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Picking up the Pieces of the Astros Cheating Scandal

It’s hard to explain what goes into someone becoming a devoted sports fan. We identify with the product being put on the field, and not just because the players are talented. We get invested in because we identify with the players, we form narratives of underdog tales and invincible dynasties. As much as fans profess to hate teams like the New York Yankees and their 27 championships, they are part of what makes baseball a compelling sport.

For nearly their entire existence, the Houston Astros were one of baseball’s greatest underdog stories. Without the massive payrolls of the Dodgers, Red Sox, or Yankees, they found success at the margins in some cases, but they never won a world series. Then, after a particularly brutal stretch in early 2010, where they were the worst team in baseball for three years running, something changed. Through clever drafting, development, and coaching, they assembled an incredible roster, which led them to three straight 100-win seasons, two world series appearances, and, in 2017, a world series championship. It seemed like a redemption arc from a cheesy sports movie, not real life.

All of this meant that, when the Astros were accused of using cameras and computers to steal opposing teams’ signs, the baseball world was justifiably upset. Using technology to steal signs is obviously beyond the pale, and there is easily enough evidence to declare the Astros ‘guilty’. The fallout has been swift: Manager AJ Hinch and General Manager Jeff Luhnow were suspended for a year by MLB, before being let go by the Astros organization. Carlos Beltran, implicated in the scandal from when he played for the Astros, lost his job as the new Manager of the New York Mets. 

However, it hasn’t nearly been enough. The Astros retained their trophy that they won while cheating, as well as all of the massive revenue, boosts they got from being an exciting, competitive playoff team. None of the players involved received any penalties, even though the cheating operation has been described by the commissioner’s office as “player-driven”. There are real stakes here. Pitchers lost their jobs when they didn’t pitch well against the Astros, only to find out later the Astros were cheating. 

The problem with the whole scandal, it seems, is that there is no easy solution. Major League Baseball can hardly go back and change the punishments meted out now that they realize they’re unpopular. The players who lost their jobs won’t get a second chance because of this, more likely than not.

The Astros, for their part, outwardly say that they have learned their lesson, but they still claim that they “earned” the world series. Players like Carlos Correa have been outspoken in criticizing fellow players who have spoken their minds about the situation. In the meantime, their organization is developing a bit of a reputation for scandal. They used a pending domestic violence lawsuit against relief pitcher Roberto Osuna as a market inefficiency to acquire him more cheaply, and then their former Assistant GM, Brandon Taubman, was seen yelling at female reporters who had previously criticized the move in the locker room last postseason. Then, within weeks of the sign-stealing scandal coming to light, pitcher Francis Martes was suspended for a second time for using Performance Enhancing Drugs.

But that’s not the real damage that’s been done. Unfortunately, professional sports’ poor track record with both PEDs users and domestic abusers has been well documented, and nothing the Astros can do one way or the other will likely change that. This season, the Astros can expect to be booed and heckled viciously everywhere they go, but they’re probably won’t be any justice that will satisfy the fans and players that feel wronged by their actions.

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