Are the Houston Astros the New Evil Empire of Baseball?
So, I don't know about you, but I'm thinking every sport needs a bad guy. In the NFL, we've got the Patriots, the NBA has Golden State and the Lakers. Baseball always had the Yankees and Red Sox. In College Football, of course there is Alabama. And Professional Wrestling is all about the "Bad Guy/Heel".
I'm pretty sure we can add the Houston Astros to the list as the "Bad Guys" of Major League Baseball. In fact, I dare say the Astros have taken the bad actor/most hated list to a new level over the past month or so.
You'll recall during the World Series, which the Astros lost to the Washington Nationals, the Astros drew a ton of controversy after their complete "Ham Handed" response to a now former employee berating women reporters in the Astros locker room after winning the AL Championship for no readily apparent reason.
The immediate response from the team was to attack the reporters credibility and it wasn't until half the people in the room at the time spoke up, that the Astros finally reacted. It took even longer for them to apologize to the reporter they attacked.
Then--to steal a quote: "Wormer dropped the Big One"....
Allegations continue to surface claiming the Astros used a camera placed in the outfield at their stadium to help them steal signs from the opposing pitcher and catcher.
Now---the Astros by no means are or would be the first team to do it, they are the first team outed publicly for it.
The Athletic (Paywall) explains what happened quite well....former Astros Pitcher Mike Fiers describing how the camera feed would be shown on a monitor in the hallway behind the team dugout. He explained how players would sit there attempting to decode signs and once they figured it out--would relay the pitches to the dugout in order to prepare hitters.
Yes, Major League Baseball was um, less than thrilled to hear this and started an investigation.
The allegations have started to include some former employees/players such as Carlos Beltran and Joey Cora (both of whom are now current MLB Managers)....and have branched out to random news stories claiming players may---or may not have worn bandages with buzzers attached to help relay what pitches might be coming. (No, I don't believe this one)...
For their part, the Astros have not said a word publicly about ANY of the allegations. And just to make things abundantly clear---they are not the only team in baseball who has or is trying to steal signs during a game.
BUT....they appear to have gotten caught. Inadvertently--maybe, but they got caught. And while there are no rules against stealing signs, as I said earlier, the use of video to do it is a MUCH bigger problem.
The Astros under team owner Jim Crane have been wildly successful the past few seasons winning a World Series and competing for Series berths for the past couple of seasons. They are renowned for their use of analytics to help develop prospects and fine tune free agents.
With success, yes, comes some jealousy and maybe it is a little of that which makes me say they could be the new "Bad Guys" of baseball. I get that most people in Houston would disagree and spew lots of profanities towards anyone insinuating what, well, the rest of the Sports world is currently saying.
Then again if you think about it: Go talk to a Red Sox or Yankees fan. Most are die hard fans to the nth degree and truly believe their respective teams are the world the rest of the league orbits around. And that is ok.
Ask someone who doesn't live in one of those towns and the answer is likely very, very different.
Being the "Heel" is not necessarily a bad thing for the Astros if they embrace the role and don't worry about what the "Face" teams think (pro wrestling terms).
But understand Rob Manfred and his MLB Investigators are likely going to come down pretty hard on this one. The Sports Illustrated writer incident was stupid, ham-handed Public Relations and was different than this. The Astros are going to get punished--the question at this point is going to be how much?
If you want to win, you have to understand sometimes it is necessary to turn to the Dark Side. Just ask the New England Patriots who are considered by anyone not living in or from that part of the universe as perpetual cheaters. They aren't--they are just very good at using the rule book to their advantage.
The Patriots are proof you can play the heel and win without concern for what anyone thinks and look how many titles they have won.
Really, at the end of the day, for a Professional Sports team, that is all that really matters.