On Monday, Major League Baseball dropped a Louisville Slugger the size of Mount Everest on the Houston Astros leaving them with no manager or general manager for the 2020 season and no first or second round draft picks for two years. Then, in one of the most shocking developments in Houston sports history, owner Jim Crane dismissed both Jeff Luhnow and A.J. Hinch in an emotional and brutally frank press conference.
The debacle has not only damaged the chances the Astros have of getting back to the World Series this year, it could seriously cripple the team's ability to perform in future years. Clearly, baseball was sending a message not just to Houston, but to every other team considering sign stealing via tech in the future. And Crane wanted to drive that message home even further.
The Astros now must pick up the pieces. Normally, we would do four winners and four losers, but there don't appear to be many winners in this situation.
No one expected that the two heads on the chopping block Monday would be from the Astros. Most fans had hoped it would be over on Kirby Drive after one of the most embarrassing losses in franchise history, never mind Houston history considering the totality of mortifying defeats over the decades. Yet, there coach and GM Bill O'Brien remains. Must be good to be the king.
The Astros owner did the right thing no matter how dirty his own hands might be from his own previous business dealings. But, make no mistake, this was the much tougher choice. He knows just how much talent he fired. He realizes the hit his franchise is going to take from this. While hard core sports fans might bemoan the firings as a result of a MLB witch hunt, the casual fans, much the way they did with the trade for Roberto Osuna, will be furious. There will be plenty who won't be fans again for a long while and the goodwill Crane has built in the community at large just got flushed down the toilet.
Right or wrong in what he told reporters leading to baseball's investigation, Fiers will be a pariah for many, not just in Houston. How can anyone trust him to keep a clubhouse confidence? His conscience may be clear, but the respect he held in clubhouses around the league is damaged beyond repair.
So much for the vaunted way of doing things that led to such incredible success. This is a culture that led to a manager taunting a female reporter about a player who beat up his girlfriend and other managers denying it, even calling the reporter who told the tale a liar. That was the beginning of the end for the Astros "culture," and given just that incident alone, good riddance.
There hasn't been a more beloved coach in Houston since Rudy Tomjanovich. And sure you can easily draw the comparisons between championships, but they were also easy to like. Affable, easy going and intelligent, they made it easy to like them. Hinch's sins were more those of omission, but they were enough to get him suspended and fired. Rightfully so. Like Rudy T, he was probably the best manager of men in baseball. Except in Hinch's case, he didn't do the right thing when presented with it over and over again. Now, we all have to suffer for it.
The brilliant architect behind the Astros renaissance was also the mastermind behind its culture, one that clearly was problematic and had a win-at-all-costs mentality that cost them big time. The kill-or-be-killed culture of competitiveness that permeated a front office filled with brainiacs ultimately swallowed itself whole. Now, the cost to the team is incredible and the thing Luhnow has left in his wake is a disappointed fan base and a big fat asterisk next to 2017.
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According to MLB, the instigator and perpetrator of the sign stealing was the current Red Sox manager. In fact, it continued in Boston into 2018 when that team won the World Series. If baseball doesn't crush Cora and the Sox in a similar fashion to the Astros, the fix will certainly be in and then we can all flash baseball a huge middle finger. But, don't bet on it. The fact that Cora was named in the Astros report and was apparently behind the whole thing is bad for him. We'll see how bad in the coming days.
Not only was this guy fired for being a general a-hole, but he's now out of baseball for a year. In many ways, a gross, drunk Taubman dancing around a locker room taunting a group of women reporters might be a better mascot for the Astros front office in this era than Orbit. So no one should be sorry to see him go or get the ax leveled on him by baseball either. He was already fired and baseball said, "Oh, yeah, by the way, you're fired again." If that isn't an indication of just how ridiculous his behavior was, we're not sure what is.