HOUSTON -- Alex Bregman and José Altuve were measured in their comments Saturday at the team’s annual FanFest when they spoke publicly for the first time about the sign-stealing scandal that led to Monday’s suspension -- and subsequent dismissal by Astros owner Jim Crane -- of president of baseball operations and general manager Jeff Luhnow and manager AJ Hinch, in addition to other penalties handed down by Major League Baseball.
Both players, who along with outfielder Josh Reddick have been the only high-profile Astros to speak in the wake of the sign-stealing scandal, expressed an interest in moving forward and generally averted answers about their roles in the violations. The only denials from Bregman and Altuve came when they were asked if they wore electronic buzzers under their jerseys to steal signs -- something which MLB said in a statement Thursday they found no evidence.
“That’s ridiculous,” Altuve said. “MLB did their investigation and they didn’t find anything.”
Bregman called the buzzer allegations “stupid.”
Speculation arose on social media Thursday that Altuve didn’t want his jersey ripped off by his teammates after his walk-off homer against the Yankees' Aroldis Chapman in Game 6 of last year's American League Championship Series because he was wearing an electronic device on his chest that provided signals about which type of pitch was coming. In a postgame interview after the home run, Altuve said modesty was the reason he preferred not to be shirtless.
“Even though it wasn’t true, we all know some people made that up,” Altuve said. “The best thing that happened to me is MLB investigated that and didn’t find something. But at the same time, you can’t control [everything].”
The buzzer rumors came on the heels of the fallout from the nine-page report released Monday in which MLB laid out how Astros players spearheaded an effort to use video equipment and a feed from a center-field camera to steal opposing pitchers’ signs and relay them to batters by banging a trash can. MLB suspended Luhnow and Hinch, fined the Astros $5 million and stripped them of their first- and second-round picks in 2020 and ’21. Crane promptly fired Luhnow and Hinch.
“I feel bad for them,” Altuve said. “They were good guys. They show up every day to do their job, but like I said, once again we have to keep going and move forward. We don’t have any choices right now.”
Bregman stuck to a script throughout his interview with the media Saturday, saying on several occasions: “The Commissioner came out with a report, MLB did their report and the Astros did what they did. They made their decision what they’re going to do and I have no other thoughts on it.”
Altuve was asked if it was fair for some to question his 2017 AL Most Valuable Player Award when he edged out the Yankees’ Aaron Judge.
“There is a lot of people that say I’m the MVP and a lot of people that don’t believe I’m the MVP,” he said. “Like a lot of people, you’re a good guy or a lot of people believe you’re a bad guy. It’s pretty hard to handle that sometimes.”
There were more than a dozen players who attended FanFest on Saturday or participated in the Astros Caravan throughout the week, but very few star players. Most of the team’s key players haven’t spoken publicly about the sign-stealing scandal. Regardless, it’s clear the Astros aren’t going to be able to put it behind them any time soon, especially considering they don’t have a manager or a GM and Spring Training is approaching.
Questions about the validity of their 2017 season, in which they won the World Series, will continue. Altuve said being labeled a cheater is tough to swallow.
“You don’t want anybody to call you that,” he said. “But like I said, I have two options. One, just cry or just go out there and just play the game and focus and help my team. You know which one I’m going to do.”
Said Bregman: “The 2020 year, our actions will speak louder than our words.”
Bagwell, Berkman embrace Astros in tough time
During the team’s annual Diamond Dreams Gala on Friday, Crane said Hall of Famers Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell and fellow "Killer B" member Lance Berkman had all reached out to him to offer advice and assistance for hiring a new manager and GM.
Bagwell, who made an appearance at FanFest on Saturday, said he wants to be a sounding board.
“I’ve been around for a long time,” he said. “I’m a Houston Astro and I’ll be a Houston Astro forever. All I care about is this organization and moving forward and I want us to maintain excellence. You have a blip on the radar here – maybe bigger than a blip – but we still have a great team and we have a great organization.”
Berkman, who was among six voted into the Astros’ 2020 Hall of Fame Class on Saturday, said the club has to accept its punishment from MLB and try to move on despite the negative publicity.
“This is a clean organization,” he said. “This is not a dirty organization. This is not a tricky organization. All these things notwithstanding, this is a great organization and will continue to be.”