How much should we hate the cheating Astros?

Houston Astros catcher Brian McCann leaps in the arms of starting pitcher Charlie Morton after Game 7 of baseball's World Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2017, in Los Angeles. The Astros won 5-1 to win the series 4-3. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)
Caption
Houston Astros catcher Brian McCann leaps in the arms of starting pitcher Charlie Morton after Game 7 of baseball's World Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2017, in Los Angeles. The Astros won 5-1 to win the series 4-3. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Credit: Matt Slocum

Credit: Matt Slocum

The Braves are in the World Series. They’re playing the Astros. We need to talk about the Astros.

How much should we hate the Astros?

It’s a fact that the Astros cheated in 2017, the year they beat the Dodgers in the World Series. Tony Adams, an Astros fan whose findings can be found on signstealingscandal.com, watched every pitch of 58 home games and listened for the sound of a trashcan being thumped. As Adams told Jared Diamond of the Wall Street Journal: “It was obvious within 30 seconds that yeah, they did it.”

In January 2020, MLB — not exactly Johnny-on-the-spot — levied penalties. Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow and A.J. Hinch were banned for a year and fired by the team, though MLB declared the sign-stealing a “player-based” scheme.

Alex Cora, who in 2017 was the Astros’ bench coach, had since become Boston’s manager and, wouldn’t you know, led the Red Sox to the 2018 World Series title. That team was also found to have indulged in sign-stealing, though not to the same degree. Cora and the Red Sox agreed to separate. MLB banned him for the 2020 season. On Nov. 6, 2020, Cora was re-hired by Boston. The Red Sox reached the American League Championship Series, losing to Houston. Small world, huh?

In 2017, Carlos Beltran was an Astros’ player. He announced his retirement after the World Series. He was named as manager in November 2019 by the Mets. (We note, not for the first time, that the Mets never get anything right.) When he was identified by MLB as a leader in the Astros’ grand theft of signage, he and the Mets parted ways.

The reason no still-active players were penalized was because MLB agreed to a deal with its players’ union, trading immunity for answers. Hinch lost his job — he’s now managing the Detroit Tigers — because he, not being a player, had no such union. Luhnow sued the Astros. The case never went to trial, Luhnow and the Astros announcing they’d reconciled their differences. He’s still out of baseball.

As for the current Astros: They bear a strong resemblance to the Astros of 2017. Jim Crane stills owns the team. Jose Altuve stills plays second base. Carlos Correa remains the shortstop. Alex Bregman holds down third. Yuli Gurriel is the first baseman.

Crane told USA Today last week: “We got it pinned on us. We owned it. We took the penalty and we’re past that now.”

In other words, the team that stole signs en route to a championship — Adams couldn’t find evidence of sign-stealing in the 2017 postseason — has suffered enough, although the beneficiaries of the trashcan-banging haven’t suffered much beyond the hurt feelings that come from being heckled on the road, and even that experience was deferred. The COVID-shortened 2020 irregular season was staged without fans. The Astros got earfuls of this year, but sometimes, as G.K. Chesterton averred, justice delayed is justice denied.

Caption
Houston Astros Marwin Gonzalez (9) during a baseball game agains the Oakland Athletics Friday, Oct. 1, 2021, in Houston. (Michael Wyke/AP)

Credit: AP

Houston Astros Marwin Gonzalez (9) during a baseball game agains the Oakland Athletics Friday, Oct. 1, 2021, in Houston. (Michael Wyke/AP)
Caption
Houston Astros Marwin Gonzalez (9) during a baseball game agains the Oakland Athletics Friday, Oct. 1, 2021, in Houston. (Michael Wyke/AP)

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

Adams identifies George Springer and Marwin Gonzalez as the recipients of the most trashcan bangs. Springer is with the Toronto Blue Jays. Gonzalez has since done stints with Minnesota and Boston; he re-signed with Houston but hasn’t played this postseason. Adams lists Gonzalez as having had 136 at-bats with “correct bangs,” Springer with 131. Bregman had 125. Altuve, the face of the franchise, received 19. Some believe he opted out of the chicanery. Others think he might have gone so far as to wear a buzzer under his jersey to tip pitches.

The MVP of the 2021 ALCS was Yordan Alvarez, who made his Astros debut in 2019. Michael Brantley signed with Houston in December 2018. Can’t lump them with the cheaters. Nor can we summon outrage for the Houston pitchers, the whole point of the trashcan having been to warn hitters as to what manner of pitch — fastball or off-speed — was coming. (Key among the 2017 Houston pitchers: Charlie Morton.) Dusty Baker has managed the Astros the past two seasons, and he’s a former Brave who was a close friend of Hank Aaron’s. He’s also among the nicest men in the world.

If we’re going to hate the Astros — “hate” is a strong word, and we use it only in the trivial context of sports — we can’t make it a blanket thing. We need to target our ire. Oh, and Brian McCann and Evan Gattis, both distinguished Braves, received 41 and 67 “correct bangs” as 2017 Astros, respectively.

We can’t say the Astros didn’t know what they were doing, though MLB penalized Luhnow for not having made it clearer that stealing signs via electronic means — the trashcan was the blunt end of the plot — was impermissible. (Stealing of signs via the naked eye remains A-OK.) Baseball has a tradition, from spitballs to corked bats to PEDs to the more contemporary application of Spider Tack, of flouting the rules. Should we dislike the Astros because they happened to overdo it, or because they did it too well?

Full disclosure: I pulled for the Astros in the 2017 World Series. They’d arrived in Cobb County on the Fourth of July — it was the night Freddie Freeman came off the disabled list to play third base — and stacked 16 runs on the Braves. They were the most dynamic team I’d seen maybe ever. I might even have paid to watch those Astros, and here we note: The trashcan didn’t make road trips.

How much should we hate the Astros? Cheating isn’t good, duh, even though much of the world indulges. (When last did you drive 55 mph on the Perimeter?) And they did get away with it. Nobody stripped them, NCAA-style, of their 2017 championship banners. And they’re back again, and this time they’re playing a suddenly beloved band of Braves.

So maybe we should only strongly dislike these Astros. Even though we know what we know, it’s hard to despise anything connected with Dusty Baker. Besides, we’re running low on bile. The Braves just faced the Dodgers. Everybody hates the Dodgers.

Oh, and since you asked: Braves in six

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