning about what makes him tick, what kind of person he is, and his motivations. He is a player who has become a hero within his home country:

“It is this narrative — of the little guy coming out, quite literally, on top — that has energized Venezuela, and Maracay, at a time when it needs it most.

“He’s a hero,” Maracay resident Edilyng Rodríguez told The Post after Series Game 7, “an example for all of the kids in baseball schools across the city.

“His name has become “synonymous with overcoming adversity,” Venezuelan sports broadcaster Luis Arroyo told The Post. It’s a concept Venezuelans know well, especially amid a severe economic crisis spurred by declining oil prices and widespread complaints of government mismanagement.

“‘We’re in tough times, but we can still enjoy life,’ said Silva, the 26-year-old Maracay resident. He lives not far from the neighborhood where Altuve grew up. Silva’s cousin even played baseball with Altuve back in the day, he said.

“‘We don’t have medicine,” Silva said, “but we have baseball.’”

Altuve still remains incredibly humble despite his success, even after the home run against Chapman, he recognized Chapman as one of the best in the game in his interview afterward, and put the credit to his team. He coaches and provides gear in Venezuela for 8-13-year-old kids, actively works with charity organizations, gives back to the community. Everything you would look for in a role model, even to fans that are heckling him.

And while I don’t want to overload with clips of him messing around with different players, or good deeds he’s done, etc. I can honestly say, that I’m hopeful other teams' fans take a moment to recognize that the perception of Jose Altuve could not be more wrong. Nothing supports the assertation that he should be the face of this. And while I’m not encouraging targeting of another player, particularly as the group of players who were on the team dwindles and disperse throughout the league, it would make a lot more sense than putting the focus on the one player who based on every bit of information we have was against it.

Luckily for us, we’ll continue to enjoy watching Altuve be one of the entertaining and happy-go-lucky players I’ve ever had the pleasure of watching.

Other Resources:

MLB’s Official Report on the Investigation

Gerrit Cole swears Astros were not cheating (in regards to Altuve/Chapman HR)

LA Times - Statistical Analysis on impact of cheating