Jose Altuve tattoo conspiracy should heighten MLB’s hunt

NORTH PORT, Fla. — People want blood. They want historical revision.

They won’t get what they want, yet they needn’t settle for nothing. Instead, from this Astros sign-stealing scandal that has both elevated and soiled baseball’s standing, the game’s participants and fans can reasonably ask for this:

A vow from Major League Baseball that this will remain an open case.

Commissioner Rob Manfred, speaking Sunday at CoolToday Park for Grapefruit League Media Day, asserted that the immunity his office granted Astros players stood only as long as “they were honest in their answers.” Meaning trouble, in the form of suspensions, would fall upon those who lied to investigators.

At this point, Jose Altuve’s refusal to remove his shirt upon homering the 2019 Astros into the World Series ranks as nothing more than “suspicious,” to parrot the word used by the Yankees’ Aroldis Chapman, who gave up that blast. Yet especially in light of Carlos Correa’s latest, eyebrow-raising explanation behind Altuve’s October shyness, Major League Baseball should keep pulling at every Houston-tinged thread.

When a balding, trouble-stirring New York reporter (OK, it was me) asked Manfred whether Altuve would be checked for a tattoo, Manfred laughed and said, “That one has not occurred to me yet,” before repeating, “That one has not occurred to me yet.”

Rob Manfred today Jose Altuve Astros sign stealing cheating scandal
Rob Manfred; Jose AltuveAP, Anthony J. Causi

Really, in light of the high emotions surrounding this matter, shouldn’t Altuve proactively display his alleged tattoo, which Correa first mentioned to The Athletic? The shortstop said that his double-play partner wanted to hide the ugly, unfinished artwork on his collarbone, which on the surface sounds just as ludicrous as the other given explanation, that Altuve’s wife didn’t like it when he disrobed up top. Adding to the intrigue, social-media detective Jomboy pointed out that Altuve put on an undershirt late in the notorious American League Championship Series Game 6, then removed it prior to stepping to the plate in the bottom of the ninth.

Manfred said that his office looked into this theory. He explained: “Where I came down on it, the players were candid about 2017 and the fact they violated the rules in 2017. They were candid, chapter and verse, consistent about the fact that the rules were violated in 2018, and they were equally consistent 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 why they would tell us, 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.

“Now, can I tell you I am 100 percent sure about that? You are never 100 percent sure about these things. But that was my best judgement.”

Hey, maybe in two years, the next Mike Fiers will decide to unload on the ‘19 Astros, at which point those who testified dishonestly would be subject to discipline. Or maybe Altuve’s odd defenses are true. Regardless, MLB must keep following this trail and let people know of it.

Baseball also should formally censure Astros owner Jim Crane for his reprehensible conduct in Thursday’s news conference, which only increased the tension throughout the industry. And … that’s really about it for now.

Suspend the players? That would be only for show, as the Players Association would have an extremely strong case to appeal and overturn them: Manfred sent his famous “Apple Watch memo” to team officials, not players, on September 15, 2017 to warn them of heightened penalties for illegal sign-stealing.

Manfred said he granted the players immunity because, “I think the worst possible outcome of this institution would have been if we conducted an investigation and came back and said, ‘You know what? We just couldn’t find out what went on.’ ” Agreed on that front.

Revoke the Astros’ 2017 title? Come on, now. Hasn’t anti-intellectualism damaged this planet enough already?

Nope, it’s important moving forward to keep hunting for the past truth without rewriting it. It won’t heal folks’ anger as richly. If that anger helps eradicate this high-tech chicanery, though, then it will have served some good.

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