It’s been nearly two years since we first learned about the Astros’ cheating en route to winning the 2017 World Series. For so long, I didn’t know how we should feel about Houston’s success. Should we be angry with the team, or should we be angry with its individual players—many of whom have either since retired or now play for other teams? Should we just be angry with the batters who used the stolen signs, or should be we angry with the pitchers, too, considering they benefited in the form of a World Series ring? How about the coaches and front office personnel? Ownership? All of the above?
This is where things get murky. The easiest targets for our frustrations are those wearing the Astros uniform. But that’s not entirely fair. Only four position players from the 2017 club remain with the team today, and there’s plenty of sonic evidence captured on video that supports José Altuve’s assertion that he told his teammates not to relay the stolen signs to him. Obviously, that doesn’t exempt him from the cheating, because he was a clubhouse leader then as he is now and could have told his teammates to knock it off. But it does perhaps lessen the degree to which we judge him? Maybe?
In the aftermath of MLB’s investigation into the cheating scheme, Houston’s then-manager A.J. Hinch was suspended for a year and lost his Astros job, despite his efforts during the year to stop his team from electronically stealing signs—most memorably for his performative destructing of the TV monitors with a baseball bat, which was more akin to Carrie Underwood in “Before He Cheats” than a skipper with authority over his players. Alex Cora was Houston’s bench coach in 2017 and was marked as the coaching staff’s ringleader of the operation. By the time the scandal broke, Cora had finished his second season as Red Sox manager and already had led Boston to a World Series title. He was suspended for a year, fired and then re-hired by the Red Sox, who were also punished for misusing technology, though Houston’s infractions were far more egregious. Now, the Astros are facing Cora and Boston in the ALCS, leaving many of those who are angry with Houston’s cheating to ignore Cora’s role in all of this so they can root against the Astros.
It’s not that we shouldn’t care about the cheating that went on in Houston and elsewhere—yes, there were other teams, too, that exploited the availability of technology and used it for nefarious means. Instead, it’s just that this mental gymnastics we’re doing to sort through all of this isn’t worth it any longer. MLB took the easy way out when it gave the players immunity during its investigation into the cheating scheme. The league left it to the fans to dole out punishment in the form of booing and doubting their accomplishments. That’s fine, to an extent, because baseball fans were betrayed. The game becomes a farce when it loses its appearance of authenticity. Answering whether or not the Astros would’ve won the 2017 World Series without cheating isn’t the point. The problem is we’re left to ask that question in the first place. We have a right to be angry.
But at whom should we direct our ire? Not Michael Brantley, who joined the Astros after the 2018 season. Not Yordan Álvarez, who didn’t make his MLB debut until 2019. Certainly not Dusty Baker, the lovable 72-year-old baseball lifer who accepted the thankless job of succeeding Hinch as the manager of a tarnished organization. Of all people in the Astros dugout, Baker is the one for whom we should be cheering. The only thing he’s missing from his five-plus decades in MLB is a managerial World Series ring. He was a key member of the Dodgers team that won the 1981 title, but he lost the only World Series he managed, with the Giants in 2002. A three-time Manager of the Year who is 13 regular-season wins shy of 2,000, he should get into the Hall of Fame anyway, but a World Series would secure his place in Cooperstown.
So then, should we be angry at Altuve, Carlos Correa, Alex Bregman and Yuli Gurriel, the four Houston hitters left from the 2017 team? Yeah, sure. If you want to be mad at them, you have every right to be.
And yeah, sure, if you want to root against the Astros franchise, which did itself no favors in the way it responded to the cheating allegations. Be very angry at the arrogance that permeated throughout the organization from the top down. Left unchecked, it morphed into toxic self-righteousness, which first made the players, coaches and front office personnel think they could get away with such a blatant disregard for the rules of the game, and then directly led to the Brandon Taubman outburst at women reporters following the 2019 ALCS.
But also understand that this culture is not limited to the Astros. It persists throughout all of Major League Baseball, from clubhouse to clubhouse, front office to front office and owners box to owners box. It’s calcified over the years as more and more people of the same background and life experiences (rich, white men with Ivy League degrees) reached positions of authority within MLB organizations. Until the league really wraps its head around all of its greater cultural problems, teams will continue to look for the next edge—whether that edge is morally or legally permissible—and those with power will continue to exploit it. None of this excuses the Astros. It’s just to say they are a product of this environment, not the source of it.
Sorry for such a cynical perspective of all of this. The deeper I think about the Astros scandal, the gloomier things get. And that’s not the way it should be during the postseason. Let’s grapple with the league’s inherent flaws in the offseason. For now, I just want to have a ton of fun watching a great baseball team do its thing. The Astros have embraced their role as baseball’s villain, and they’re having so much with it.
Correa delivered another iconic playoff moment last night when he crushed a go-ahead solo home run in the seventh inning of Houston’s 5–4 win in Game 1 of the ALCS. He dramatically dropped his bat and then looked at his wrist as if to say it’s his and his team’s time. This defiant indifference toward all the people who dislike the Astros is captivating.
The Astros cheated in 2017. No matter what happens, they will never escape the reputational stain and question of legitimacy.
That said, it’s time to move on and enjoy this team. Enjoy the spectacle. Enjoy rooting against them. Enjoy the objectively hilarious phrase “banging scheme.” Enjoy that baseball has a heel that will ham it up every night on the October stage. Enjoy everything about the Astros, even if it means never fully forgiving them for what they did.
1. THE OPENER
“A turn at bat can range in scale from a memo scribbled on a sticky note to a novel. What it has to say depends on the moment and the craftsmanship of the author. It can be an opportunity wasted or one that deserves to be bound in leather and archived. The turn Carlos Correa of the Astros took Friday in the seventh inning of American League Championship Series Game 1 deserves preservation, both for its importance and what it says about the hitting genius of the Houston shortstop.”
So begins Tom Verducci’s excellent column from last night’s game, on Correa’s seventh-inning masterpiece, which came on the 33rd anniversary of the Kirk Gibson home run.
Most of Tom’s writing also deserves to be bound in leather and archived. For now, you can just read his entire story here instead.
Want to read more about the ALCS before this afternoon’s Game 2? Check these out:
Eight Things That Will Decide the Astros–Red Sox ALCS by Tom Verducci
This matchup features two of the best offenses in baseball, but hitting alone won't settle the series.
ALCS Predictions: Who's Going to Win? by SI Staff
Will it be the Astros or Red Sox representing the American League in the World Series? Let's make our picks.
Need a primer on where things stand in the National League before Game 1 of the NLCS tonight? We’ve got you covered:
Max Scherzer and the Dodgers Finally Close Things Out by Stephanie Apstein
Los Angeles had been trying all season to run down the Giants. So Mad Max sprinted from the bullpen to secure the save.
MLB Roundtable: Who's Going to Win the NLCS? by SI Staff
Will it be the defending-champion Dodgers or the Braves representing the National League in the World Series? Let's make our picks.
Miss yesterday’s newsletter but don’t want to dig through your inbox? No worries!
How We Should Remember the Epic Dodgers-Giants NLDS by Matt Martell
Bad calls and replay's flaws are not how we should look back on this thrilling series. Plus, we preview the ALCS.
3. WORTH NOTING from Tom Verducci
The Book on Kiké Hernández was you had to throw him breaking pitches because he is such a good fastball hitter. That is suddenly not true this postseason.
Hernández had three of his four hits in ALCS Game 1 off breaking pitches, including two homers.
Until this postseason, Hernández in his career never had three hits off breaking pitches in a game. Now he’s done it twice in his past four games (ALDS Game 2, ALCS Game 1). He's hitting a ridiculous 7-for-10 against breaking pitches this postseason.
Hernández vs. Breaking Pitches, 2021
4. WHAT TO WATCH FOR from Stephanie Apstein
First pitch of the National League Championship Series is scheduled for 8:08 p.m. ET tonight, where Atlanta will host the Dodgers. There will not be a lot of secrets in this series: Although the teams are not helmed by friends and former colleagues, as the Dodgers and Giants are, Los Angeles and Atlanta are now facing one another in the playoffs for the third time in four years. The Dodgers took the first two of those meetings: the 2018 NLDS, which they won 3–1, and the ’20 NLCS, when Atlanta squandered a 3–1 lead. And old-friend alert: Outfielders Joc Pederson and Terrance Gore spent last season in L.A.
The Dodgers would seem to be a favorite, having won 18 more games than Atlanta this season, but it might not be that simple. Los Angeles did not win its division, so Atlanta will host this series. And the Dodgers’ NLDS win over the Giants took until the ninth inning of an incredibly tense Game 5 in which projected NLCS Game 1 starter Max Scherzer got the save, while Atlanta has been resting since closing out the Brewers on Wednesday.
5. THE CLOSER from Emma Baccellieri
Just how good is Boston’s Game 2 starter, Nathan Eovaldi, in October? He has a 1.93 ERA in 32.2 career innings of playoff work. The Red Sox have lost just one of those eight games. (And that one was, um, a rather special case.) In his two appearances so far this postseason, he has 16 strikeouts with just one walk. “I love pitching in these moments,” he said during the ALDS. It’s obvious: He sure does.
It’s worth noting that his one start this season against the Astros, back in June, did not go well. He was lit up for five runs on 11 hits. But almost all of that damage came against his four-seamer, and for a pitcher with as deep an arsenal as Eovaldi, there is plenty of room to make adjustments. (His ability to tinker with his stuff from one start to the next was something that Rays skipper Kevin Cash complimented during the ALDS.) So expect his approach to look different this afternoon than it did the last time he faced Houston. But if it works anywhere near as well as it has for him lately, that should be good news for Boston.
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