With Hall of Fame discussions always being in season, I thought now would be as good a time as ever to have a discussion (as exhausted as it may be) about Jose Altuve and his HOF case.
Now let's put aside, for a moment, any mention of his role or involvement in the infamous sign-stealing scandal of 2017 and/or whenever else they might have done it.
Let's focus on his production alone, using the late great Joe Morgan (in my opinion the gold standard for second baseman) as a method of comparison just to make sure we're not missing context, using Fangraphs' brilliant sources of data.
As a hitter, he's been one of the best-hitting second basemen ever, posting a career 130 wRC+ and already over 2,000 hits, with at least a few more years of solid production ahead of him, barring Father Time making an appearance, either through injury or decline in performance.
For reference, Joe Morgan posted a career 135 wRC+ and reached 2,500 hits for his career (an achievable milestone for Altuve).
Defensively he's been OK, grading out as almost perfectly average for the second base position for his career according to Fangraphs defensive value and positional adjustments. But he more than makes up for it with some pretty nice base running metrics, totaling 6.1 baserunning runs above average for his career.
Enter Joe Morgan, who surpasses Altuve in both of these categories; 79 baserunning runs above average for his career, and (based on the limited combined defensive data for the time and an adjustment for position) Morgan was 14 defensive runs above average.
Add that all up and you've got yourself a 52 WAR player entering his age 34 season, with Joe Morgan coming in at a ridiculous 98.8 WAR.
Now let's take a look at awards, both for himself and his team, because hey, awards and accolades can be a fun way to help players' cases to make it in the Hall (although I advocate against using them as a reason to keep a player out, but I digress).
Altuve has an MVP under his belt, 8 All-Star appearances, a pair of rings, a Gold Glove award, 6 Silver Sluggers, a trio of batting titles (because some people still care about this), and a pair of stolen base crowns.
Not too bad, right?
Joe Morgan was a 10-time All-Star, racked up 5 Gold Gloves, a single Silver Slugger (although the award only started in 1980, 4 years before Morgan retired), a pair of MVPs, and a pair of rings. Man, I love looking at Joe Morgan's career.
So, yeah, based on numbers and accolades alone, Altuve should be a shoo-in for the Hall of Fame.
Of course, you can't just look at numbers when it comes to the controversial Altuve, because that's not what the Hall of Fame has been about.
For better or for worse, regardless of your opinion on the matter, they've made things like PEDs and other cheating scandals part of the voting process.
Players like Bonds, Clemens, Rodriguez, Palmerio, and McGwire never made it in because of their involvement in steroid scandals, and Garry Sheffield just had his 10th year on the ballot go by without getting in likely because of his involvement in BALCO and the whole shady ordeal.
What makes Altuve and the Astros' cheating scandal any different?
You could point out that other teams in the past have been embroiled in sign-stealing scandals, most famously the 1951 New York Giants during their "Shot Heard 'Round the World" season where they caught up to the Brooklyn Dodgers and eventually lost to the New York Yankees in the World Series.
You could say that other teams and players in that same era of trash-can-banging Astro shenanigans benefited from these same sign-stealing scandals, meaning that if you invalidate Altuve's numbers and accomplishments, you'd have to do the same for the others.
All very valid and well-reasoned arguments. My counter is that aren't these the same things people say about steroid users in the late '90s and early 2000s, that since "everyone was doing it" (not true in either case) you should just ignore the positive test results? And the voters don't care about those arguments, so why should they care about those same arguments being made in Altuve's favor?
As an aside, it's also worth pointing out that the Red Sox and Yankees were using smartwatches to aid in their base runner method of stealing signs, which required that a runner be on base for them to get the signs to the batter; what made Houston's scheme different was their use of methods like whistling, banging on trash cans, etc. to communicate to batters from the dugout, not requiring a runner to be on base.
There's been no solid, concrete evidence of other teams going that extra mile that Houston did to get ahead of the game. Doesn't mean that other teams didn't (the Dodgers sure seem fishy and super willing to point fingers), just something to put out there.
To get back to the main HOF point, Carlos Beltran is another player who was wrapped up in this scandal, and while he did not get in this year, his first on the ballot, he's projected to receive a high enough percentage of the vote that he will probably get in eventually, maybe showing that voters don't care about this incident.
And to that, I say, hypocrites, the lot of you!
Altuve's (and I'd argue Beltran's, even if he only officially started doing this in Houston) numbers cannot be taken in proper context (similar to the majority of the rest of his Astro teammates), because we'll never know if they could've had the same amount of success. Not only looking at that year but moving forward, they built off the confidence they got from the great results they produced by cheating and simply because we can't say with absolute certainty that they stopped the sign stealing after 2017.
The team robbed us of the knowledge of whether they're as good (of course the shame is, as with Barry Bonds and most of the other steroid users, they probably pretty much were) as their dirty production says by cheating. Plain and simple. And the biggest problem with it is because the Astros were able to perform this little ruse on the road as well as at home (maybe not as effectively or as often), you can't even point to his stellar performance on the road that season as evidence that the cheating scandal had little to no effect on his production.
You can also point to how the sign-stealing, like the steroid use that ran rampant in the late '90s and early 2000s, ruined or greatly affected many other players' careers.
The most well-known case for the Astros is pitcher Michael Bolsinger, whose last major league appearance came against the Astros in August of that infamous 2017 season, as Bolsinger got absolutely rocked in his one-third of an inning against those trash-can-banging Astros and ended up out of baseball and suing former Astros GM Jeff Lunhow, claiming the cheating scandal ruined his career (although the case was dismissed in March of 2021).
In the case of steroids, you can easily see how it would ruin many a career, with players unwilling to juice falling behind those who were and making what would've otherwise been noteworthy accomplishments moot and less impressive because of the high-scoring era that took place as a direct result of those hitters juicing and becoming more apt at hitting bombs.
Fred McGriff is the best example that comes to mind, as the former first baseman had to wait to get into the Hall via the Contemporary Baseball Era Committee because his 493 home runs looked a bit normal compared to the super-human stats that his competition was putting up.
It's just a sad, unfortunate thing. If I had a vote, to remain consistent with the Hall's stance on these types of issues, I'd have to vote no on both Altuve and Beltran for their nasty involvement in this cheating scandal. To do anything else would be unbecoming and fly directly in the face of the "moral high ground" the writers seem to have built up regarding cheating scandals of the same ilk.
But alas, I don't have a vote and likely never will, so Altuve and Beltran will likely be let in and neither will have any asterisks next to their names or statistics, no matter how deserving.
Oh well. At least we can all keep booing the Astros any time they come to our respective favorite teams' ballparks.