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Championship Series - Houston Astros v Boston Red Sox - Game Three
Sorry, Astros fans, you don’t ever get to stop hearing about this
Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

They only won when they cheated: A history of the Houston Astr*s

The Astros franchise has been a blight on baseball and humanity

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First there was the Houston Colt 45s. And they sucked.

When Major League Baseball expanded in 1962, they placed franchises in New York and Houston, and it soon became very clear what a mistake that was. The teams not only played poorly on the field, but the past sixty years have proven that the sport of baseball and the world itself would probably be better off had MLB decided to just stick with the status quo.

Three years after their creation, the Colt 45s were given a new name. And now fifty-seven years after that, the Houston Astros will be taking on the Phillies in the World Series. If they are successful in this endeavor, it would be the first championship the franchise earned without the benefit of blatant cheating.

I imagine that a few Astros fans might have found their way The Good Phight to get a Phillies perspective on the World Series. Based on the article’s title and the previous three paragraphs, you have probably realized that this is not going to be a complimentary re-telling of Astros history. If this upsets you, I suggest you stick to Astros-friendly sites.

You probably aren’t going to like what I’ve written about your favorite team, and you’ll likely get annoyed when I mention trash cans, buzzers, and how the Astros cheated their way to a championship. I’m sure you find those references to be beyond tired at this point, but all I can say is: Your team cheated to win, and you’re lucky the title wasn’t stripped from them. Asterisks fly forever.

However, I will refrain from writing, “Houston, we have a problem,” or some variation on that well-worn quote. You’re welcome.

With that said, I present to you the history of the Houston Astros!

The Colt .45s

When the Houston ownership was granted an expansion team, the owners held a contest to come up with a name for the team. To the surprise of nobody, the people of Texas chose to name the team after a gun.

The 1962 Mets are famous for being awful, which has served to overshadow that the .45s were pretty bad in their own right. They lost 96 games in each of their first three seasons.

New name, new stadium, same losing

After NASA’s Johnson Space Center opened in Houston in 1963, the city was nicknamed “Space City.” To tie in with this space theme, the city’s baseball team was given a new name and a new stadium.

The Astros new stadium - cleverly named the Astrodome - was deemed “The eighth wonder of the world,” which is stupid because it’s a sports stadium, and not even a great one. It was basically the same as all the other “cookie cutter” multi-use stadiums that were built around that time, but people got excited about this one simply because it had a roof.

Let’s be real here: Humanity has been putting roofs on things for a long time before the Astrodome, and nobody ever made that big a deal about it. And somehow, despite the presence of a roof, the Astros still found a way to have a game get cancelled due to rain.

Having a famous stadium didn’t translate into a lot of on-field success. In their 35 seasons at the park, the Astros only made the playoffs six times and never qualified for the World Series.

You can tell a lot about how successful a franchise has been by looking at the list of players whose numbers have been retired. The Astros’ list from the Astrodome era is not impressive. It includes two players who were honored only because they died tragically (Jim Umbricht, Don Wilson), and a bunch of guys who good players, but their Astros careers wouldn’t seem to merit having their numbers taken out of circulation.

I don’t necessarily agree with the Phillies’ “Hall of Fame only” policy for retiring numbers, but if the Astros adhered to that standard, they would mostly be retiring the numbers of players who were more famous for being on other teams. I bet you didn’t even realize most of these guys ever played for the Astros:

Wait, he was an Astro?

To its credit, the Astrodome was home to one of the greatest playoff series in history, an awesome Monday Night Football game, a famous little league game, and one of the best WrestleManias ever. So, it’s got that going for it.

Welcome to Enron Field Minute Maid Park

Even if its stadium was once deemed a “wonder of the world,” a sports team is eventually going to want a new one to bring in more money. The Astros began dropping hints in the 90s that the Astrodome no longer suited them as a stadium, and they’d like somebody to build them a new one. This eventually came to fruition in 2000, and as teams so often do, they sold the stadium naming rights to a corporation. The winning bid came from soon-to-be-disgraced energy company Enron.

The Astros quickly realized that being associated with a scandal-ridden bankrupt company probably wasn’t the best look, so they cut ties with Enron and sought a new sponsor. Eventually, they came to an agreement with Minute Maid, and the Astros became the second major league team to play in a stadium named after orange juice.

The Astros started to have on-field success thanks to actual Hall of Fame caliber players like Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio. The “Killer Bs” led the team all the way to the 2005 World Series, where they were promptly swept in four games by the Chicago White Sox.

The White Sox! That franchise hadn’t won a title since the Woodrow Wilson administration, and the Astros not only lost to them, but lost in four straight games, allowing them to celebrate on the Astros’ home field.

Well, I suppose it's nice that someone got to celebrate a World Series championship in Houston!

Tanking

As all players eventually do, the Astros stars grew old, and the Astros underwent a massive tanking rebuilding process. They traded away most of their good players - often times to the Phillies - and suffered three-straight 100-loss seasons. Theoretically, the on-field losing gave them better positioning in the draft, allowing them to stockpile good, young players. Some will argue that the Astros could have built up their farm system without blatantly tanking, and the massive cuts to player payroll were mostly done in the pursuit on saving ownership money.

The Astros’ subsequent success basically gave every other franchise in baseball an excuse to tank if they don’t consider themselves to be legitimate contenders. This is a big reason why there are very few .500 teams in baseball anymore. If a team doesn’t think they have a real chance at the World Series, they often actively make the team worse, figuring that a 100-loss team is better than an 81-loss one.

Front office types enjoy the strategy because they get to make a ton of draft picks and not feel any pressure to win in the short term. Owners love it because they get to save money. The only ones who lose are the fans who don’t want to endure a few years of their team being absolutely dreadful. (I’ve found that fans are more accepting if the tanking comes with a fun catchphrase.)

The Astros’ on-field product was so poor that when MLB decided to balance out its leagues before the 2013 season, the National League was happy to get rid of them.

The cheating champs

The Astros’ fortunes improved upon facing the lesser competition in the American League. They returned to the playoffs in 2015, but they fell to the Kansas City Royals in the ALDS. After missing the playoffs the following year, they captured their first ever World Series championship in 2017.

Thanks to their “bold” rebuilding strategy, the Astros became the darlings of baseball. That admiration didn’t last long as a couple of years after their championship, it was discovered that their success was at least partly due to cheating.

Somehow, the Astros title wasn’t invalidated and none of the players involved received any punishment. But at least the owner said he was sorry, even if the cheating didn’t actually impact the game...unless it did?

In 2020, there were rumors that the Astros were still cheating by using buzzers to signal their hitters. These accusations have never been proven, and the Astros players have universally denied them. But what would you expect them to say?

Astros fans will point to the fact that the team just played in its sixth straight American League Championship Series as proof that they didn’t need to cheat to win. Everyone else will respond that the Astros have fallen short every season since they were caught red handed, so maybe they did?

In summary

The Phillies have been the losingest franchise in baseball, but the only harm they’ve done is to the mental well-being of their fans. Compare that to the list of atrocities the Astros franchise has inflicted upon the world:

  • Promoting gun use
  • Kicking off a trend of charmless, ugly, multi-purpose stadiums
  • Selling their stadium rights to one of the most notorious companies in American history
  • Making tanking an acceptable strategy
  • Cheating to win

I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that Major League Baseball - and America itself - would have been better off if the Houston Astros never existed. For the sake of our nation, the Phillies need to ensure that the Astros once again fall short of a World Series championship.

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