Fans, Houston Suffer Most at Hands of the Astros

MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred (left) and owner Jim Crane (center) altered our perception of the Astros and damaged us in the process.
MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred (left) and owner Jim Crane (center) altered our perception of the Astros and damaged us in the process. Photo by Jack Gorman
It is difficult to understate the damage done to the Houston Astros organization on Monday. Not only did they lose arguably the best manager in baseball and the architect of the operation that took them from three straight 100-loss seasons to three straight 100-win seasons and a World Series, but they were forced to surrender draft picks and stain the legacy of not just the 2017 team, but the entire franchise.

Trying to put those pieces back together will probably be the biggest challenge of Jim Crane's baseball career. Considering where he started with the team, that is saying a lot.

But in all the discussions of what ramifications, literal and imagined, there should be for the sign-stealing scandal that has engulfed not only the Astros, but other teams around the majors, the people hurt the most will be the fans. They always are.

In Houston, we are acutely aware of our standing as an ugly, hot mess of sprawl, tangled freeways and hurricanes. We also have firsthand knowledge of brutal disappointment when it comes to sports. Hell, just 24 hours before the Astros imploded in front of our eyes, the Texans suffered one of the greatest collapses in franchise history. We'd say in Houston history, but we have a previous trip to Kansas City in the playoffs by the franchise formerly known as the Oilers and, of course, Buffalo to make this most recent loss seem like child's play.

Even the Rockets, who won back-to-back titles in the 1990s, have yet to see their absolutely deserving coach get into the Hall of Fame. Why? Some believe the Rockets titles have a at least a whispered asterisk thanks to the partial absence of Michael Jordan. It's utter nonsense, but all it took was one loss to underdog NC State to keep groundbreaking and legendary UH coach Guy V. Lewis out of the Hall for decades.

No one likes to talk about it, but these types of biases exist in sport. They are real and they do damage no matter how ridiculous they are.

Now, in a scandal some are mentioning in the same breath with the Black Sox, the Astros have forever tainted their 2017 World Series win. That's reality. You may as well accept that is going to be the opinion of virtually everyone, including some Astros fans. The same fate likely awaits the Boston Red Sox and their 2018 title, but they have other championships to fall back on. We don't. While the Astros didn't have their championship vacated, the luster on that trophy is forever smudged.

And Houston suffers.

As if we needed that insult heaped upon mounds of literal injury. We went through Hurricane Harvey just weeks before the Astros beat the Dodgers. Outsiders barely knew who or where we were before. Then, a catastrophic event was followed by a blissful respite from the nightmare. Suddenly, we were the city of resilience and toughness, grace and kindness, with a team that reflected our values, sense of community and sheer determination.

Houstonians are still all those things.

But we know what is going to happen. Frankly, we understand. If the Yankees had been the team doing the sign stealing instead of the Astros, everyone here would have fallen backwards to take the Bronx Bombers down from their pedestal and remind them of the halos over the heads of our trustworthy Astros.

Because we are on the wrong end of this, the Astros are going to get crucified and the city that has fought to improve its reputation and image will be caught in the crossfire.

We'll be fine. We always are.

But how do we navigate the fallout from a problem we neither wanted nor instigated? A problem created for us, not by us. Do we stick by our team through thick and thin or burn their jerseys in the street and swear to never darken Minute Maid's door again?

There will likely be some from each group, people who will do anything to win (or blame the powers that be) and those who can't stomach cheating (or don't want their kids to learn the ends justify any means). There will be a lot of in-betweens as well. Feelings are funny that way. And, in the end, we will likely find peace with this team again, some sooner than others.

Because the players have been somewhat insulated from the fallout, despite, it would seem, being equally culpable, the devil in those details will likely be lost (or ignored) by some leaving them to root for Jose Altuve and George Springer feeling at least somewhat safe that Crane got rid of the bad apples. Others will do their best to forget about the team...until that team gives them something exciting to watch.

And we will still bask in the feeling of winning a championship. No suspensions or firings or scandals can rob us of that.

Yes, we will come to embrace the Astros again, especially if they are good (and they probably will be), but we will do so with a more suspicious gaze. We won't be so quick to forgive or so free with our favor. As the Ws pile up, the turnstiles will spin in part because we know what this team did for us when we needed it most.

But, we also know what this team did to us when we least expected it.
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Jeff Balke is a writer, editor, photographer, tech expert and native Houstonian. He has written for a wide range of publications and co-authored the official 50th anniversary book for the Houston Rockets.
Contact: Jeff Balke