In preparation for a 2020 season that may or may not happen, I’m going around the major leagues and writing mean words about each team. This time, I’ll take on those no good, dirty cheaters: The Houston Astros.
Brief history of the franchise
They started out as the National League’s Colt .45s (arguably a better name) until 1965 when they were renamed the Astros. For their first 55 years of existence, they weren’t all that successful, failing to win a single World Series game. It took them until 2005 just to qualify for the Fall Classic, and once they got there, they were summarily swept by the Chicago White Sox.
Soon after, they endured a
tanking rebuilding process that saw them lose over 100 games for three straight seasons. By 2017, they had made themselves into a good team, but that championship remained elusive. So they tried a new tactic: Cheating.
This proved to be much more effective, and thanks to sign stealing and trash can banging, the Astros were finally able to break through and hoist the big trophy. After getting caught, they embarked on an apology tour this past offseason, in which they made it clear they were in fact very sorry, not sorry:
What happened in 2019
The Astros made it back to the World Series. It looked like they were going to win it again, but instead lost the final two games of the series at home to choke it away. For those keeping track at home, that made the Astros 0-4 at home in the series.
As it turns out, they might have been cheating again, but since the players - who have shown to be very against any form of cheating - have denied it, I guess we have to take their word for it.
Just please don’t rip Jose Altuve’s shirt off. Apparently his wife doesn’t like when people do that.
So, let me get this straight. Jose Altuve told his Astros teammates not to rip his shirt off after his 2019 ALCS walk-off home run because his wife didn't like it (even though he has multiple shirtless pictures on his Instagram) and because he got a bad tattoo. Got it. Got it. pic.twitter.com/2AQrsvdxks— Jared Carrabis (@Jared_Carrabis) February 15, 2020
After being exposed as dirty, rotten scoundrels, the Astros needed a scapegoat, and manager A.J. Hinch (along with general manager Jeff Luhnow) was a convenient choice. Needing a replacement, they went out and found the least offensive candidate possible: Dusty Baker.
Baker has been around forever, and much like the Astros, or at least in seasons in which they don’t cheat, he has yet to win a World Series. However, players seem to like him, and at his age, he probably wouldn’t even understand how to use technology to cheat if he wanted to.
On the other hand, given the whole pandemic thing, maybe having a septuagenarian manager isn’t the best idea.
#Astros Dusty Baker on managing during Covid pandemic: I’m a bit nervous. Has about 100 masks. Gloves too. But believes he’ll be OK.— Greg Bailey (@GregBailey13) June 24, 2020
The Astrodome and the inevitability of time
Just remember, kids: That super popular thing you like? The thing that is so cool that it will never go out of style? Guess what: Eventually, its going to be considered old and in need of replacement.
The Houston Astrodome is a great example. When it opened in 1965, it was unlike any other stadium in America. It was completely enclosed! It had artificial turf and a giant scoreboard. It could host both baseball AND football games! It seemed like the future was here, and some even dubbed the stadium the “Eighth Wonder of the World.”
The Astrodome, then unnamed, looks forward to the future as the, "Eighth Wonder of the World." c. 1964. pic.twitter.com/rMw9Tl5FFj— MLBcathedrals ⚾️ (@MLBcathedrals) December 28, 2013
Well, the years started coming, and they didn’t stop coming. By the mid-90’s, mega-stadiums were no longer en vogue. Retro-style parks like Camden Yards were now the hot thing, and Astrodome was considered an antique. Soon enough, the Astros wanted a retro-style stadium of their own, and after the 1999 season, they left the Astrodome behind.
Where did the Astros move to? The unfortunately named Enron Field. (This franchise really doesn’t get enough credit for its dysfunction.)
The Astros never won the World Series while the Astrodome was their home, but the stadium holds pretty good memories for the Phillies. Not only did they win the first regular season game even played there, but they also finally broke through to win the NLCS in 1980, in one of the greatest games in baseball history. For football fans, one of the Eagles’ most famous games also took place in the stadium.
Coincidentally, the Phillies were also the opponent for the Astros’ first game in their new home. And just like 35 years earlier, the Phillies opened the stadium with a victory.
Trivia question: Who was the winning pitcher in that game?
4/7/00 The Astros opened Enron Field with a 4-1 loss to the Phillies. 2014 marks the 15th season at Minute Maid Park. pic.twitter.com/4EnvkkSTSx— Mike Acosta (@AstrosTalk) April 7, 2014
What to expect in 2020
When you’re starting at a level of “Winning three games in the World Series,” there’s very little room to go anywhere but down. Even what that in mind, there’s almost zero chance the Astros aren’t worse in 2020. They lost ace pitcher Gerrit Cole, and while his absence will partly be offset by a full season of Zack Greinke, a team doesn’t just lose a pitcher as good as Cole and expect to improve.
More importantly, the Astros are going to be under the microscope to an extreme degree. They’re pretty much public enemy #1 among their peers, and will have their every move heavily scrutinized. Any time they succeed, people will wonder if the success is legitimate, or if they’ve just come up with another method of circumventing the rules.
There’s still a lot of talent on hand, so they’re still a good bet for the playoffs. But it feels as if their best chance for another championship has passed them by. Of course, there’s always the possibility that these shameless cheaters do actually figure out another way to gain an unfair advantage, and if that happens, then sure, another title is possible.