Very soon, the Houston Astros will learn the price for their cheating.
For deciding — after over 50 years as a franchise that had largely done things the right way, the old-fashioned, hard-working way, the honest way — to break the rules to gain an extra edge.
For being so arrogant as to think they could get away with flouting Major League Baseball — not to mention the sport’s codes of ethics and integrity, whether written or understood — to fulfill their blinding desire to win the team’s first championship, no matter the means.
For disrespecting opponents and the very game in their reckless pursuit of glory, and for cheating their own fans and violating their legions’ trust.
The Astros stand accused of straying far outside the usual bounds to pick up opposing teams’ pitching signs in their World Series-winning 2017 season — and possibly the past two years. Mike Fiers, who pitched for Houston that season but didn’t make a playoff roster, went public two months ago in a report in The Athletic, saying the team had used a camera in centerfield at Minute Maid Park to read catchers’ signs, which were then signaled from the dugout area to Astros hitters through the comical method of banging on a trash can. There’ve been rumors of other chicanery; we’ll just have to see what comes out.
Commissioner Rob Manfred is expected to announce penalties in the coming days after an investigation — one he calls MLB’s most intensive — that media reports say has pulled in 60 witnesses for interviews and includes poring through more than 75,000 emails.
Suspensions of general manager Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch are almost a certainty, but recent reports indicate that players are likely to avoid punishment. Steep fines are a given, as well as forfeited draft picks. A postseason ban for 2020 seems unlikely, but a move that extreme could be on the table if Manfred and MLB want to make an example of the Astros.
The comeuppance will not be light. But it will be deserved.
I take this stance as someone who has been alive nearly one more year than the franchise’s 58-year existence — and who has loved this team as long as I’ve loved baseball.
I’ve kept quiet, but it’s gnawed at me for weeks. I’m very upset about this whole imbroglio.
Let me clarify: I’m very upset at the Astros.
It goes deeper than that: I’m angry at them.
I’m irate that they’ve brought embarrassment to their city, where I lived much of the first 10 years of my life before we moved just north to Conroe, still attending several games a year.
I’m disappointed that, as one of the best teams in baseball the past three seasons and winners of 100-plus games each of those years, they felt compelled to cheat. (Of course, who knows how many of those wins now need an asterisk?)
Filling out a lineup card stacked with names like Springer, Altuve, Bregman and Correa, you really needed to cook up a scheme to surreptitiously build an added advantage, on a home field where you already dominate?
Just. Play. The. Expletive. Game.
Being painfully honest, this really hurts. The team I’ve been a faithful fan of since early childhood — starting around age 5, which would’ve been 1966 — through the many losing years and the climb back from three straight 100-loss seasons, has let me down in a way no on-the-field failure ever has or ever could.
No other team’s highest of highs and toughest of losses can send my emotions soaring and plummeting like the Astros. That includes my alma mater, Texas A&M.
For a franchise with a perpetually squeaky-clean image, with a history of wholesome players like Jimmy Wynn, Larry Dierker, Jose Altuve, Craig Reynolds, Billy Doran, Craig Biggio, Kevin Bass, Nolan Ryan, Lance Berkman, Jose Cruz, Terry Puhl and so many others, this is a black eye the Astros will now always sport.
They’ll never be able to cover it up, always to be viewed as cheaters. Not to mention as a team that takes on domestic abusers like reliever Roberto Osuna — then makes a mockery of a serious issue through denial when a front-office clown yells profanity-strewn remarks in support of the abuser to a group of women during a playoff celebration, one of whom happens to be a reporter.
I could give the Astros the benefit of the doubt, saying they thought what they were doing in stealing signs so “creatively” was within the rules — a case they no doubt made to investigators. But they had to know it was, at the very least, bending them.
Was a world championship worth the irreparable damage to the team’s reputation and the Patriots-like hatred that will follow them from now on?
Most fans will say yes. I say no.
I’m being overly dramatic, too sensitive, some kind of by-the-book baseball snob. That’s what some of you are thinking.
And I realize some — many, probably — will disagree with my premise and say what the Astros are alleged to have done — no, what they have done — is no big deal. The most popular cop-outs I’ve read/heard since the accusations surfaced: “Everyone steals signs. It’s part of the game,” along with “Everyone cheats.”
Not like the Astros did. MLB’s rules forbidding the use of technology in this way are explicit. I’ve read posts on an Astros fan group on Facebook where there are still plenty of deniers and apologists. So many saying “haters gonna hate” and “they’re just jealous of our team’s success.”
Fans will believe what they want to believe and express their opinions freely on the unchecked monster of social media. But at some point, you have to accept the facts and realize no one’s making this up through some perceived bias toward your team. With the video evidence all over the Internet since the story broke, how can anyone deny that cheating took place?
There’s another crowd that’ll say, “But baseball’s changed. You know, the metrics, the analytics, the shift, all that data. This is just part of how technology is being used more and more.”
I’ve always considered myself a baseball purist, yet I think I’ve evolved with our national pastime — if the label even still applies — in recent years. So I understand all that. That’s not what this is. Until something is within the rules, it’s against ’em.
Players and coaches have been known to unfairly rip sports writers because they assume they’ve “never played the game” and are clueless regarding the nuances in much of what they write about. I can’t claim to know everything about every sport I covered in my past life as a sports writer, but I learned a lot in those four years starting out in Odessa over three decades ago.
I played ball growing up and feel like I know the sport pretty darn well — enough to know that what the Astros did was wrong, and unacceptable behavior for a true champion.
And sure, I get it. Compared to some of baseball’s bigger scandals — Pete Rose betting on his team’s games, Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa and others using steroids — this infraction may seem like a misdemeanor in a sea of felonies. Until you break it down, pitch by tipped-off pitch.
Like the guys who shot themselves up with steroids all those years, what the Astros did screwed with games — extending innings that might’ve ended without the pitch knowledge they were gaining, and helping them score runs they might not have scored.
They altered game outcomes, teams’ records and division standings. It’s a domino effect no one can deny made a difference, possibly affecting every road team on the Astros’ schedule.
If MLB comes back with findings that support the allegations and announce major penalties, I need to see the Astros’ front office stand up in a genuinely contrite way, taking ownership of what the team did and not denying or foisting excuses off on fans.
This is about what you did, which goes above what teams “have always done” to get a competitive edge. You owe your fans an explanation — and a big-time apology.
If the Astros appeal the decision and their penalties, it’ll only make them look petty and even more pretentious than many believe they’ve become in recent years. And like they don’t think the rules apply to them.
It’s time to step up to the plate and accept whatever punishment is handed out.
So many of the Astros’ good deeds off the field over the life of the franchise have helped brighten the lives of Houston-area residents. Winning the 2017 World Series in the aftermath of the devastating Hurricane Harvey provided an emotional lift that made it possible for many to get from one day to the next.
It’s doubtful MLB would take away that championship, but it’ll be forever tainted.
All the decades of good guys and goodwill won’t matter to the baseball world outside Texas — which, from now on, will see the Astros as a team that cheated its way to a title.
Not as winners.
For a city and this team’s adoring fans, that is a travesty.
As for me, I’m determined not to follow the Astros as obsessively this year as I always have. I need some time to come back around.
I don’t plan to be glued to GameDay online while I’m at work at night. Or to strain to hear their games through static trying to pick up that Houston station on my way home from work. Or to pay for TV packages to see more of their games. My actions won’t mean a thing to the team, but they’re part of my personal grievance over this unforgivable episode.
I’m not abandoning the Astros. I’ve been through too much with them to do that.
I’ve considered throwing my main allegiance behind another team for a while. Always been a fan of the Twins, because my late father grew up in St. Paul and so many of my beloved relatives were devoted fans. There are the Rangers, since we live in Arlington, I attend a few games a year (usually when the Astros are visiting) and have been an on-and-off fan since moving to the D-FW area in 1987. Or I could start following the Rockies more, seeing as the brother and sister from my birth family with whom I’ve bonded since finding them almost 15 years ago have lived in the Denver area for decades.
For now, I’ll just back off on the Astros. I’m serious about this. I’m not even sure what it’ll take to win me back to full fandom. But I’m certain Kay will appreciate my being a bit more “available” between April and September.
What about October? We’ll see what happens.