Wow. Just wow. A week has passed since Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred severely punished the Houston Astros for their technologically advanced sign stealing scheme in 2017, the year the city of Houston relished in its first World Series championship.
This was a championship that extended beyond just the chalk lines on the field at Minute Maid Park. It uplifted a city that was devastated by Hurricane Harvey and overjoyed a fan base that had been struck with hardship. The World Series trophy that year represented more than athletic triumph. The trophy represented hope.
Now it’s tainted.
First, let’s recap the penalties the league office imposed on the Astros organization on Jan. 13: General Manager Jeff Lunhow and beloved manager A.J. Hinch were both suspended for one year and subsequently fired by owner Jim Crane later that afternoon. The team was fined $5 million. Assistant general manager Brandon Taubman was also suspended. Perhaps most importantly the team will forfeit their first two round draft picks for the next two years.
Baseball fans see that list and say, “They should be stripped of their World Series title.” Astros fans see that list and worry this could be the end of the successful dynasty they have enjoyed since 2015.
There is no issue with any of the decisions made by the league office. Seeing the report, listening to interviews, it is clear Manfred made the right one this time. The loss of a manager forces this group of players to face what they did, losing a general manager forces this organization to redefine its identity and the loss of draft picks sets a precedent to deter future acts of this kind.
Crane made a difficult decision that he stood behind fully and was best for the organization. He presented that decision to the media and fans shortly after MLB’s sentencing in a press conference filled with emotion and disappointment. These feelings are mirrored by the fans that support his organization.
A few things bother me throughout this entire process. First, Astros fans turning against their team. This was a mistake made by a group of players consumed by immaturity and pride.
Astros fans and especially baseball fans of other teams need to realize that Houston did not win the World Series solely because of this. The 2017 Houston Astros were good. They were talented, disciplined baseball players: cheating and trash can banging aside.
But simply being great was not enough for those players. One of the examples of this sign stealing deception that has gone viral is a video of Evan Gattis batting against Chicago White Sox relief pitcher Danny Farquhar on Sept. 22, 2017. With the season almost over, the Astros had the American League West division locked up. In fact, they won the division that season by a jaw-dropping 21 games. Yet, in the bottom of the eighth inning of a game that realistically did not even matter, Astros players can be heard banging on trash cans in the dugout to signify an off-speed pitch.
In fact, MLB’s report said the team felt a sense of “panic” that their scheme had been discovered. That panicked state shows an understanding that what they were doing was outside the rules of the game. It was pure arrogance.
This is why the scandal is a disappointment. Everything that group of players accomplished that year felt like it was for the city of Houston and for their fans. It turns out it was for the record books. Being good enough wasn’t enough. Winning wasn’t enough. They wanted to dominate opponents.
This is where the championship becomes tainted. It’s never going to be physically stripped away by the league office or scratched out of the record books until it is forgotten. Actually, the problem is the opposite.
The championship will always be remembered. It will be talked about with slight hesitation when any mention of that season and that historical team.
It has transitioned from one of the greatest moments in the hearts of Astros fans to one of the most disgusting acts in the eyes of baseball fans.
The sad truth is the Houston Astros were not the only ones punished. Their fan base was too.