I firmly believe that sports are not a way of life but instead a form of both entertainment and community building. I have been a die-hard Astros fan since the early 80s and their run at the World Series with Mike Scott at the helm along with Nolan Ryan. It was devastating to watch them lose in ’86 to the Mets in 16 innings especially knowing Scott was going to be on the mound for game 7. My hope was renewed with the Killer B’s with Bagwell, Biggio, and Berkman. I thrilled at the defensive acumen of Ken Caminiti (z”l), and I enjoyed watching them finally slay the beast in the dreaded Atlanta Braves and St. Louis Cardinals before being swept by the White Sox in the 2005 World Series.
And then came the rebuilding. I went to an Astros vs. Orioles game in Camden Yards where the only name I recognized on the Astros roster was traded to the Orioles the night before. It was a tough time to be a fan, and I found my interest waning.
But then came 2015. This young, plucky team based on analytics and fearlessness pushed the eventual World Series Champs (Royals) to the brink before losing in 5 in the division series. But we knew our turn was coming soon.
Then came the magic of 2017. The Astros along with their newly acquired last minute ace in Verlander brought out the hopes and dreams of a city devastated by Hurricane Harvey. I celebrated and jumped for joy (quietly as everyone else was asleep) at nearly 1am EST! The Astros had finally done it. Like the Rockets before them, they finally brought a major league crown to my hometown. And more than that, my congregation made up of huge Mets and Yankees fans cheered alongside me, wishing me nothing but the best. My team were champions! I only knew this feeling with the Rockets and with the Longhorns. But never with a team that I followed since I was a child.
The World Series year was followed by the injuries and disappointments of the 2018 season before the Astros came within just a few outs of winning the World Series in October of 2019, which itself was tainted by the whole Taubman misogynist debacle.
Then came the revelation, the Astros are cheaters. I didn’t want to believe it. I wanted to condemn the words of Mike Fiers, but deep down I knew it must be true. But I awaited the commissioner’s report. While grocery shopping a friend texted me to tell me that the findings and punishments were released. After months of investigation, the Astros stood guilty of systemic cheating. As an aside, I for one am grateful to Mike Fiers and also whistleblowers. They risk everything to do what is right and are almost always condemned for their actions.
Are the Astros the only team that cheated? Of course not. As of the writing of this, the Red Sox are currently under investigation. The Yankees had already been punished for using technology to steal signs. And there are rumors swirling around other teams. But just because other teams have cheated does not defend the actions of my beloved Astros.
Now I could go on and on about how baseball has a technology problem that it is trying to sweep under the rug. I could go on and on that the MLB turned a blind eye to the steroid epidemic that both plagued and saved baseball whose repercussions reverberate to this very day or about the amphetamines so prevalent especially in the 70s and early 80s. But this does not justify what my team did.
Did they win in 2017 because they cheated, no one can say for sure, which is a huge part of the problem. Sports are supposed to be about hard work, determination, talent and drive: the best matching up against the best. Yes, all sports are flawed, and in some ways, they are reflective of the world in which we live. But they are also supposed to be aspirational, we see talented people do things we could never dream of doing. Cheating should never have been a part of the equation.
At this moment, I as a fan, am at a crossroads. Do I continue to root for a team that betrayed baseball and betrayed my trust as a fan? Do I find another team to root for? Or to I take a break from baseball altogether. And more importantly, how do I explain my decision to one of my children who has become as rabid a fan as I could hope for. It was amazing to share the experience of watching Verlander throw a no-hitter with my child, just like I enjoyed watching Mike Scott do so many years ago, when I was my child’s age. And now I have to talk to him about what it means to root for cheaters.
I have taken down my 2017 Championship sign. I will no longer wear my 2017 jersey, and it may be a long time before I purchase any more Astros paraphernalia, if ever.
Yes, the Astros as an organization and a team apologized today. But they have a lot of teshuva to do. Their actions hurt a lot of people and they are going to be paying a heavy price this season and probably for years to come. And rightfully so.
I still love my Astros and I wish them the best this season and I hope they play the right way. I have a lot of faith in Dusty Baker as a man of integrity, and that would be a start. But right now, I am hurt and angry. And if I ultimately decide to root for another team (I hear there is a pretty good team near me with a former Astros ace at the helm), I know I am not betraying my loyalty to the Astros. Instead they were the ones who betrayed me.