Dodgers and Rays in the World Series Proves that Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus

Next week the Hallmark family of cable networks will start their yearly rock block of festive holiday movies. No, I am not talking about Halloween movies, harvest movies, or even Thanksgiving movies.

Instead, the channels that were founded on one sentence greeting cards, ornaments, and conservative Midwestern values, will be blasting Christmas movies day and night for the next two months.

I am certainly guilty of watching my share of Hallmark movies throughout the year. I enjoy the way they can take three original story ideas that someone had 20 years ago and turn them into 40-50 “new” movies each year. However, the past few years have shown that there comes a point where there can be too many “filmed over the course of one weekend while still writing the script” movies.

I get that people could use a little Christmas right this very minute, but starting Christmas in October seems a tad extreme even by 2020 standards.

In that spirit of fast forwarding to Christmas without acknowledging the holidays in between Columbus Day and Christmas, today’s column will have a gingerbread inspired coming down the chimney and opening presents on Christmas day, and not Christmas Eve kind of feel to it with some Reece’s Peanut Butter pumpkins thrown in for good measure.

And with a tug on the old sleigh bells, away we go.

In 1897 The New York Sun received as letter from a girl named Virginia who wanted to know whether there was indeed a real Santa Claus after being told by some of her classmates that there was not.  Open consulting her father on the matter she wrote the newspaper with the rationale being, that if she saw it printed in the paper it must be true.

In 1897 The New York Sun received as letter from a girl named Virginia who wanted to know whether there was indeed a real Santa Claus. Here rationale being, that if she saw it printed in the newspaper it must be true.
Photo R. Anderson

Ah, such a simpler time when the media was trusted and not actively called the enemy of the press by an angry man who may or may not have daddy issues.

But I digress.

Back to Virginia and her letter. In the eloquently written style of 19th Century journalistic prose, an editorial response to her letter concluded that, “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus! It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence.”

Words to live by in 1897, as well as in 2020.

Just like Virginia back in 1897, I was beginning to question things as the 2020 baseball season was winding down. I have made it clear since January that I am disgusted at what the Houston Astros did in 2017 when they cheated their way to a World Series title.

The fact that the Astros were one win away from their third trip to the World Series in four years a few short days ago made me question whether Baseball Claus existed and made me question my very lifelong baseball fandom going so far as to utter the words that if the Astros won the World Series baseball and I would need to break up for a t least a year since I could not be around such evil.

Granted, it was a tad over dramatic on my part and likely the result of not having any off days between games but I was certainly wondering why Baseball Claus had forsaken us.

For those unfamiliar with Baseball Claus, he is the guy who makes sure that the National Pastime remains as it should and that cheaters don’t prosper. He is also the guy who makes sure Ballparks never run out of hot dogs and nachos.

Just like every Hallmark Christmas movie worth its gingerbread features at least one scene in a Gazebo, Baseball Claus ensures teams that cheat get a lump of coal in their trash can. At least in the Houston Astros case they can use the coal to power the train in Minute Maid Park.
Photo R. Anderson

Sadly, Baseball Claus was at his beach house in January when the penalties for the Astros were handed down.

I have no doubt that if Baseball Claus had been in his office at Major League Baseball (MLB) headquarters in New York City when the cheating report came out, he totally would have insisted that players on the Astros be suspended, or maybe even banned them from baseball for their roles in the season long cheating.

So, I gave Baseball Claus a pass on that one. I mean as a fellow lover of beach houses and time away from the office, I certainly cannot fault him for taking some time to himself on the sugar sand shores. I am sure he must have dropped his phone in the water and was unreachable when the cheating scandal broke.

My belief in Baseball Claus was tested once again when the COVID-19 pandemic struck and a decision was made to roll the dice and play a 60-game regionally based schedule in order to crown a World Series champion.

This time around, I chalked up the lack of response to stop the season by Baseball Claus to him being up north visiting his brother, Hockey Claus. Surely, had Baseball Claus not been trapped north of the border he would have stepped in. Of course, Baseball Claus did make his presence felt in Canada when he told the Toronto Blue Jays they had to play their season in America to avoid bringing more COVID-19 to the land of poutine and maple syrup.

After potentially being cheated out of World Series titles in 2017 and 2018, the Los Angeles Dodgers are returning to the World Series for the third time in four years. Unlike in previous years, Dodger Stadium will not host any of those games.
Photo R. Anderson

So, while I could excuse those two failures to intervene  by Baseball Claus when we really needed him, the run up to the World Series had me truly concerned for his health.

Was Baseball Claus in witness protection? Had he succumbed to COVID-19 like nearly 220,000 Americans? There really were more questions than answers as the aforementioned cheating Houston Astros came closer and closer to going to the World Series for the third time in four years.

I had pen in hand ready to write a letter to the editor like Virginia had so many years ago to ask whether there really was a Baseball Claus; and then Game 7 of the American League Championship Series set everything right.

The Tampa Bay Rays defeated the Houston Astros and punched their ticket to the World Series. One has to wonder whether the Houston Astros punched a trash can in the dugout in frustration after the loss.

Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, FL. host the Tampa Bay Rays first World Series game in 2008. The Rays second trip to the World Series will not include a trip to the Trop thanks to COVID-19.
Photo R. Anderson

I know I have been hard on the Astros this year. Upon further reflection I know what they could have done to have tempered the rage I directed at them.

Had the players acted more contrite and shown genuine remorse for their actions in 2017 I would have been more likely to forgive sooner rather then later. Don’t get me wrong, I would have still been angry, but I likely would have been less angry.

Instead, the players tried to play the role of victim and seemed in many cases to be more concerned about the fallout in terms of their brand then in the fallout of breaking the hearts of little Virginias that rooted for them. I saw no genuine remorse or acknowledgment that what they did was wrong. Instead, I saw players who were merely inconvenienced that they got caught.

As stated many times, the Houston Astros were the biggest winners in 2020 since they never had to face fans in the stands during the regular season. The few interactions with fans in Spring Training games before the world shut down showed the type of visceral anger they would have encountered all season long

Of course, in talking with some Astros fans over the course of the last nine months, some of them don’t seem to really care that the Astros cheated, and just wanted the Astros to win no matter what.

The divide among baseball fans in Houston is indicative of the divide within the United States as a whole on many issues like, climate change, COVID-19, the designated hitter, fans in stands, mask wearing, blue states, red states, etc.

If the divide within the United States was a canyon, right now it would be so far across that even Evel Knievel couldn’t jump it with a souped up rocket bike.

The Astros are done for the year and the Tampa Bay Rays and the Los Angeles Dodgers are set to battle it out for World Series immortality. The two teams with the best records all season long are going head to head as it should be.
Photo R. Anderson

Yes, all of you fans of baseball played without the aid of cameras and trash cans there is indeed a Baseball Claus even in this topsy turvy upside down pandemic ravaged year of 2020.

The Astros are done for the year and the Tampa Bay Rays and the Los Angeles Dodgers are set to battle it out for World Series immortality. The two teams with the best records all season long are going head to head as it should be. Maybe Hallmark was right to start their holiday movie madness in October, since I certainly received a gift of an awesome World Series match up under my Hallowgivingmas tree.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to fill out my Hallmark holiday movie bracket. I think the grand prize this year is a trip to Kansas City to see where the one sentence at a time greeting card magic happens. If I am lucky, I might even get to see a holiday movie written and filmed over the course of an afternoon. I hope it has a gazebo scene.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

Rays and Astros Set to Battle for the American League Pennant

“So, Lord Helmet, at last we meet again for the first time for the last time.”

For reasons that only Mel Brooks knows, the above quote from the 1987 movie Spaceballs came to my mind when it became clear that the Tampa Bay Rays and the Houston Astros would once again cross schwartzs, I mean paths, in the Major League Baseball (MLB) postseason.

Last year, the Rays lost to the Astros in the American League Division Series (ALDS). The Astros went on to the World Series where they were defeated by the Washington Nationals. This year, the teams face off in the American League Championship Series (ALCS) with the winner earning a pennant as well as a golden ticket to the 2020 World Series to face either the Atlanta Braves or Los Angeles Dodgers.

The Tampa Bay Rays and Houston Astros are set to face off in the American League Championship Series. The winner will advance to the World Series.
Photo R. Anderson

In any other year, I would be torn between rooting for the Rays, or rooting for the Astros. In 2020, I am rooting for the Rays all the way. Additionally, I hope that the Rays sweep the Astros en route to their second World Series appearance in franchise history.

The Rays finished with the second-best record in baseball behind the Dodgers and have roster depth that most teams can only dream of. The Astros finished the regular season with a losing record and feelings of disdain from 29-other teams.

As noted before, the Astros truly were the luckiest team in baseball in 2020 by not having to face fans in opposing Ballparks after it was revealed in January that the Astros cheated for much of the 2017 season.

The year 2020 has taken so much and given so little. Were 2020 to give us a season ending with the Houston Astros in the World Series, after it began with the Astros getting caught cheating, that would truly be a bridge too far.

Of course, I say that in jest since comparing the horrors of the Astros hoisting a World Series trophy after getting caught cheating to the horrors of COVID-19 is truly no comparison.

Although the Tampa Bay Rays are four wins away from appearing in their second World Series Tropicana Field will not host any of the games.
Photo R. Anderson

The global COVID-19 pandemic has truly been the story of 2020, as has the inability of the federal government to devise a coordinated way to stop a disease that has killed over 214,000 Americans in a little over eight months. But there will be time enough for counting the failures of COVID-19 response when the pandemic’s done.

For now, it is time to look ahead to the prospect of the Tampa Bay Rays carrying the baton for the Sunshine State while acknowledging that as much as I am thrilled at the prospect of the Rays being eight wins away from winning the World Series, I still remain convinced that the risks of playing baseball in the middle of a global health crisis well outweighed the benefits of getting to see live baseball in empty Ballparks.

Despite my reservations about having a season, MLB is a mere two weeks away from pulling off what many, including me, thought was impossible. So, whether they were just lucky, or if they were in fact good at mitigating COVID-19, I tip my Rays ball cap at MLB for doing what I certainly did not think they could do.

MLB overcame players testing positive and whole teams getting put in timeout for a week in their 60-game sprint to the postseason. They even expanded the number of postseason teams to 16 which allowed a Houston Astros team with a losing regular season record to now be eight wins away from a World Series title.

I would love to see the Rays return to the World Series for the first time since 2008 and finally be able to hang a World Series Championship banner along the catwalks of Tropicana Field.
Photo R. Anderson

Some of the COVID-19 season changes, like expanded playoffs, and the universal designated hitter, may even become permanent fixture to baseball as MLB continues to try to tweak the game to appeal to a younger, fickler, shorter attention span, artisanal audience.

While MLB ultimately overcame their early season trials and tribulations, the National Football League (NFL) is facing the same challenges that MLB faced early in their season. Players are catching COVID-19, and games are being postponed. There is even talk that the pause button may need to be pressed on the entire NFL season to allow time to get a handle on outbreaks.

Like MLB before them, the NFL thumbed their noses at the idea of bubbles and decided to let teams travel from stadium to stadium. While MLB kept fans out of their Ballparks for the regular season, the NFL is allowing some fans to watch the games in person.

It should be noted that MLB announced plans to allow fans to watch the World Series in person in an attempt to act like there is not a global public health crisis sweeping the nation. Allowing fans in the stands offers the same containment efficiency that one might have when trying to comb the desert, or rake a national forest.

If sports must be played, there is no reason why they cannot be played in empty Ballparks and stadiums. Even if years without a global pandemic attendance at sporting events was already declining as more and more people chose rooting at home to battling traffic and crowds just to have the in-person experience at the game.

Sports will certainly be changed from this experience in the coming years. What the new experience looks like remains to be seen. For now, there is baseball to watch as the 2020 MLB season draws near the end and the Tampa Bay Rays strive to join the Tampa Bay Lightning in bringing a 2020 title to the Tampa Bay region.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I am off to decide which order I want to wear my Rays shirts in next week. Rays Up!

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

Oakland A’s Clinch the West While the Tampa Bay Rays are One Win Away from Clinching the East

The shortened 2020 Major League Baseball (MLB) regular season is heading into the final innings.

This means teams are jockeying for postseason positioning in the expanded playoffs that promise to look like nothing that has been witnessed before; based on among other things neutral site fan free bubble games played in the middle of a global COVID-19 pandemic that has killed over 200,000 Americans.

From the beginning, I have held firm that I do not believe that a 2020 MLB season has any business occurring during a global COVID-19 pandemic. Nothing that could happen this season will change that opinion.

However, since a 2020 MLB season is being played, there are some things that have made me smile during the 2020 COVID-19 season.

During this year of pandemics, wildfires, hurricanes, murder hornets, rare mosquito borne illnesses, coin shortages, and rudderless federal leadership, it is important to remember to smile now and then and enjoy the sweet, sweet irony when it rolls around.

Such was the case when I read that the Oakland A’s captured the American League West Division title and the Tampa Bay Rays are a win away from capturing the American East Division title.

While I am more excited about the prospect of the Rays winning a World Series, I have to admit the A’s taking the division title away from the Houston Astros sounded about as sweet as a Louisville Slugger playing a dugout trash can like an 808 drum in the club.

While I am more excited about the prospect of the Rays winning a World Series, I have to admit the A’s taking the division title away from the Houston Astros sounded about as sweet as a Louisville Slugger playing a dugout trash can like an 808 drum in the club.

Although the Astros will likely still make the playoffs, I take great solace that in a season where their cheating was revealed, they did not capture a division title.

For anyone who may have forgotten, right before the start of Spring Training 1.0, the MLB Commissioner’s office announced that the Astros had been caught cheating during the 2017 season. The cheating scheme came to light when former player, Mike Fiers, outlined the plan to a pair of journalists after leaving the Astros.

Watergate had Woodward, Bernstein and Deep Throat. Trashcangate had Rosenthal, Drelich, and Fiers.

The fact that the person who blew the trash can lid off of the cheating happens to play for the Oakland A’s makes the situation even sweeter.

Although three managers and a general manager were fired, many people, including myself, feel that the Houston Astros players got off too lightly for their roles in the cheating that occurred during the 2017 season. So, since no players were suspended or fined, the next best punishment would be for the Astros season to end as quickly as possible and without any postseason victories.

In another sweet dose of irony, Minute Maid Park was chosen as one of the four neutral site bubbles for the postseason and will host two of the four National League Division Series. The World Series will take place in the Texas Rangers brand new Ballpark in Arlington, TX.

Assuming the Astros make the playoffs, they will play in either San Diego or Los Angeles. Fingers crossed that they play in Los Angeles and some snarky clubhouse manager leaves them some welcoming messages in their lockers from the Dodgers.

Assuming the Astros make the playoffs, they will play in either San Diego or Los Angeles. Fingers crossed that they play in Los Angeles and some snarky clubhouse manager leaves them some welcoming messages from the Dodgers.
Photo R. Anderson

The Dodgers were most likely cheated out of a World Series title against the Astros in 2017. Based on the bad blood that has boiled during the match ups between the teams this year I am sure any messages left in the clubhouse would be illuminating.

Now, some people may think that I am being too harsh on the Astros. Perhaps 2019 me would have agreed with that statement. But, 2020 me has no patience for rewarding cheaters like the Astros.

That is not to say that the Oakland A’s are totally in the clear in terms of cheating in their history. One need only look at the Bash Brothers of Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire who were teammates on the Athletics for seven seasons; which included a World Series title in 1989.

Both McGwire and Canseco were tied to statistic enhancing steroid use that has kept them out of the Baseball Hall of Fame; along with many other players tied to the MLB steroid era.

As I have noted before, although a player enhanced with steroids is likely to hit more home runs, they still have to be able to recognize the pitch and know when to swing at the ball. A player who is tipped off on what pitch is coming, is a whole other level of cheating, especially when an entire lineup is taking part.

So, I contend that the team that brought the baseball world sabermetrics, Moneyball, and the Bash Brothers is not without their own past controversies. However, I will take the Oakland Athletics alleged indiscretions and crimes against baseball over the acts of the 2017 Houston Astros any day of the week.

Austin Meadows started the 2020 season in COVID-19 quarantine. He may end the season on the injured list. While Meadows may not be in the lineup, the Rays have the roster that could lead them deep into the postseason.
Photo R. Anderson

But enough about the American League West and the Astros. I grew up a fan of the American League East and that is where my true allegiance resides.

The Tampa Bay Rays have done what the Tampa Bay Rays do. Not only have the Rays survived one of the toughest divisions in baseball, they have thrived with the best record in the American League.

I would love to see the Rays return to the World Series for the first time since 2008 and finally be able to hang a World Series Championship banner along the catwalks of Tropicana Field.

Hopefully if the Rays do end up winning it all this year the world will open in time for me to travel to the Trop next season to watch the celebration as they kick off the defense of their title.

Back to back wins by the Washington Nationals and the Tampa Bay Rays would certainly make this Maryland born, and Florida raised writer extra happy.

Watching the Astros implode down the stretch would be another source of happiness. There may come a day when I cheer for the Astros again but that day will not be in 2020, nor do I think that day will be in 2021.

I would love to see the Rays return to the World Series for the first time since 2008 and finally be able to hang a World Series Championship banner along the catwalks of Tropicana Field.
Photo R. Anderson

The sad fact is the Astros would have been a good team even if they hadn’t cheated, but they got greedy and took shortcuts to be even better.

There are no shortcuts in life, baseball, or pandemic responses.

Anyone who tells you otherwise is likely in denial, or running for reelection from an echo chamber in a bunker beneath a large white house near the Potomac River.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some Rays playoff baseball to prepare for.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

Remembering Milo Hamilton Five Years After His Death

Thursday, September 17th marks the fifth anniversary of the passing of Hall of Fame Broadcaster Milo Hamilton, the long-time radio announcer for the Houston Astros.

While I no longer support the Houston Astros, I have fond memories of the years I spent listening to Milo Hamilton back when I did root root root for the Astros. Whether it was listening to games from home, or listening to the last innings of a game while driving home from the Ballpark, Milo Hamilton was as much a part of my Houston Astros traditions, as buying cotton candy from my favorite Ballpark vendor.

It is fair to say that I am not the only one who felt that the world of baseball grew a little dimmer with the passing of Milo Hamilton. His calls of “Holy Toledo” echoed from a record 59 Major League Baseball Ballparks during a nearly six-decade career.

Although he is gone, Milo Hamilton, shown in bobblehead form will live on in the memories of generations of fans and in the archives of the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Photo R. Anderson

As one of the last of the golden era of announcers, Milo Hamilton worked for the St. Louis Browns (1953), St. Louis Cardinals (1954), Chicago Cubs (1956-57, 1980-84), Chicago White Sox (1962-65), Atlanta Braves (1966-75), Pittsburgh Pirates (1976-79) and the Houston Astros (1985-2012).

Milo’s 60 years broadcasting Major League Baseball games is second only to Los Angeles Dodgers’ broadcaster Vin Scully who finished his career with 67 years in the booth.

Although retiring from full time broadcast work in 2012, Milo remained a special ambassador for the Astros and made several on field appearances up until June of 2015.

While Milo’s career encompassed half of the 20th Century, and 12 years of the 21st Century, I did not discover him until 2000 when I moved to Houston, and listened to him regularly until his last broadcast in 2012.

Those 12 seasons of listening to Milo helped me feel a connection to a forgotten era of broadcasting. Milo had a relaxed style that captured the action on the field with a conversational ease that few broadcasters can get right.

One of Milo Hamilton’s final appearances at Minute Maid Park occurred om April 18, 2015 when he honored the 50th Anniversary of the Astros partnering with NASA.
Photo R. Anderson

Although I read many books on Red Barber, Vin Scully and other great baseball broadcasters of the Golden Age, until listening to Milo, I never had the opportunity to hear one of them live.

Milo Hamilton was the first of the old-school broadcasters I heard call a game live, but he was not the only one. I had the chance to listen to Vin Scully call a few games before he retired. During a trip to Dodgers stadium in Vin Scully’s final year before he retired I even caught a glimpse of him in the press box. There will likely never be a pair of announcers like Milo Hamilton and Vin Scully again.

With his Blue Star light shining brightly from the press box whenever a player did something spectacular, Milo was Houston’s version of Vin Scully. Like Scully, Milo was an announcer who had seen decades of changes within the game of baseball from behind his microphone and had entertained generation upon generation of fans.

Although Milo Hamilton was known by generations of fans in Houston, one of his most famous calls took place in Atlanta. That memorable moment, which is forever housed in the Baseball Hall of Fame archives, is the radio call of Henry “Hank” Aaron’s record-breaking 715th home run in 1974.

The call by Milo Hamilton of Hank Aaron’s home run goes as such, “Here’s the pitch by Downing. Swinging. There’s a drive into left-center field. That ball is going to be … out of here! It’s gone! It’s 715! There’s a new home run champion of all-time! And it’s Henry Aaron!”

Milo Hamilton signs an autograph during the 2014 Astros Fan Fest.
Photo R. Anderson

Ironically Milo Hamilton was behind the microphone capturing history in Houston when Barry Bonds tied Hank Aaron’s record in 2001.

As noted before, that record tying night by Barry Bonds also marked my first trip to see an Astros game in person. Although the night later became tainted by the drama surrounding Bonds’ alleged steroid use, it was definitely a fun way to visit a new Ballpark.

Other memorable calls made by Milo Hamilton include calling 11 no hitters as well as being on the call for Nolan Ryan’s 4,000th strike out in 1985.

Milo Hamilton was also there to cover the first trip the Houston Astros made to the World Series in 2005. When the Astros won the World Series in 2017, I thought of how much Milo Hamilton would have loved to have experienced that.

Later, when the Astros were busted for cheating during the 2017 season, I once again thought of Milo Hamilton and wondered how he would have addressed both the cheating, and the upside down 2020 MLB season.

With so many changes to how the game is being played in 2020, it would be interesting to have had the opportunity to hear Milo Hamilton’s take on things like fan free Ballparks, the universal DH, playoffs in a bubble, and pretty much everything else that has made 2020 a season like no other.

While Milo Hamilton was not around to see the Astros defeat Vin Scully’s Dodgers in 2017, one has to wonder whether he had a view with his trusty blue star from a heavenly sky box.

It is inevitable that the game of baseball continues to move on. As such, it is important to take time to remember those shoulders that the game is built upon.

Old baseball announcers are a lot like World War II veterans. There aren’t too many of them left, and we owe them all a debt of gratitude for the ways that they made our lives better through hard work and sacrifice.

If only that spirit of sacrifice and determination was more wide spread today. If it were, we would likely have a better handle on COVID-19 and all of the other issues that are plaguing us in 2020. We might even be worthy of a blue star shining brightly from a press box if we had had a clear national strategy, or coordinated response, to a virus that has killed nearly 200,000 Americans with no sign of stopping.

Earlier this year, I said that COVID-19 was spreading coast to coast like a wildfire. Now, we have real wildfires plaguing the western United States, hurricanes plaguing the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, as well as COVID-19 to form a terrible triple play of death and destruction.

The year 2020 has definitely been a handful to deal with, but reflecting on the fond memories of listening to Milo Hamilton provides some brief distraction from our infected, flammable dumpster fire of a year.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I feel like rereading Milo Hamilton’s autobiography and remembering a simpler time when the Houston Astros weren’t considered cheaters, and food poisoning was the only thing I had to worry about catching when eating inside a restaurant.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

Tanking Goes Mainstream as More Teams Ask Fans to Pay for Subpar Product now in Order to Reap Benefits Later

It has been said that it is not whether you win or lose, it is how you play the game that counts. For most people, this means playing as hard as possible, and knowing that win or lose, the best effort was given.

For other people, playing the game involves tanking in the present to improve the future. While there is no one way to tank, some tanking techniques include resting top-level players, building a roster of journeymen players, or encouraging players to leave a little in the tank and not go all out on every play.

By tanking, teams lower their season win/loss records, which leads to higher draft picks. Since most sports leagues give higher draft picks to teams with the worst records, the harder one tanks, the higher they draft. Tank multiple seasons in a row and a team can quickly build a roster of future All-Stars.

Of course, if multiple teams are trying to tank within the same season, than teams can find themselves not in a pennant race to be the best, but in a competition to be the worst. In 2019, four Major League Baseball teams finished with over 100 losses as part of their “rebuilding” process.

Tanking not a new to sports. What is new, is the openness some teams now have to telling their fans, and anyone else who is listening, that they are in “rebuilding mode.” The length of rebuilding varies by market and sport, but the usual length of a rebuild is about three to five years.

That is three to five seasons where fans are asked to accept a subpar product in order to potentially gain an advantage at the end of the rebuilding process. There is no guarantee that tanking will lead to success, but enough teams have succeeded at it that it remains a tool for some franchises to utilize in order to shortcut success.

The Houston Astros are considered one of the forefathers of tanking. The Astros used a tanking philosophy of accepting multiple 100 plus loss seasons from 2011-2013 as a means to secure draft picks. For their efforts of tanking to rebuild the farm system, the Astros won the World Series in 2017. That victory became tainted when the team was caught cheating through an investigation by the MLB Commissioner’s office. So, the actual benefits of tanking their way to a title could be equally owed to a well-placed trash can and video camera.

Proponents of tanking say that a few bad seasons are worth it if they can secure enough prospects to have five good seasons where they can make a World Series run.

The Houston Astros are considered one of the forefathers of tanking. The Astros used a tanking philosophy of accepting multiple 100 plus loss seasons from 2011-2013 as a means to secure draft picks. As one can imagine there were a lot of empty seats in Minute Maid Park during those losing seasons.
Photo R. Anderson

From an ethical perspective, no matter how you slice it tanking is wrong. People will try to justify tanking, but at the end of the day, there is no way one can say tanking is good for the sport.

Tanking cheats the fans of getting to see a competitive game, and it forces players to decide if they want to go along with the plan knowing that many of them will be replaced by the higher draft picks that their tanking efforts generate.

Teams who tank claim that it is the only way they can be competitive with the bigger market teams since they cannot outspend teams to build a roster of All-Star free agents each season.

It is certainly true that there will always be teams with higher payrolls and bigger stars. However, the Tampa Bay Rays, and others, have shown that by drafting smarter and working within their means, they can be competitive year after year without having to resort to “blowing up the roster” and starting over.

When fans buy a ticket to see a game, they are supporting the players on the field on that day. They are not spending money to watch people not play hard so that two to three years down the road a team can be a success.

There is a difference between resting a star player on a particular day, versus a season free of star players or teams trying hard not to win. Players deserve to take a day off here and there. Players should not take whole seasons off in terms of giving maximum effort.

In all sports, there is only one champion in any given year. Teams need to know that not everyone will get a championship ring, but everyone can act like a champion on the field through playing fair and hard.

The practice of tanking needs to be curtailed to preserve the sanctity of sport. Teams that are caught tanking should have their draft picks either taken away, or moved to later in the first round to avoid any benefits being derived from tanking. As long as tanking produces results in the form of high draft picks, teams will continue to engage in the unethical practice.

When steroids were discovered to be widespread in Major League Baseball, steps were taken to punish players found to be cheating. The same type of penalty needs to be handed out to organizations caught tanking.

For their efforts, the Astros rebuilding process gave them a core of young talent. In turn that talent devised a cheating scandal involving trash cans and video cameras proving that some teams really will stop at nothing to gain an advantage, whether that be tanking to rebuild, or tipping off pitches to win a World Series.

To me, there is no difference between willingly accepting years of rebuilding to build a better roster, and cheating with trash cans. Both approaches cheat fans out of seeing sports at its finest. For fans of the Houston Astros, they had the misfortune of enduring seasons of rebuilding only to have the legitimacy of the resulting World Series title called into question thanks to player greed.

I supported the Astros during those rebuilding years, and cheered for their roster of underdog ballplayers both in person and on television. I will take that roster of journeymen who were just happy to get to go to the Ballpark and play every day over the roster of cheaters that followed.

I don’t need my teams to win every year in order for me to feel a season is a success. If I did, I would have stopped cheering for the Baltimore Orioles a long time ago.
Photo R. Anderson

I don’t need my teams to win every year in order for me to feel a season is a success. If I did, I would have stopped cheering for the Baltimore Orioles a long time ago.

What I do need are players who try their best and know that it is the game they are playing now that matters and not some magical roster that will be built years down the road.

Sports will never be perfect. They are messy and complicated due to the presence of messy and complicated individuals. However, those messy and complicated individuals need to act ethically and look for advantages within the lines and not try to shortcut the system by working outside the lines.

I have noted many times that the Houston Astros caught a break this season by not having to play in front of fans booing them this season. Just because the fans aren’t there to boo in person does not mean that the Astros get off the hook. What they did was wrong and that shame should follow the players who took part in it for the rest of their lives.

What good is a rebuild if to find success one has to sell their soul? That is a question that more and more teams will have to answer until professional sports leagues put their foot down to punish tanking.

Now if you’ll excuse me, all of this talk about rebuilding has me in the mood to build a sandwich that would make Dagwood jealous.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

Dodgers Show That Even in a Global COVID-19 Pandemic Revenge is a Dish Best Served with Some Chin Music

Earlier this week the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Houston Astros faced off for the first time since the Astros were caught cheating with their hands in the proverbial trash can.

The cheating goes back to the 2017 season when the Dodgers lost to the Astros in the World Series. Looking back at those games, an argument can definitely be made that the Dodgers could have added another oversized World Series Ring to their plaza of honor at Dodger Stadium had it not been for a video camera, a bat, and a trash can.

With many people thinking that the Astros players got off way too easily in terms of punishment for their cheating, the 2020 season was expected to be a season long opportunity for players and fans who felt wronged by the Astros to show their displeasure.

As I noted a few months back, the fan-free season during COVID-19 made the Astros the biggest winners of 2020, since fans cannot boo them when they come to town. On can only imagine how loud a completely full Dodger Stadium would have been with fans booing in unison with every Astros at bat.

A year after being cheated out of their first World Series title in nearly 30 years, a lone trash can is seen in front of a mural commemorating the titles the Dodgers have won. It is quite possible that were it not for the sounds coming off of a trash can, the Los Angeles Dodgers would have a fresh coat of paint on the World Series title mural, as well as a new entry for 2017. Instead, they are left with wondering what might have been had the playing field been level.
Photo R. Anderson

While fans in Ballparks have been limited to cardboard representations, the players for the other teams are still free to enforce the unwritten rules of the game, which made the Astros versus Dodgers game must see TV.

After Dodgers reliever Joe Kelly threw a pitch in the area of the head of Alex Bregman, and later taunted Carlos Correa in the sixth inning in game one of a two game series, a good old-fashioned bench clearing brawl occurred.

For his part in the somewhat masked, but totally not socially distanced melee, Kelly was suspended for eight games by MLB. Dodgers manager Dave Roberts received a one-game suspension.

The Dodgers ended up with the last laugh as they won both games of the series by scores of 5-2 and 4-2, respectively.

While the Dodgers won the series, they also exposed the mismanagement of the cheating scandal by MLB. Yes, to be fair, three MLB managers lost their jobs due to ties to the scandal, and the Astros fired their General Manager. But many fans and players maintain that the punishment did not go far enough since former Astros skipper, A.J. Hinch, wasn’t the one playing a trash can in the dugout like a bass drum to let hitters know what pitch was coming.

Just to make sure this point comes across, players who were caught cheating for an entire season were given zero suspensions for their actions, but a pitcher for the team that many argue was cheated out of the 2017 World Series title is given an eight-game suspension. To put that in perspective, eight games equates to around 13 percent of the shortened season. Kelly has appealed his suspension.

Jose Altuve, and his 2017 Astros teammates, were found by MLB to have benefited from an intricate cheating technique that involved a camera, a bat and a trash can. While the world will never know whether the cheating is why the Astros won the World Series, the world does know that none of the players were punished for their actions during that season. That fact, as a lot of fans and players from other teams mad enough to kick a trash can.
Photo R. Anderson

These truly are strange and mysterious times, and show that in many ways MLB is just making things up as they go along. More on that thought in a bit.

The rules for the 2020 season outlaw bench clearing brawls. However, writing something in a health manual, and actually following what is written, are two entirely different things; as demonstrated by the fact that the dugouts and bullpens emptied in a fan-free Ballpark.

Besides the benches clearing brawl, players have been breaking the guidelines involving walk off celebrations, and high fives among other things.

But while MLB seems quick to enforce the rules for what it sees as retaliation pitches, it is downplaying the wildfire of COVID-19 that is inching closer to bringing the 2020 season to a screeching halt.

The Miami Marlins were suspended for an entire week after a COVID-19 outbreak impacted nearly 20 players and staff, however the teams not impacted by games against the Marlins were left to continue to play ball. Of course, nothing happens in a vacuum.

The St. Louis Cardinals and the Milwaukee Brewers became the latest teams to have games cancelled after two Cardinal players tested positive for COVID-19. The Cardinals and Brewers join the Marlins, Blue Jays, Phillies, Orioles, Nationals, and Yankees as teams who have had games either postponed or played with different opponents than scheduled.

That means that at the time of this writing, nearly a third of all MLB teams have been impacted by COVID-19.

In response to the growing list of games that will need to be rescheduled, MLB has decided that all doubleheaders will be 7-innings, instead of 9-innings, in order to cram as many games as possible into the schedule in their drive to crown a World Series Champion. Nothing like changing the rules of a season after the season has started.

While they are at it, why not just have all games decided by a home run derby? The Sugar Land Skeeters are using home run derbies to settle extra inning games in their four-team, fans in the stand independent baseball summer league.

If MLB needs to crown a champion in order to call the season a success, why bother with the games? Just line the teams up for a home run derby to decide who the best team is? After all, launch angles and the long ball seem to be all the rage these days.

I will take it a step further and say that a home run derby approach can even eliminate team travel. Just have retired pitchers travel to the Ballparks and throw batting practice to decide the games. Teams can choose from a selection of retired pitchers and the same pitcher has to pitch to both teams to make it fair.

Of course, with different ballparks having different outfield dimensions considerations will need to be made for how to assign a weight to each home run.

Maybe, teams can be reward style points for launch angle.

Prior to the start of the 2020 MLB season, Washington Nationals Pitcher Sean Doolittle, aka Obi-Sean Kenobi Doolittle on Twitter, weighed in on the wisdom of playing baseball in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Photo R. Anderson

Prior to the start of the 2020 MLB season, Washington Nationals Pitcher Sean Doolittle, aka Obi-Sean Kenobi Doolittle on Twitter, weighed in on the wisdom of playing baseball in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The remarks below appeared in USA Today in early July, and are chilling when looked at through the lens of hindsight after a week of MLB action.

“We’re trying to bring baseball back during a pandemic that’s killed 130,000 people,” said Doolittle. “We’re way worse off as a country than where we were in March when we shut this thing down. And look at where other developed countries are and their response to this. We haven’t done any of the things that other countries have done to bring sports back. Sports are like the reward of a functional society, and we’re just like trying to bring it back even though we’ve taken none of the steps to flatten the curve or whatever you want to say. We did flatten the curve for a little bit, but we didn’t use that time to do anything productive. We just opened back up for Memorial Day. We decided we’re done with it.

“If there aren’t sports, it’s going to be because people are not wearing masks, because the response to this has been so politicized. We need help from the general public. If they want to watch baseball, please wear a mask, social distance, keep washing your hands. We can’t just have virus fatigue and think, ‘Well, it’s been four months. We’re over it. This has been enough time, right? We’ve waited long enough, shouldn’t sports come back now?’ No, there’s things we have to do in order to bring this stuff back.”

Since Doolittle made that statement in early July, the COVID-19 death toll in America has risen by 23,000 to over 153,000 dead and counting, with no signs of slowing down.

Sadly, there are those who will say, “But hey, at least two thirds of the MLB teams haven’t missed any games yet, and the MLB has shown that it is going to come down hard on pitchers who throw at members of the trash can symphony club.”

Yes, there are live sports to watch now, and the NCAA seems determined to ensure that college football returns in the fall despite us not acting anything like a functional society. Why worry about a global pandemic when there are sports to watch?

Sometimes, real life truly is stranger than fiction.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to see if my seeds from China arrived. As crazy as the world is getting, they may grow a magic bean stalk. But that is a story for another day.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

Verlander Shut Down with Forearm Strain as Injuries Pile up in Shortened MLB Season

The Houston Astros were dealt a major setback in their quest to return to the World Series for the third time in four years when it was announced Sunday that pitcher Justin Verlander has a forearm strain and will be shut down “for a couple of weeks,” according to manager Dusty Baker.

Verlander, the team’s ace, pitched for the Astros on Friday and experienced “tenderness,” which resulted in an MRI on Saturday according to Baker.

The news of Verlander getting shut down likely echoed through the Astros dugout like a well-placed swing with a Louisville Slugger to the side of a trash can.

In a normal season, a 14-day stint on the injured list (IL) is no big deal. However, in this 60-games in 66 days COIVD-19 inspired season, two weeks represents close to a third of the regular season. Plus, there is no guarantee that Verlander will be ready when the two weeks is up.

This is not Verlander’s first flirtation with injury this year. Verlander, the reigning American League Cy Young Award winner, was expected to begin the season on the IL back in March after having groin surgery and experiencing muscle soreness in the back of his shoulder.

With pitchers falling like Jenga towers, the MLB might want to look into using t-shirt cannons, or mascot sling shots as a means to prevent injuries to pitchers during the shortened 2020 MLB season.
Photo R. Anderson

The delayed start to the regular season created enough time for Verlander’s groin and shoulder to heal allowing the 37-year-old to take the mound for opening day.

Unfortunately for Verlander, and the Astros, a new injury popped up.

During Saturday’s Tampa Bay Rays versus Toronto Blue Jays broadcast, Rays broadcasters Dewayne Staats and Brian Anderson, mentioned that the shortened amount of time players had to get ready for the season would likely lead to many injuries as players tried to get up to speed in half the time of a traditional Spring Training.

Viewers did not need to wait long to see the prophecy from the broadcast booth come true. In the sixth inning, Toronto center fielder Randal Grichuk left the game after experiencing discomfort in his right sacroiliac joint while tracking down a ball at the outfield wall.

Three innings later, Blue Jays closer Ken Giles, a former teammate of Verlander, left with right elbow soreness after struggling with pitch velocity that allowed the Rays to load the bases in the bottom of the ninth inning.

Due in part to Giles’ struggles, the Rays managed to tie the game from two runs down and ultimately won in walk off fashion in the 10th inning.

Toronto Blue Jays closer, Ken Giles, shown during 2016 when he was a member of the Houston Astros, became the latest pitcher to leave a game early as a result of an arm injury when he left the ninth inning of a game between the Blue Jays and the Tampa Bay Rays. Giles’ former Astros teammate Justin Verlander is out for a minimum of two weeks following arm tenderness during his Opening Day start.
Photo R. Anderson

While I am ecstatic that the Rays won, I never want to see anyone get injured on the field.

No timetable has been announced for the return of Giles and Grichuk to the Blue Jays lineup. Much like the Astros with Verlander, the Blue Jays will just have to wait and see how long they are without their teammates.

Back when the rumblings of playing baseball in 2020 were percolating, I mentioned that it was asinine to rush players back to play a shortened season that would not only expose them to a deadly virus, but would also lead to the possibility of increased injuries, all in the name of saying that baseball was played in the middles of a COVID-19 pandemic.

I take no joy in saying that just a few games into the season it appears my prediction was correct.

Verlander, Giles and Grichuk are just three of the players already injured. Texas Rangers pitcher Corey Kluber, a two-time American League Cy Young Award winner, left his start in Sunday’s 5-2 loss to the Colorado Rockies after one inning due to tightness in his pitching shoulder. Also on Sunday, pitcher Reynaldo López, of the Chicago White Sox, left the game in the first inning mid-batter due to right shoulder tightness.

Stephen Strasburg, of the Washington Nationals, has yet to make a start in the 2020 season after being scratched due to arm soreness.
Photo R. Anderson

Aside from players leaving games early due to injuries, Stephen Strasburg of the Washington Nationals and Clayton Kershaw of the Los Angeles Dodgers, both were scratched from their Opening Day starts due to injuries.

John Means and Hunter Harvey of the Baltimore Orioles are both on the IL for arm fatigue. The list goes on and on with more players likely to be added daily.

Additionally, players with the Nationals, Rays, Reds, and others have yet to take the field due to being in the COVID-19 quarantine protocol.

While I admit that I am enjoying watching baseball on TV, it is not like I am unable to find things to do with my time if a 2020 MLB season did not happen. Providing fans a few hours of entertainment still does not seem worth the risk to players health both from COVID-19, as well as freak injuries like the ones that are running through the MLB with the same reckless abandon that COVID-19 is spreading across America.

An athlete’s career is short, and skills usually diminish with age. So, I understand the competitive nature of players wanting to take the field as often as possible. In that way, a 2020 season of any length, even one that allows over half of the teams in the league to make the playoffs, makes sense.

However, when one considers that this season is taking place amidst a global public health crisis, the optics get a little murkier.

As far as the Astros go, even without Verlander on the mound, they are likely to be one of the 16-best teams this year and should make the playoffs. Assuming they do make the playoffs, and Verlander’s injury is healed by then, that should help them in the postseason.

Of course, there is no guarantee that they won’t have other players joining Verlander on the IL.

The 2020 MLB season will be one for the ages. Hopefully it is a one-time only thing, and normalcy returns to the diamond, as well as the world in general, by the time Spring Training 2021 rolls around.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I am off to give myself another quarantine haircut.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

 

Astros Owner, Jim Crane, Just Made One of the Most Tone-Deaf Statements Ever Uttered

As I mentioned the other day, after much soul searching, I have decided that I am done supporting the Houston Astros. I have lost all respect for them as an organization, and I really do not see them earning my respect back any time soon.

This was not an easy decision for me to reach. I have a lot of great memories of supporting the Astros, however statements like the one made by team owner Jim Crane on June 24th, only reinforce the stance that is time for me to retire my Astros fandom, just like the new owners retired poor Junction Jack as their mascot.

I really want to stop writing about the Astros, but when they throw a fast ball down the middle of the plate, I have no other choice but to knock it out of the park.

To set the stage, with Major League Baseball set to return in the middle of a global pandemic with a 60-games in 66 days mini season, and the Houston Astros already facing scorn for getting caught cheating, it is almost like Crane said to the person standing next to him at one of the golf courses that he owns, “hold my nachos, I am going to say something so absurd that they will forget about the fact that we cheated in 2017.”

In one of the most tone deaf, failing to take the temperature of the room, comments that I have ever heard, Crane was quoted by many news outlets as saying that in order to recoup some of the money that he has lost by the Astros not playing a full season, he wants to have fans at games at Minute Maid Park this season in order to raise revenue selling concessions and team tchotchkes.

Houston Astros Owner Jim Crane is eager to recoup some of the money that he has lost by the Astros not playing a full season, having fans at games at Minute Maid Park this season in order to raise revenue selling concessions and team tchotchkes.
Photo R. Anderson

Crane’s ludicrous comments also come amid the backdrop of Houston health officials warning that they’re running out of ER space because of a surge in COVID-19 cases.

That means that even someone who does not have COVID-19, but needs to go to the ER because of something like a car accident, may not be able to get the lifesaving treatment that they need.

Crane’s remarks are like giving a single foam finger salute to Houston and the surrounding region by saying I want your money more than I want you to be safe.

Crane’s “let them eat cake” moment translated in Ballpark parlance as “let them eat garlic fries” as a COVID-19 pandemic surrounds Minute Maid Park is so out of touch with reality. A better optic would have been created if Crane offered up the meeting space inside the Union Station area of the Ballpark as a potential surge hospital for COVID-19 patients instead of wanting to open up the Ballpark to potentially create more patients for an overtaxed health district

At 71-years-old, Dusty Baker, is the oldest manager in MLB. Baker, who also happens to manage the Astros, told the Associated Press that, “I’m a bit nervous. I’ve seen the reports in Houston how COVID’s going up so I’m going to have to really be careful.”

Houston Astros owner Jim Crane’s “let them eat cake” moment translated in Ballpark parlance as “let them eat garlic fries” seems a bit tone deaf in light of the raging COVID-19 pandemic that surrounds Minute Main Park. A better optic would have been created if Crane offered up the meeting space inside the ballpark as a potential surge hospital instead of wanting to open up the Ballpark to create more patients for an overtaxed health district.
Photo R. Anderson

Part of that need to be careful involves Baker’s age which puts him in the higher risk category. But, it seems that Crane is willing to expose Baker to more people in order to make a buck.

While Crane is ready to go full speed ahead as soon as possible, Texas Governor, Greg Abbott, is hitting the pause button on reopening the state amid a “massive outbreak.”

Abbott is urging all Texas residents to stay home unless they absolutely have to go somewhere to try to corral the deadly virus that is rolling through the state like floodwaters indiscriminately affecting everything in its path.

If the Governor, who was once one of the most pro reopening advocates in the country, is saying it is time to slow down and stay home, sorry Jim, going to watch a baseball game is not an essential function.

To be fair, there are likely fans who will be willing to go to games and risk their health in order to see some baseball in a Ballpark so quiet you can hear a trash can drop. But, in order to have fans buying food and tchotchkes, you need to have, ticket takers to let the fans in, security to protect the fans, concession workers to make the food, workers to sell the food, and workers to man the cash registers at the gift shops.

Oh yeah, and you need to have workers to empty the trash cans that are full of the trash generated by those fans, as well as workers to disinfect the Ballpark from top to bottom to get ready for the next game. Perhaps the players can help with the cleanup since I hear they know their way around a trash can.

It really shouldn’t be a shock that the owner of the Astros is the most vocal in wanting fans and their money to return. His entire tenure has been one big monetizing of the ballpark. Who can forget the time the view of downtown was blocked by huge billboards that would make a Minor League Ballpark manager say, “that is a step too far.” Thankfully the eyesore was relocated prior to the 2014 season.
Photo R. Anderson

Each of the people who enter the Ballpark will run the risk of getting infected, and in turn, they run the risk of infecting others when they go home. I am sorry, but no helmet full of nachos, or team shirt, is worth that amount of risk.

If I do not want players in the Ballparks due to potential risk of virus spread, I definitely do not want fans adding to the number of potential super spreaders.

Of course, as noted last week, the Sugar Land Skeeters are also looking to host about 1,700 people a game in a mini summer four-team league they are running at Constellation Field starting in early July. It is entirely possible that Crane thought that if the Skeeters can make money during a pandemic, he should be able to as well. Any fans allowed at either Skeeters or Astros games would need to be socially distanced and wearing a mask.

I totally get it; people are tired of being locked up inside. I would love to run free outside the walls of the Gigaplex, eat fried catfish on my favorite restaurant patio with a half and half tea, and act like the world is back to the way it was in the olden days of pre-March 2020.

But wishing it to be true, and going out there and acting like it is true, does not make it true.

The only thing acting like everything is fine, and there is nothing to see here does, is risk my health, and the health of those I love and care about.

And yes, it even risks the health of those I don’t care about. But, I care enough about people I don’t care about to not want to get them sick either.

Based on his comments, billionaire Crane appears to care mostly about back filling his pockets like a money vault diving Scrooge McDuck. I am used to stories of sports owners trying to fleece taxpayers to get better deals on their Ballparks. Crane used those tactics when he was negotiating for a new Spring Training site for the Astros to share with the defending World Series Champion Washington Nationals.

The Sugar Land Skeeters, of the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball (ALPB), recently announced their intention to form a four-team professional baseball league at Constellation Field, beginning July 3 and running through Aug. 23 with up to 1,700 fans allowed inside the Ballpark for each game.
Photo R. Anderson

However, one could argue that being greedy about tax breaks on a Ballpark is far less Ebenezer Scrooge, pre-visit by the three spirits, then encouraging people to risk their health to watch a game in order for the owner to make a few bucks on food and souvenir sales.

Ultimately, Crane’s desire to have fans in the Ballpark could be declared dead on arrival by local officials in Houston and Harris County, who will most likely get the final say on allowing gatherings like fans at a ballgame.

Based on previous statements made by Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, and Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, I am fairly convinced that Crane’s pitch to have fans at the games will, in the words of Harry Doyle in Major League will fall, “Just a bit outside.”

Still, the fact that the statement was even made in the middle of a pandemic, and on a day that Houston reported nearly 1,000 new cases of COVID-19, which is around 1.3 times higher than it was a week ago, either demonstrates Crane has a total lack of situational awareness, or is aware and has a total lack of empathy.

COVID-19 has killed over 122,000 Americans, and even the people who recover from it may end up with long-term effects, like holes in their lungs. That is not a political statement that is a medical fact.

Sadly, uniting against a common foe for the common good, does not seem so common anymore. At least that is the case when it comes to public health and COVID-19. The simple act of wearing a face covering, or mask, to protect others has turned into a litmus test of whether you vote blue or red. Senators Marco Rubio and Rick Scott of Florida get it. Mitt Romney gets it. Masks save lives.

Even Governor Abbott is able to show that he needs to take the virus more seriously than he once did. It is time for everyone else, regardless of political affiliation to do the same. At the end of the day COVID-19 does not care if you vote red or blue. It also isn’t going to give anyone a day pass because they are tired of being inside and want to catch a ballgame and eat some nachos.

As for the comment made by Jim Crane, perhaps he was only kidding. I hear that is the thing people say these days after making a seriously tone-deaf remark in public.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a sudden urge to watch Major League.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

 

Houston Astros are Potential Biggest Winners in Shortened MLB Season

Well, it is finally official, after three months of tense negotiations, the 2020 Major League Baseball season will take place as a 60-game sprint, instead of a 162-game marathon.

Players are expected to resume Spring Training activities at their home Ballparks by July 1, with Opening Day of the truncated season of teams playing a mostly geographical schedule occurring on July 24.

Baseball purists, players, owners, broadcasters, and all other interested stakeholders, are likely to debate the merits of playing the shortest season in MLB history in the middle of a global pandemic that is exploding like an uncontrolled wildfire in an oxygen rich environment.

While those debates occur, the Houston Astros can breathe easy knowing that their season of atonement tour where they were set to feel the brunt of angry fans, and fellow ballplayers on 29 other teams in response to the trash can banging cheating scandal, will only last about 37 percent as long as it would have during a full season.

With the delayed 2020 MLB season set to launch in July Jose Altuve, and the rest of the Houston Astros can breathe easy knowing that their season of atonement tour tied to the trash can banging cheating scandal, will only last about 37 percent as long as it would have during a full season.
Photo R. Anderson

Heck, the Astros don’t even have to worry about fans in the stands heckling them since the 2020 MLB season will be played in empty Ballparks.

Additionally, the players on the other 29 teams, who would have likely made it extra difficult for the Astros by enforcing a whole slew of unwritten rules of baseball between the foul poles, are likely going to have other things on their minds, like not catching a virus that has no cure and has killed over 121,000 Americans.

It is doubtful that anyone is going to want to have a bench clearing brawl in the middle of a pandemic. Although a socially distanced mound charge could make for good television as the batter tries to voice his displeasure at the pitcher from six feet away.

For those who may not be aware, or have forgotten about the Astros high crimes and misdemeanors against baseball, the MLB commissioner’s office completed an investigation at the end of the 2019 season into cheating allegations levied against the Houston Astros by a former player and whistleblower, related to games played in the 2017 season, which also happened to be the same year that the Astros won the World Series.

According to the report, the Astros used a video monitor of a camera feed from center field, and a trash can in the dugout to relay signals to batters about what pitch was coming in order to give the Astros hitters an advantage at the plate.

As Kevin Costner’s Crash Davis demonstrated in Bull Durham, when the hitter knows what is coming, the ball coming off of the bat travels so far that it ought to have a flight attendant on it. Or to use the sabermetrics lingo, “advanced knowledge creates epic launch angle, and equals the ball traveling many feet.”

The Houston Astros won the World Series in 2017. In 2019, it was revealed that some players on the team cheated that year which taints the first Championship in team history. Using a trash can to tip off the batter to what pitch is coming is less obvious than the two bats and a glove technique demonstrated by Jose Altuve during Spring Training in 2016.
Photo R. Anderson

As one might expect, the players on teams who lost to the Astros in 2017, in particular, the Dodgers and Yankees, feel cheated, because as it turns out they were cheated.

Every victory by the Astros in 2017, including the World Series title, has a stigma attached to it despite all of the protestations by Astros players that they only used the trash can banging system in the regular season, in order to win enough games to get to the playoffs, and then played fair and square after that once they were in the playoffs.

The world will never know whether the claims of postseason innocence are true or not. What is known, is that through a system of cheating that lasted for a portion of the 2017 MLB season, all members of the 2017 Astros, whether they benefited from the trash can signals or not, are forever tainted in the eyes of fans and other players.

Although the Astros are likely to face less retaliation due to the current climate where people have real things to worry about like COVID-19, and seeking social justice reform, I am not going to let them off so easily.

I will no longer root for the Houston Astros, since I do not respect the organization, nor do I feel it is worth my time, or money to support them based on the actions of players who cheated the system, and the actions of other players who remained quiet about the cheating.

In the big picture, I am sure that the $500 or so I used to spend a season on the Astros is a drop in the bucket to the team. But, if enough people like me take the same action, the team will realize that actions have consequences. That is how quickly the actions of members of an organization can affect the overall bottom line. That is why it is so critical that sports organizations instill an ethical culture and swiftly address any employees found acting unethically.

It takes years to build a reputation, and mere seconds to tarnish it. Just ask all of the MLB players who were linked to the steroids era and are on the outside looking in of the Baseball Hall of Fame.

I have always respected Dusty Baker, who at the age of 71 years old, has the herculean task of trying to rebuild the reputation of the Astros as the new team skipper. I hope he succeeds, but it will still be a few seasons before I can think about supporting the Astros again. Also, there is no guarantee that I ever will decide that the Astros are worthy of my time and money. As Robert DeNiro once told Ben Stiller, “The circle of trust is broken, Greg.”

Dusty Baker, pictured with A.J. Hinch, the man he replaced as Astros skipper, has a tall order in front of him as he looks to try to rebuild the reputation of the Houston Astros.
Photo R. Anderson

From the time I moved to Houston, I embraced the Astros and supported them through some very lean seasons.

In fact, some of my best memories of going to games at Minute Maid Park occurred during the seasons where the Astros had some of the worst records. I knew the players were trying their best, and I was there to support them win or lose.

I do not care if a team I support wins every game. If I did, I would have given up on my beloved Baltimore Orioles years ago. I mean, think about it, only one team wins the World Series each year. That doesn’t make the other 29 teams total losers, it just means one team played better than the rest, or had a few more lucky breaks fall their way. And no, a trash can dugout drum is not a lucky break, that is just cheating no matter how you try to bang it.

I want the teams I support to play hard and to play fair. That shouldn’t be too much to ask. Teams will now have 60 games to earn a spot in the playoffs and try to unseat the Washington Nationals as World Series Champions.

The Washington Nationals will start their defense of their World Series title next month.
Photo R. Anderson

I stand firm in my opinion that the 2020 season should not be played under the current cloud of COVID-19. I do not see a scenario where I will waver from that position.

But, now that a season seems inevitable, I will hope and pray that the number of people involved in putting on the made for TV season that become infected with COVID-19 is low, and that those who do catch the virus make a full recovery.

I am especially concerned for some of the older managers, like Baker, and Joe Maddon, who fall within the high-risk category, based on their ages, for needing to be extra careful about not catching the disease.

When the dust settles, and this season that everyone was so gung ho to have played is over, I really hope people will say it was worth all of the risks to player health and the overall health of baseball in general, instead of saying, why in the world did we do that?

One of the great constants in the world is that hindsight is always 20/20. So far, the year 2020 has been one for the ages, and sadly there are still six more months to go before we can put a fork in this year. There will be plenty of time for hindsight when the year is over, but the time to make good decisions to look back on is now.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I am off to order some more face masks since the COVID-19 cases in Texas are rising faster than a 95 mile per hour brushback pitch.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

Spies Like us? MLB Investigation Unearths Vast Cheating “Can”spiracy

In the 1964 movie Goldfinger, James Bond, played by Sean Connery, finds himself in the crosshairs of a rather delicate situation after he has been strapped to a table with a laser pointed down at him.

It is while he is in this predicament that Mr. Bond, James Bond utters the famous line, “Do you expect me to talk?” to which his captor Auric Goldfinger, played by Gert Frobe, gleefully gives the equally famous reply “no Mr. Bond I expect you to die.” Before going any further it should be noted that James Bond did not in fact die by being lasered in half and went on to have various other fictional adventures.

Et tu, Orbit? After the findings of a report outlining a far reaching, season long, vast “can”spiracy cheating scandal within the Houston Astros organization one has to wonder, what did the mascot know, and when did he know it? Photo Credit R. Anderson

I was recently reminded of the classic scene from Goldfinger while reading stories about Major League Baseball’s (MLB) investigation that placed the Houston Astros in the crosshairs of one of the largest cheating scandals in the history of the sport.

The details of the findings read an awful lot like something that could have come off of the typewriter of Ian Fleming, the man behind the James Bond novels, and also the author of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. We will delve more into the second book in a bit. For those who may not be aware, the MLB commissioner’s office recently completed an investigation into cheating allegations levied against the Houston Astros related to games played in the 2017 season, which also happened to be the same year that the Astros won the World Series.

As a result of those findings, three managers and a general manager who had ties to the Astros during the 2017 season have been fired leaving the Astros, Red Sox, and Mets searching for new leadership mere weeks ahead of the start of Spring Training. The Astros were also forced to forfeit four draft picks.

According to the report, the cheating involved a series of high tech and low tech means to steal signs from opposing teams in order to give the Astros an advantage at the plate by knowing what pitches were coming. As Kevin Costner’s Crash Davis demonstrated in Bull Durham, when the hitter knows what is coming, the ball coming off of the bat travels so far that it ought to have a flight attendant on it. Or to use the sabermetrics lingo, “epic launch angle equals the ball traveling many feet.”

Houston Astros 2nd Baseman Jose Altuve, shown during a 2016 Spring Training game against the Philadelphia Phillies at Osceola County Stadium, was chosen as the 2017 American League MVP. Now, thanks to the release of the findings of the MLB Commissioner’s office, fans will forever be wondering how much of that MVP year was skill based. and how much of it was aided by an intricate cheating scheme that involved a camera, a bat and a trash can to alert batters on the type of pitch that was coming. Photo Credit R. Anderson

Okay, so every ill-gotten hit by the Astros during the 2017 season wasn’t an out of the park dinger, but the scheme did allow them to hit the ball extremely well, and extremely often, when playing in their home ballpark.

So how does one alter the outcome of the home games they play in the 21st Century?

According to the allegations outlined in the MLB report it involves a couple of fairly simple, albeit highly unethical steps.

Step 1, place a camera in center field and aim it directly at the crotch of the opposing catcher.

Step 2, make sure that the feed from said catcher crotch cam can be viewed within sunflower seed spitting distance of the dugout.

Step 3, find a bat, these are usually lying around most MLB dugouts.

Step 4, find a trash can. This can be plastic or metal depending on preference.

Step 5, take bat and go chitty chitty bang bang on trash can whenever the catcher crotch cam indicates that the catcher has called for an off-speed pitch such as a breaking ball, or a curve ball.

Step 6, repeat Steps 1-5 for all batters on your team. Remember to only bang the can slowly during off speed pitches, no bang on the can means they are bringing the heat.

To be clear, sign stealing is of course as old as the game of baseball itself. However, it is the lengths that the Astros went to, and the use of digital devices that caused them to run afoul of the commissioner’s office.

In Scooby Doo parlance the Astros may have continued to get away with their cheating being their dirty little secret had it not been for what they would likely call a “meddling” former player from the 2017 team going public with what he knew.

By blowing the lid off of the trash can so to speak, he went against centuries of baseball lore where one only whispers about the dirty deeds allowing disagreements to be policed internally and civilly through bench clearing brawls that inevitably involve the poor relief pitchers having to travel the length of a football field just to arrive after the fight is over before traveling another football field’s worth of distance back to their seats in the bullpen.

Many people have gone on record as saying that the cheating should have remained hidden, while others have applauded the whistleblower for sharing a welcome breath of honesty in a dishonest world. As is the case for all things, history will decide how he will be remembered for his actions.

Despite federal protections and other statues whistleblowers often face more blowback than a fastball up and away to keep the batter from crowding the plate. Of course, the 2017 Astros would have known when to crowd the plate, and when to back away thanks to the tone of the two bangs on their trusty trash can.

There is no way of knowing whether the Astros could have won the World Series in 2017 without cheating, but the fact that they did win it while cheating likely leaves many baseball fans in cities like Los Angeles (lost to Astros in World Series) and New York (Lost to Astros in American League Championship Series) wishing they had a laser to strap people to so that they could get some answers.

To be clear I am not suggesting that anyone build an evil lair in an abandoned warehouse and construct a table made out of gold with a high-powered laser attached to it for interrogating people. Instead, just look on a vacation home rental site under the heading of laser equipped evil lairs.

Again, I am joking but if anyone has an under-volcano lair available the third week of March let me know.

Since the initial release of the report, additional allegations have arisen from the vast shores of public opinion that claim that Astros players wore buzzers on their body to tell them what pitches were coming as a way to give the trash can a night off now and then.

Related to buzzergate, the MLB commissioner’s office noted that no evidence of electronic buzzers or other devices being worn by players was established. The players implicated by the buzzer conspiracy theorists also deny using them.

Despite these protestations of buzzer free play, there are likely to be more allegations made as everything done by players on the Astros for the past three seasons is likely to go under the microscope of crowd sourced group think.

While the investigation into the Astros only centered on the 2017 season, MLB is expected to release their findings on an investigation into allegations that the Boston Red Sox cheated during the 2018 season, which coincidentally was the year that they won the World Series.

The loser in both 2017 and 2018 was the Los Angeles Dodgers who very likely could have old wounds opened up that are wider than the Chavez Ravine that holds Dodgers Stadium if it is revealed that the boys in Dodger blue were bested two straight years by teams found to have cheated.

Were it not for confirmed cheating by the Houston Astros in 2017, and the alleged but still under investigation cheating by the Boston Red Sox in 2018, the Los Angeles Dodgers very well could have added to their tally of World Series Championships. Instead the Dodger players and fans will be forever left to wonder, what if? Note, the trash can pictured is not the trash can implicated in the Astros’ web of cheat and is only guilty of smelling of discarded Dodger Dog wrappers. Photo Credit R. Anderson

Regardless of the outcome of the Red Sox investigation it is clear that the public trust in America’s Pastime has eroded somewhat.

Fans will undoubtedly wonder whether the effort they are witnessing on the diamond is from hard work and preparation, or from shortcuts and cheating.

It is not the first time that scandal has befallen the game and in all of the previous cases the game has survived since diamonds are forever.

With another baseball season on the horizon time will tell if the fallout from this scandal merely leaves baseball shaken, or if it gets stirred down to the core.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson