Carlos Correa had sparked a stir Saturday when, in an interview with the Athletic, he claimed Altuve had an unfinished tattoo “that honestly looked terrible.” Correa was defending his teammate — who had come under fire from some of baseball’s biggest stars, including the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Cody Bellinger — after Altuve prevented teammates from ripping his jersey off after his home run sent the Astros to last year’s World Series. Although Major League Baseball’s report found no evidence that the Astros wore buzzers to telegraph incoming pitches, others saw Altuve’s reaction as a damning moment.
Some questioned whether Altuve had a tattoo at all. Pictures surfaced of him shirtless and inkless as recently as July. One Zapruder-esque film breakdown found what could’ve been a tattooed “M.”
In the clubhouse, Altuve turned to survey the roughly 40 reporters in front of Correa’s locker. His shirt dropped to reveal dark script on his collarbone: “Melanie,” the name of his 3-year-old daughter, with a small pink heart blooming from the end. The theatrics did not appear to be an accident.
“What [Correa] did — go out there and defend our teammates — is amazing,” Altuve said later. “I have nothing to say about [Bellinger].”
If the spring training war of words lulled Sunday — because only Commissioner Rob Manfred made incendiary comments — it flared up again Monday. Around the majors, many position players reported to camp, and the biggest star among them, mild-mannered Mike Trout, put the Astros in his crosshairs. The Los Angeles Angels outfielder advocated for those involved in the “player-driven” scheme to receive some penalty, maybe even “taking a trophy away, taking the rings away.”
“Something,” he told the Athletic. “I don’t know. … [General manager Jeff Luhnow] got fired and [manager A.J.] Hinch got fired, but the players getting nothing, that’s definitely not right.”
Another star, the Dodgers’ Justin Turner, blamed Manfred for not doing enough to prevent future cheating and suggested the Astros should be stripped of their 2017 World Series title. Manfred on Sunday had said he considered that an inadequate action because the World Series trophy was “a piece of metal.” Turner questioned whether the commissioner was “out of touch with our game” and said the trophy was devalued by “the fact that it says ‘Commissioner’ on it.” Turner told reporters that he wanted steeper punishments for Astros players.
“They shouldn’t have rings. Sorry,” he said. “A World Series championship is earned.”
The Astros battened down the hatches for what they hope will be the last few days of vocal, widespread scorn. All but a few players have said their piece by now. That it has gone on this long surprised some in the clubhouse: Multiple players, including catcher Martín Maldonado and reliever Roberto Osuna, video-chatted with friends Monday to show them how many reporters remained in the clubhouse.
Altuve tried to kill the tattoo story once and for all. He said he got it in the middle of the season in San Francisco — the Astros didn’t play the Giants last season, but they did have series at the Oakland Athletics in late May/early June and mid-August — and that it later needed retouching.
“Sometimes it doesn’t come [out] right, the way you like it,” he said.
The other faces of the Astros’ apology tour, the ones who first spoke Thursday, tried to turn the page. Alex Bregman, voice low, expressed more contrition than he did in his initial comments.
“What we can do moving forward is learn and work extremely hard to regain the trust of baseball fans,” he said. “We know that won't be easy, but we feel the responsibility to do that.”
Correa asserted full-squad workouts signaled it was time to focus on the upcoming season. He spoke at length about movies, including “Parasite” (“That’s why it won a lot of Oscars”) and actor Brad Pitt (“I’ve got a man crush”), while deflecting questions about continued criticism from players on other teams.
“They can say whatever they want,” Correa said. “At the end of the day, we got to go out there and win ballgames.”
The only apprehension left in the Astros’ clubhouse is about what might happen in those ballgames. Pitchers around the sport are on the record saying they want to get retribution by throwing at Astros hitters. Manfred said Sunday that MLB will not tolerate premeditated targeting, but Astros Manager Dusty Baker pointed out that it was just a statement: “Whatever effect it has is … pure speculation.”
“It’s in the past. You got to leave it in the past,” he added. “It’s just time to play baseball.”
At the end of the day, on his way out of the clubhouse, Altuve appeared to knock over a fire extinguisher stationed next to his locker. He picked it up and placed it against the wall, a moment that summed up the situation baseball finds itself in: The fire is still not out.