Sometime in 2015, while looking at the ESPN website on my phone, I saw an article that highlighted the surging Houston Astros. This was surprising to me. I wondered to myself; “Wait, are the Astros good now?” I hadn’t paid much attention to them in prior years. I just knew they were losing a lot.
During those losing seasons, I barely kept up with the Astros. I knew that a new owner had bought the team and had agreed to move it to the American League, which was really weird. I knew we had a couple of good players. And I heard the name “Altuve” come up in several conversations. But still…I was mostly unaware of what was going on with the Astros franchise that I had grown up watching and supporting since I was a kid.
I gradually started tuning into the games. They were exciting. I remember one game in particular where the Astros were trailing in the 9th. I was following along on Twitter. And suddenly there was an eruption of tweets that said only one word; “MARWIN!!!” I had no idea who Marwin was, but he had apparently won the game for us. And then I learned about Marwin Gonzalez and every other player on the up and coming team. I was hooked.
These were the busiest years of my life. That’s when my wife and I got married. We moved in together and we had a baby. He was born just a few days after the Astros won the World Series in 2017. Early in 2018, we picked up and moved from Florida to my hometown of Houston. Yet in spite of how busy I had become as a husband and a dad, I still allotted a significant amount of my time and attention to the Astros. They were special. They were achieving milestones that us Astros fans never imagined possible in our city. We observed Biggio and Bagwell as they observed this team from the stands with astounded looks on their faces. They were as much in awe as we were.
“Astros” became one of the first coherent words that my boy learned to speak. He obviously didn’t know why the grown men on TV ran around on the grass and dirt with bats and gloves. But he knew that it was important to his daddy. So he got excited when I got excited and celebrated when I celebrated. He may also have learned a few bad words that daddy irresponsibly yelled at the TV during those games.
Balancing Life and Baseball
I did my best to balance my responsibilities with being an Astros fan. I can’t tell you how many times I kept my boy up past 11pm or even midnight while watching the last few innings of games with him. My wife complained more than a few times about my distracted attention. It was unquestionably divided between my real life and a sport. And that sport is only supposed to be a form of entertainment, right? Well it had clearly become more than just entertainment to me.
My post following the World Series win in 2017
I did my best to articulate to my wife how special of a team the Astros were; three 100-win seasons in a row – astounding offense, defense and pitching – a team with a bunch of talented, likable players combined with coaching and management that would make them a contender year after year. I would never have allowed myself to be so distracted for a team that was just “pretty good.” The Astros were historically good. And at the expense of so many tasks and personal goals that I needed to work on, I followed the Astros instead.
That all ended on January 13, 2020 when the MLB Commissioner released a report which concluded that the Astros cheated throughout the 2017 season and part of 2018.
But before I get into the devastating Astros cheating scandal, let me just mention another scandal that recently rocked my world. Bear with me.
I Just Went Through All This
In 2016, my alma mater Baylor University suffered the disgrace and embarrassment of a sexual abuse scandal and cover-up in its football program. During those years leading up to the fallout, I was ecstatic at what Baylor football had achieved; two Big 12 Championships, a Heisman Trophy and a lot of exciting wins over our rivals…not to mention the hope and expectation that our team would be competitive for years to come. Sound familiar?
The scandal abruptly ended that hope. The football coach and athletic director were fired. Many of the team’s players and highly-rated recruits either left the team or decommitted from Baylor. The chancellor of the school resigned. Of course, all of this disappointment about the football team is of secondary importance to the fact that people were abused and then ignored when they reported the abuse.
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Several commentators and fans of rival teams felt that Baylor wasn’t punished enough. Fair enough…I’m not going to reignite that debate here in this post. I only want to point out that Baylor cleaned house and basically started over with a new crew.
By all accounts, the new crew included a lot of good guys who started doing things the right way…with integrity and discipline on and off the field. The results spoke for themselves. Baylor Football went 1-11 in 2017, 7-6 in 2018 and 11-2 in 2019…quite the turnaround. Baylor’s reputation, however, still has a long way to go. But nonetheless I think it’s important to point out this example of a disgraced program that turned the page and raised the hope of its fanbase once again.
Astros Cheating Scandal
I mention all this because I want you to know that I recently experienced the deflation that Astros fans are now feeling. Obviously, I’m feeling it all over again. When Baylor crumbled, I took comfort in the Astros and what appeared to be a team of integrity. While Baylor was a bad story, the Astros were a good story. They excelled at every phase of the game. And they played fairly. We had no reason to think otherwise.
But now we know that wasn’t the case. They were cheating. In particular, they cheated during the 2017 regular season *AND* in the postseason. So what this means is that we have no way of knowing if the cheating helped them to win the World Series. In his article at National Review, David Harsanyi, a Yankee fan, points out that all four of the Yankees losses in the playoffs were at Minute Maid Park in Houston, which is the only ballpark where the team could have implemented their cheating scheme. And the first two losses were by only one run.
The Astros scored five runs in three road games and 15 in four home games. It’s true that most teams perform better at home, and the Astros are loaded with All-Star caliber players, so it’s possible that the eventual outcome would have been the same. We’ll never know, obviously; and that’s the problem.
And this guy ↓ is wrong;
The report mentioned NOTHING about usage during the playoffs. NOTHING.
Bregman still took every ace deep.
Marwin still hit Kenley Jansen's ball to Sacramento.
Charlie still closed us out on the road.
Lance McCullers still has more World Series RBIs than Tony Gwynn. https://t.co/gpiDj5TDT3
— D.Lee.Blackburn (@DL_Blackburn) January 13, 2020
The Astros did use a monitor near the dugout throughout the playoffs to decode the signs of opposing teams.
Of all the things in MLB's investigation and Rob Manfred's nine-page letter, this might be the most damning.
The Astros, who won the 2017 World Series, used their sign-stealing scheme that postseason. pic.twitter.com/nnSj1P2k7D
— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) January 13, 2020
State of Denial
I’ve already seen several Astros fans in a state of denial. They want to believe the Astros’ achievements are still intact. This appears to be their own personal way of dealing with the scandal. They want to continue seeing their hometown team as champions. They want to avoid facing the ugly idea that the Astros’ 2017 World Series title is illegitimate. And they certainly don’t want to believe that they’ve invested thousands of hours in a team whose reputation just went up in flames.
Well, my fellow Astros fans…it pains me to say it as much as it pains you to hear it – and it’s only my opinion – but that’s exactly what just happened. The Astros have squandered this entire recent era of success and have destroyed the trust and goodwill that many Houstonians had in them, including myself. They turned the pride I had in my team into shame. I’m speaking here only for myself, but I know many other fans feel the same way.
I understand that you and other fans might say otherwise. But with all the respect and sensitivity I can offer, I would suggest to each of these fans that you still don’t understand what just happened to our team. The implications of this scandal will never go away. And this entire era of successful baseball in Houston will forever be tarnished and marked with a well-deserved asterisk. They were among the most successfully-built teams in baseball history, but now they’ll just be seen as cheaters. And I cannot tell you that this label is unfair or inaccurate.
The First Undeserved World Series Title
I challenge you to name one World Series winner in the history of baseball whose title is considered to be “undeserved” or obtained by cheating. There are none. From the Boston Americans of 1903 to the Chicago Cubs of 2016, every World Series winner is considered to have earned their titles…until now.
There is a fever-pitch outcry among fans, commentators and other ballclubs to take away the Astros’ 2017 title. I don’t think it will ever happen. But nonetheless, that’s what they want. When the Astros go to other ballparks, they’ll no longer be revered as a juggernaut ball club that turned their mediocre franchise into a golden model. That’s all over. All the chatter surrounding the club will be about cheating, asterisks, hidden monitors, sign stealing and the illegitimacy of their championship. The “Houston Asterisks” nickname unfortunately won’t be going away anytime soon.
The competition and rivalries of Major League Baseball are fierce and unrelenting. Even when there’s no credible basis for an accusation of cheating, there are still many accusations. Of course, now there is a credible basis. If the Astros were willing to cheat in this one way, who’s to say they weren’t cheating in other ways? There’s now speculation that Altuve and Bregman might’ve been wearing buzzers under their uniforms while batting. Someone in the video room would transmit a message to them through the device to tip them on the upcoming pitch. Is this true? Last week, I would’ve said “the Astros would never do something like that!” And now I don’t know…maybe they did. This is what happens when you cheat…the floodgates of your reputation burst open and all the accusations and speculations pour forth.
What Were You Thinking?
Alex Cora will likely never work in baseball again. Carlos Beltrán was fired from the New York Mets before his first day of working for the team. The reputation of everyone associated with the Astros is now worthless.
Oh what a colossal blunder. What a foolish set of boneheaded decisions. Understand here that I’m not an analyst. I’m not a journalist. I’m not getting paid to write this. Like so many others, I’m just an Astros fan and I’m devastated. I’ve only begun to comprehend the height from which this team just fell.
How could you, Alex Cora? How on earth did you rationalize this scheme in our clubhouse? And how is it possible, AJ Hinch, that you were aware of this scheme – and disapproving of it – but did nothing to stop it? How did any of you think this could be kept a secret? Players come and go from all MLB teams with regularity. These guys spend countless hours hanging out with one another. And what do they do together? They talk. They talk about everything. How did you think this scheme would never come to light?
The players, as far as I’m concerned, are no less culpable. And that includes the “good guys” like Altuve, Bregman, Springer, Correa and Verlander. They, in fact, are even more responsible. They are the leaders of the team! As I see it, they either benefited from the cheating or turned a blind eye to it as others did it. In either case, they were aware of what was going on and did nothing to stop it. How is this possible? These guys knew exactly what to do in every situation while running the bases and on defense. Their communication and chemistry were flawless. But they stood by silently as their hitting coach set up a monitor near the dugout so they could steal signs?? Are you kidding me?? It would’ve been obvious to a LITTLE LEAGUER that what the Astros were doing was wrong.
They Didn’t Need to Cheat to Be Elite
An Astros fan recently mentioned that his support of the Astros will not waver. He’ll support them even *more* now, he said. And then he added at the end; “we still have a loaded team from top to bottom.” This is simply deflating to me because yes, he’s right. The Astros are elite. But that just makes their cheating that much more infuriating; “THEY DIDN’T NEED TO CHEAT!”
Just like Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds, the Astros could’ve had all the success and *also* a good reputation and the respect of fans. Instead, they crossed the line and ruined their reputations. Stealing signs is an old tradition of the game. If you can figure out what an opposing pitcher is about to throw (with your and eyes and your ears) and you can relay that info to your teammate (with gestures or other body signals), then do it. But don’t do it with hidden cameras, monitors or any other equipment, for Pete’s sake! What was next? Bugging the opposing team’s dugout to listen to their conversations?
I don’t want to hear about the other teams that might’ve been doing the same thing. That means NOTHING to me. If my wife were to cheat on me, it wouldn’t make me feel any better to find out that my neighbor’s wife is also cheating on him. And don’t tell me about the rules or imply that the Astros were within some kind of gray area when it comes to cheating. That is some bush-league BS, in my opinion.
Just on the surface, without knowing all the rules of baseball, if you or I or any other fan had discovered that our guys were watching a feed of the game they’re currently playing in order to gain an advantage, I’d bet that most of us would’ve said “hey WHOA, they should probably not be doing that! That might come back to haunt them.” But somehow no one on the team had this reaction. None of these players we idolize had the guts to extinguish this problem when it was only a little spark. And now it’s a raging fire that just turned our baseball team into a pile of smoking ashes.
Luhnow fired. Hinch fired. We lose our #1 and #2 draft picks the next two years. And worst of all, we’ll have the never-ending reputation of being the first team to win a World Series by cheating. I get no satisfaction or relief in knowing that the Red Sox might be treated the same way (since Alex Cora was their coach in 2018). Their mess is their mess. It’s our mess and the reputation of our city that concerns me.
Our baseball team is being compared to the infamous “Chicago Black Sox” who conspired to intentionally lose the 1919 World Series in exchange for money from gamblers. We are now in that exclusive group. What a horrible turn of events. Even as I write this, I cannot believe this has happened. It’s just completely devastating on every level.
Still A Fan?
I’m sure I’ll get a lot of feedback about this post. I’m sure many fans will say they plan to continue supporting the Astros. I fully respect that. I understand that the Astros are a major part of many people’s lives. If you want to continue watching their games and rooting for them, do it. It’s doubtful they’ll be cheating in 2020. So the games you watch them play next season will likely be fairly-played baseball. They’ll play with passion and they’ll be contrite during interviews. They’ll talk about “all we’ve been through as a team” and “putting it behind us” and “just focusing on baseball” and other predictable lines. They will do their best to re-earn the trust of the city. They’ll make the most of their second chance. And I, for one, do believe in forgiveness and second chances.
I, however, won’t be tuning in. I’m done. With all that I have going on in my life, it was already hard to give the Astros my time, my attention and my emotions. But with things now being what they are, I cannot justify taking any time to watch these guys try and redeem themselves. I’m moving on with my life and I will also try to put this heartache behind me. I could change my mind. Anything could happen. They might even turn it around the way Baylor did. But as of right now, I’m planning to do something else with my free time from April to October.
Forgive and Forget?
I don’t need to forgive the Astros and they’re not waiting for my forgiveness. I don’t really “know” any of them. They’re all grown men worth millions of dollars. They don’t need me. Life will go on. Sports never stop. There’s always a new season. And all of this drama just adds to the allure of the sport in general.
But the Astros broke something that was very special to us here in Houston. And they sadly cannot put it back together. On 11-2-2017 in Los Angeles, Altuve fielded a ground ball and tossed it over to Yuli at first base. It was the final out of Game 7 of the World Series. When Yuli caught that ball, I said out loud “The Houston Astros are champions! NO ONE can take this away from us!” Indeed, no one took it away. The truth is that the Astros never really earned it in the first place. They’re not the champions I thought they were.
Houston, my beloved city, if you’re devastated like I am, take heart and keep your head up. Take a break from the Astros like I am if you must.
And if, on the other hand, you plan to continue supporting the Astros right now in their darkest time, good for you. The Astros are lucky to have fans like you.