The Astros’ penalties, the Dusty hire, and playing with a forever-tarnished reputation

It’s been three weeks since my blog post ripping the Astros over the rule-breaking — the cheating — it was obvious they were guilty of. Little did I know that, three days after I posted on a Friday, MLB would announce the results of its sign-stealing investigation, along with major penalties. Ultimately, the all-consuming quest for championships would take down three managers and a GM, with more punishment still to come against the Red Sox.

Some argue that the Astros should’ve been hit harder, and that the players shouldn’t have gotten away with it all. There’s merit to that argument, but there’s also validity to MLB’s reasons for not going down the complicated path of figuring out which players should be suspended and for how long.

As for why MLB didn’t TKO the Astros with more — stripping their 2017 title or a 2020 postseason ban, for instance — consider what Rob Manfred *did* do, and what the organization has to look forward to in terms of cheating’s lasting impact. I’d have to say the loss of four top draft picks, a yearlong suspension of baseball’s top manager-GM duo (who then, of course, were fired by owner Jim Crane), the stain that’ll never be removed from the disgraced franchise’s image, and the bull’s-eye the team will wear not only this season but for years to come, will have the lesson-learned-the-hard-way effect MLB was going for.

Sure, the Astros still have one of the majors’ strongest rosters and a fairly loaded farm system, and will contend this year for a fourth straight AL West title and fourth AL Championship Series berth in a row. But make no mistake: These penalties were designed to make the franchise pay for its egregious mistakes — if that means slamming the brakes on a potential dynasty, so be it — and to send a message to other teams that breaking the rules won’t be tolerated.

ESPN baseball writer Bradford Doolittle, who’s fantastic, makes strong points in this piece about why MLB doled out sufficient penalties against the Astros.

So the Astros have made their first attempt to move past this fiasco by hiring an old-school manager with a sterling reputation and a history of winning — although never the big one. At first, I wasn’t thrilled with Crane’s choice of Dusty Baker, simply because I thought he was too old and the game’s left him behind. I’ve always liked Baker and remember him well from my childhood and his Dodger days, playing in the Astrodome when Houston and Los Angeles were rivals in the National League West.

But after a couple of days, I realized how smart and calculated a move this was on Crane’s part, hiring a manager with Baker’s pedigree and personality. For this situation and this team and this moment, he’s the right hire.

And I see the Astros also hired a new GM today (Monday 2/3), a guy I’ve never heard of from the Rays named James Click — who was a history major at Yale. He comes from a strong organization, and considering fired Astros GM Jeff Luhnow got his start in baseball with a business background and majored in economics and engineering, I look for Click to slide smoothly into his Houston role.

Now that January has come and gone faster than any month in history (right?), spring training is upon us. And I’m sticking to my vow, still planning not to follow the Astros as closely as usual this season. That doesn’t mean I won’t check scores or standings; it just means I won’t obsess over trying to monitor every game like I usually do.

Like I said in the blog post, I’m not abandoning the Astros. Too much history, too much devotion to the only team that *really* matters to me, too much love. I’m still very upset this happened and am disappointed anyone associated with the team would even think about pulling a stupid stunt like this that would sully its hard-earned rep for doing things the right way.

I’m glad the organization apologized to its fans for this shameful episode. But unfortunately, that won’t change how opponents, rival teams’ fans, and the sports world in general view and treat the Astros from now on: like a hated team. They’ll get the love ’em or hate ’em treatment the Patriots and Yankees get.

No one used to hate the Astros. But they have only themselves to blame.

(Above is my video from the end of the Astros’ 8-2 win over the Red Sox in Game 1 of the ALDS at Minute Maid Park in 2017.)

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