I’m a baseball junkie.
I live in Houston, so the Houston Astros are “my guys.” I travel to Florida every spring to watch “my guys” in spring training. I watch about 150 (of 162) games on TV each year. My phone is loaded with baseball apps, and I google “Astros News” at least three times a day, 365 days a year. I lose sleep when the team is on west coast trips, and the games don’t end until midnight. I jump around the room when they get any hit, much less a home run; my husband has learned to steer clear of me when a game falls into my personal category of “avoidable loss”, because I’ll stay in a bad mood into the next morning.
I am one sick puppy. But this has been great over the last few years, because the Astros have become a “mini-dynasty”, winning over 100 games three years running (which is a historic achievement), three playoff appearances, two World Series appearances (winning one) and making other historic achievements in both batting and pitching. With a young core of talent, Astros fans fully expected another five years of dominance, at least.
But, then it happened.
If you’re a sports fan, you know that “my guys” were caught with their hands in the cookie jar this off-season. I shall explain, starting from the beginning, for the baseball uninitiated.
The “sign” is the sign given by the catcher that tells the pitcher what pitch to throw, and what part of the strike zone to throw it in. It goes without saying that this is valuable information for the batter, which is why, for all of the 150 years of baseball history, teams all try their best to “steal the sign” and convey that information to the batter.
Because everyone does it, and it can’t be stopped, really….. it’s legal. However, because of some incidents with the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees back in the middle part of the last decade (the Sox were creatively using Apple Watches to convey information to the batter) Major League Baseball (MLB) issued a stern warning, to the teams prior to the 2017 season, that using technology to steal signs was out of bounds, illegal, and would be dealt with severely.
Well, evidently (working from the Major League Baseball investigation into the matter) some of the Astros players, along with an assistant coach, got it into their tiny little skulls that it would be a good idea to ignore this warning, set up a camera with a zoom lens in centerfield focused on the catcher, decode the sign, and telegraph that information to the batter by banging on a garbage can lid.
The Astros won the 2017 World Series.
Simply put, this was cheating. Upon discovery, MLB launched an investigation, giving the players immunity (which they pretty much have anyway, because of the Player’s Union) in return for testimony.
The result? MLB essentially levied the death penalty on the Astros mini-dynasty. The architect of the team, the general manager, was suspended from baseball for a year, and subsequently fired by the team. The manager of the team, generally considered to be one of the three or four best in baseball, was also suspected, and subsequently fired. And the team lost first round draft picks for the next two years, which were sorely needed to refill the talent gap starting to appear in its minor league system.
The Astros mini-dynasty is now running on fumes. The architect of the team is gone. The leader of the team is gone. And the team cannot retool itself in the near term.
Since these penalties were levied, bombastic on-air and on-line sports reporters (and there are many) have done their best to stoke the furnace of emotions, suggesting that baking in the destruction of the Astros mini-dynasty was insufficient. Anger increases ratings and clicks, of course. The Astros didn’t help themselves with a ham-handed “apology” the first day of spring training. The response was a flurry of irrational invectives by the aforementioned bombastic reporters and some players, including some physical threats on the Astros persons.
Which THEN led to a change in the Astros attitude from “we’re sorry” to “fuck you”, with the suggestion from one of the Astros star players that the ASTROS might have information about other teams cheating as well, and just maybe everybody ought to shut up before things actually get worse, as hard to believe as that is.
Ultimately, cooler heads will prevail, and baseball will open its next season on March 26. It won’t be pretty for the “my guys”, because they’ll spend at least the first half of the season getting booed, but they have to live in the bed they made.
It’s kind of like that time when you got a call from the principal (or worse, the police) because your teenage kid did this-or-that. You’re made….but this is still your kid. It’s not like you can just toss him or her out, and make them suddenly NOT your kid.
Same with the Astros. These are still “my guys”, and I have to believe that they’ve learned their lesson and better days are ahead.