We are a little over a week removed from the announcement of Major League Baseball's punishment for the Houston Astros, a lashing that was compounded with the firings of manager A.J. Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow by owner Jim Crane. It's been fascinating watching the city go through the various stages of grief. If you believe the Kubler-Ross psychological model of internalizing grief, the final stage is acceptance.
Let me just say that I'm pleasantly surprised by Astro fans, because acceptance almost implies some degree of passivity, a calm understanding that "Hey, it is what it is." However, Astro fan acceptance of not only the sanctions and firings, but the ridicule from fans and media around the country has been supplemented with a passion for the 2020 season to get here that I wasn't expecting.
It certainly helps when we have Jose Altuve guaranteeing us another World Series!
.@JoseAltuve27: “Believe me, at the end of the year everything will be fine. We’re gonna be in the World Series again.People don’t believe it. We will. We made it last year. We were 1 game away from winning it all.I’m happy for the Nationals..We will be in the World Series again” pic.twitter.com/P4YR415N2A— Mark Berman (@MarkBermanFox26) January 18, 2020
Now, I saw a debate on television last week asking the question "Are the Astros, as a team, the face of the cheating scandal?" I couldn't believe this was even a question. Houston might not like to hear it, but despite the fact that a ton of teams are probably cheating in some fashion, YES, the Astros are the face of cheating now in MLB, and here are four reasons why:
4. The sign stealing was a chronological adjunct to the Brandon Taubman incident.
When the misdeeds of 2017 were exposed in November of last year, the Astros weren't some middle of the road, perennial .500 team. They were the defending American League champion, and beyond that, they were a team that was viewed as having a somewhat cutthroat, win-at-all-cost culture. The baseball operations side was emboldened by team success, and this was never more evident than when former assistant GM Brandon Taubman verbally harangued some female reporters over the success of former domestic abuser, closer Roberto Osuna. (One of those reporters had been very outspoken against the pickup of Osuna, for the record.) The Astros response to that incident was to issue a press release saying the writer documenting it, one of the females in that scrum that Taubman yelled at, was fabricating the story. This wound up NOT being the case, and Jim Crane had to embarrassingly apologize for his club's behavior and handling of the situation. In other words, the sign stealing thing is part of string of behavior that has painted the Astros as a villainous franchise. Everything they now do, negatively, is kindling on top of the prior transgressions.
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3. The Astros, by and large, don't have a ton of other relevant history.
The Red Sox are being investigated for cheating in 2018, as we speak. There are rumors of other blue blood baseball teams engaging in some form of cheating. Here's the thing — the Astros aren't a blue blood franchise. They have a nice history, but they don't have outfield walls covered in world championship banners to distract from the scandal, or other titles they can point to to say "Yeah, but the other titles are intact and untainted." The Astros have one title, and they were proven to be cheating during that postseason. The end.
2. The Astros were ratted out by one of their own players
This whole thing came to light because Mike Fiers put his name on his testimony. He told The Athletic exactly what he saw in 2017, which is infuriating if you see any of the still shots or videos of him celebrating back in 2017. There's something about that that just sits wrong with me. Nevertheless, the fact that it was a former Astro (and current pitcher of a team in the Astros division) blowing the whistle makes this whole thing more noteworthy.
1. The actual sign stealing scheme was beyond absurd.
The crux of the scheme's illegality is baked into the use of high speed cameras in the outfield, wired to monitors in the clubhouse, being used. Technology! The comical part of the scheme is the fact that the method of conveying the signs to the hitter was to have a person pounding a garbage can with a bat down in the clubhouse runway. Think about how ridiculous that sounds and looks!