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