I have been attempting to write something of substance about the sign-stealing controversy surrounding the Houston Astros for months. Dozens of times, I will author an article or a series of tweets that hit 300 words and give up.
There are too many moving parts in all of this for my thoughts to do the sheer magnitude of this cheating scandal justice. I instead just press down on the backspace key for 30 seconds or so and start over again.
But rather than continuing with the reflexive stance of the vast majority of Astros fans (which is “well, you’re just jealous” or “every team cheats”), I feel it’s important to be rational and unbiased and simply evaluate how we as Houston supporters can go forward with this.
Emphasis on the word “forward,” because unfortunately, nothing in the past matters anymore.
Major League Baseball determined that the Astros worked to steal signs relayed from a video camera in center field to their clubhouse tunnel by banging on trash cans to alert Houston batters of incoming pitch types all throughout their historic 2017 World Series championship run.
The controversy cost former manager AJ Hinch his job with the team (in addition to a one-year ban from pro baseball), as well as 2018 World Series winner Alex Cora his spot as skipper with the Boston Red Sox. Former Astro, Carlos Beltran, was forced to step down as the new manager of the New York Mets.
Jeff Luhnow, the general manager and mastermind of the Astros we thought we knew, was also suspended and fired by Astros owner and CEO Jim Crane.
When the initial bits of evidence first came to light, Houston’s most loyal fans went straight to denial. When it started to seem increasingly obvious that a scheme of sign-stealing and trash-can banging was in place, the play was the aforementioned and incredibly toxic “well, you’re just jealous” and “every team cheats” stances.
When the proof became irrefutable and the hammer was slammed down by Commissioner of Baseball Rob Manfred and crew, the attitude of Houston’s best and brightest fans became “they’re just out to get us” and “flags fly forever.”
Well, quite frankly, the flag might fly forever, but it has a pretty large stain on it. The ragtag group of underdogs who fought for an emotionally-drained, damaged city and knocked off the 104-win Los Angeles Dodgers did so with some help outside of what happens on the diamond, and therefore, it’s impossible for me to think the 2017 World Series title was not tainted.
Perhaps Jose Altuve‘s American League Most Valuable Player Award should have gone to Aaron Judge, whose New York Yankees could have won the AL pennant without some clutch Astros wins that all conveniently came at Minute Maid Park.
I genuinely do not understand why this fanbase has to be the way that it has been. I understand that there are rotten apples from every tree and not all Astros fans are like this, but this is a cancer that needs a cure.
I also realize that many of you cannot be persuaded, and I’m really just preaching to the choir, but I digress. Why are we doing this? Why is this our collective response? Why are we defending the cheating team with players who directly benefitted from the cheating? Please stop.
At this point, you’re more in love with an organization than the sport of baseball, and that is not what we got into this game for. The smell of freshly cut grass on a hot summer day, the sound of a fastball hitting a catcher’s glove, and the taste of sunflower seeds wadded up in your mouth as you burn through a bag of David’s before the seventh inning stretch are not experiences exclusive to the park between Texas and Crawford streets. There is no need to go against your morals defending a franchise that cares more about your wallet than yourself.
The Astros being the greatest example of how not to run a PR department did not begin with the sign-stealing controversy and the fallout that followed. The 2018 trade deadline acquisition of Roberto Osuna, who was suspended that season for a domestic abuse case, was a black eye somehow made worse when then-assistant general manager Brandon Taubman harassed a group of female reporters after the team clinched the 2019 AL pennant after Game 6 of the AL Championship Series.
This is not an organization to die on a hill for; there are none that fit that bill, but especially not this one. There are zero justifications for replying to every @MLB tweet with backwards defenses of a billion-dollar franchise that benefitted from doing illegal stuff. Just stop.
You can still be a fan, as I will still be a fan. I will cheer when Alex Bregman destroys a hanging breaking ball and deposits it into the train tracks above the left field wall, I will pump my fist when Zack Greinke fans an opposing hitter with a 61 mph curveball, and I will be elated if the team clinches its first legitimate, unassisted World Series title come October. But I refuse to sell myself out to an organization that shattered the integrity of the coolest game in the world just to turn a profit and lift an undeserved trophy.
Before the sign-stealing controversy, sitting back in my chair and watching a heartbreaking Game 7 of the 2019 World Series, I was very upset. Howie Kendrick had lifted a perfectly-placed Will Harris corner fastball into the opposite-field foul pole to secure a lead that the eventual champs, the Washington Nationals, would not relinquish on that night in Houston. In hindsight, it could not have ended better, the Astros lost. The 2019 Nationals were everything I thought the 2017 Astros were: an underdog team emphatically winning its first title on the road in seven games.
And I can come to that conclusion because I didn’t sell my baseball soul to one team, even if I am a lifelong Astros fan thanks to my Houston-native father. Instead of looking to a cloudy past and falling into a hole over a championship with an asterisk, I am looking forward to the 2020 season. I want to watch Justin Verlander defend his AL Cy Young Award, Bregman to perhaps prove himself as the top-five player in the game he became with the sign stealing, and for Carlos Correa to finally get a fully healthy season in and show everyone why he was a Rookie of the Year Award winner. I have a soft spot for Dusty Baker and am very excited to see what he can do with this club.
You can still be a highly passionate, devoted fan of the team so long as you don’t give your life to defend them all when they do not deserve it. Looking into the future of a team with a lot of talent and much to play for seems a lot more fun than staying in 2017 for eternity and throwing myself into fire for the approval of Jim Crane and crew. We should all try it.