I’m going to start this piece with a disclaimer because, frankly, I feel like I have a societal obligation to do so. I do not condone what the Houston Astros did in 2017 (and possibly for part of 2018 as well). A team as talented as that group didn’t need to be swiping codes from the other side. It didn’t need to bang trash cans to hit off of Danny Farquhar and the White Sox. It didn’t need to risk tainting a magical moment in the city’s history with something so stupid, frankly.
No one is denying that. But this Astros-bashing has reached levels of similar absurdity. Everyone loves to pile on when it’s the easy thing to do. Cody Bellinger is crying foul. Baseball’s angriest soul, C.C. Sabathia, is sure that he and his Yankees teammates were robbed of a title. Other players are shaking their heads and letting everyone know that Houston’s accomplishments will always be tainted. But the 2017 Houston Astros were world champions, and that isn’t ever going to change.
And guess what? If the New England Patriots and the loyal legion of haters aren’t going to get anything out of Spygate and Deflategate, no one’s bringing the Astros down a peg, either.
Let me touch on a few areas why this incessant Houston hatred is both unnecessary and hypocritical. I’ll start with the fact that baseball, by nature, is probably the most “unfair” of the four major pro sports in terms of competitive balance because of the lack of salary cap and onslaught of overspending by the big boys like Sabathia’s Yankees, Bellinger’s Dodgers, and the Boston Red Sox. Oh, and about those Red Sox — weren’t they also implicated for a similar cheating scandal that cost Alex Cora his job? More on that later.
For as long as I and most current MLB players have been alive, the Yankees in particular have absolutely abused the economics of baseball and their inherent advantage over smaller-market clubs. Now, Houston isn’t exactly a “small market” in the way that Tampa or Cincinnati is, but the ‘Stros have never spent anywhere near the cash that the Bombers have. There are a lot of fans who associate the Yankees as a symbol of greed and the disparity between the haves and the have-nots of America. So why would anyone feel the slightest iota of sympathy for Sabathia or his Yankees teammates for coming up just short in 2017 or 2019? No one should, and I pray no one will.
Supposedly, the cheating is just for hitters, not pitchers, right? So is the Astros’ cheating to blame for the Yankees scoring a total of three runs in four games at Minute Maid Park against Houston pitching in that 2017 ALCS? Does it explain why, if the Astros were supposedly doing most or all of their cheating at home, the Yankees dropped two at three in their home ballpark while their fans yelled derogatory slurs at Zack Greinke during his bullpen warmups? You know the answers are all hard “nos.”
But before I go further off the rails on an anti-Yankees tangent, let’s not forget the Dodgers. They feel that they should be awarded the 2017 and 2018 World Series titles because the Astros and Red Sox cheated, do they? Again, let me utilize my “homefield disadvantage” argument here. Houston went on the road and won Game 7 of the 2017 World Series, and I’ll bet every single thing I own that Houston didn’t have any inside info on Yu Darvish’s pitch selection. And offensively in that game, Los Angeles was held to a single run. A year later, the Dodgers lost two of three at home to Boston, again tallying just a single run in the clinching Game 5.
Oh, but Jose Altuve “stole” the 2017 MVP from Aaron Judge, did he? This the same Altuve that, finding success standing at just 5 feet 6 inches (one of the things that makes baseball truly great), had won two of the previous three batting titles (2014 and 2016) when the Astros also surely must have been cheating, right?
What really saddens me about all of this was how it is besmirching what was a wonderful season and wonderful story that brought a lot of people great joy. After all, no team ever had (and may never again) beat both the Red Sox and Yankees in the same postseason. For good measure, the Astros took down LA to polish off their 2017 postseason run. This all happened in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, which devastated the city of Houston and surely weighed on the minds of the entire Astros organization. And one of the true postseason heroes for Houston that year was Justin Verlander, who dominated the Yankees in two home starts and did not “cheat” in any way, shape, or form. So wipe away those tears, Sabathia, because Verlander can make a joke if he wants to at your expense.
The Astros own baseball’s best record over the past three seasons, compiling an other-worldly 157-86 (.646) winning percentage away from the alleged cheating haven that is Minute Maid Park. In their 2017 championship season, Houston dominated opponents away from home, with an MLB-best 57-24 (.704) mark. Houston played that entire 2017 campaign with both unmatched talent and hunger, continually wiping away adversity in the process. Trailing late in Game 4 in Boston in the ALDS? Behind 3-2 in the ALCS against the Evil Empire? Down four runs to Clayton Kershaw in Game 5 of the World Series? No problem.
But of course, here we are in 2020, and the Astros are public enemy number one. Somehow, the Red Sox have escaped the clutches of the vast majority of this disdain, and I am not at all clear why. Perhaps it’s because Cora’s shenanigans are just more closely associated with the fact that they started in Houston? Or because the Red Sox’s scheme was not as “advanced” as Houston’s, specifically the Neanderthal-like acts of banging wooden baseball bats against plastic trash cans? Or could it just be that the Red Sox’s image is simply too precious to tarnish, while the Astros represent an easier and safer target?
There are many unanswered questions that will remain that way forever, and spoiled Yankees fans will always feel just in complaining that their team couldn’t buy the pennant away from Houston in two of the last three seasons (so naturally, they bought their best player this offseason, a pitcher who dominated them without cheating last year). The Dodgers can trade for Mookie Betts and David Price to add to a budding “super team,” yet their fans will have the gall to whine that it wasn’t their own shortcomings that cost them in 2017 and 2018, but rather outside forces that were out of their control and too powerful to stop.
Throw those asterisks around all you want. Heck, the Patriots won three Super Bowl titles before Spygate was revealed and people began to associate the organization with cheating. Deflategate happened, and then they won three more titles. As much as we wish those would be taken away, we live in a world where New England can continue to get away with their shady behavior and still maintain possession of their six Lombardi trophies. By that same token, let’s all lay off the Astros and realize that they were the best team in the world in 2017, and the best team in the American League in 2019, and move forward.
Easier said than done for Sabathia and Bellinger.