The Houston Astros are good at baseball–even better when they know what pitches are coming–but they screw the pooch when it comes to crisis management.
Virtually everthing they’ve said and done as a team since first reporting for spring training last week has made a bad thing–using electronics to steal signs–infinitely worse because they lack contrition. Then again, as Los Angeles Times columnist Bill Plaschke puts it, “Listening to the Houston Astros attempt to show remorse for the sign-stealing scandal Thursday was like listening to a guy apologizing for stealing that shiny Cadillac still sitting in his driveway…it’s now his car, so why should he be sorry?”
I don’t know when doctors officially declared shame dead but it seemed to happen decades ago, rigor mortis having long since set in before the Astros displayed the most recent example of its demise. Their collective lack of humility and effort to twist the story in an effort to absolve some team members would be laughable if it wasn’t so pathetic.
Commissioner Rob Manfred is okay with the team keeping the 2017 World Series title, referring to the trophy itself as “a piece of metal.” Wow, Commish, glad you see the value in that thing all those teams spend all that effort on trying to win. Happy you appreciate how much fans would love to see one come to their hometown. Manfred only deepened the hole he’d dug for himself earlier Sunday by doubling down at a news conference that night, showing blatant contempt for reporters for doing what appears to be their job and for questioning Manfred’s abililty to do his.
Cubs star Kris Bryant is among many players coming down hard on the ‘Stros, calling their cheating “worse than steroids” in an interview with The Athletic. “Steroids, you still have to compete and hit the ball,” Bryant said. “When you know it’s coming–off of these pitchers with guys throwing in the upper 90’s with really good curveballs and sliders–you can totally formulate an unbelievable game plan.” He didn’t care for Houston’s “apology”, either. “What a disgrace that was,” Bryant adds. “Watching their apology…there’s no sincerity, there’s no genuineness when it comes to it.”
So much for players sticking up for players. In a game reknowed for its code of silence, for its all-for-one-and-one-for-all deportment, this qualifies as a major break with standing tradition.
The Astros as a team lost the benefit of the doubt long, long ago which makes theories about buzzers under jerseys quite believable and explanations involving partial tattoos downright laughable. There’s no bottom of the barrel to be reached with a club this devoid of shame, a team who’s only sorry about the fact it got caught.
And that’s why fans wanna make it hurt. They want justice. The heads of the manager and G-M aren’t enough, not when we’ve still got a whole bunch of empty spikes out there among the torches and pitchforks.
Take the title away? Alriight, so do we also pretend 2017 flat-out didn’t happen? The only time MLB did that was when, in fact, a World Series DIDN’T happen, which was when a strike shut the game down in the middle of the 1994 season. And, if you rescind the championship, do you also take away their American League pennant? How far back do things get walked?
It’s always intriguing to see how others deal with a similar situation. Enter the Union of European Football Associations, the governing body of soccer accross the continent. When it found out that one of the clubs under its purvue, Manchester City, was cooking its financial books it came down HARD, banning Man City from Champion’s League play for not one but two seasons. There’s also a 30 million Euro fine to be paid.
It’s doubtful MLB would do such a thing–if it won’t take away “a piece of metal”, how would it possibly force the Astros to go dark for a summer or two? But what if Commissioner Manfred grew a pair and did just that? Yes, innocent people in the front office who had nothing to do with the cheating scandal would be punished but then, that’s the consequence, one that serves as a future deterrent.
And, it’s not as if cheating is the only thing bad happening at Minute Maid Park. This is is the same Astros team that claimed to have a zero tolerance police when it came to domestic abusers, only to land the services of relief pitcher Roberto Osuna for the 2019 strech, a hurler accused of abusing the mother his his toddler. As if that wasn’t enough, a team exec would later scream, “I’m so f—–g glad we got Osuna!” at a group of female reporters in the locker room after a playoff-clinching Houston win. After denying at first that it happened, the club eventually showed said exec the door.
This is a team suffering from organizational rot. A season or two off to sit in the corner and collectively scrub its soul might not be the worst thing. Planet Baseball can keep spinning without the Astros, as it did before Houston got an MLB franchise in 1962.
It ain’t gonna happen, though. Manfred works for the owners, plain and simple, and he isn’t going to tell one of his bosses to sit in the penalty box. He and they will keep hoping that all this just goes away once the games start, first in the Cactus and Grapefruit leagues and then for keeps in late March. Sunshine is a great disinfectant. It’s also good at fading things, like curtains. And memories.
Yet, this story won’t go away, not as long as the Astros’ recent string of success continues. Each win will raise fresh questiions about the origins of the victory–was it a clutch hit, or was the bat swung on that certain pitch becaus the guy in the box knew he was about to be served up a fastball, information gleened from by dugout hijinks? It’ll resurface each and every time an opposing pitcher decides to put a pitch into a Houston player’s neck as a thank you, perhaps, from a former fellow hurler who lost his roster spot after facing the Astros during the time when the scandal was at its apex. Manfred pro-actively warned teams against doing just that this past weekend.
If only he were so pro-active in going after the real bad guys.