A Fan’s Dilemma

Advisory:  This is a non-metal post.  I have personal story to tell.  It’s kind of a confessional and sort of a mental exercise of sorting out my own thoughts about the Houston Astros cheating scandal and how it has affected me and my identity as a fan.  Indulge me, if you will, but this has been weighing on me for some time and I think I just need to get it out.

I have other interests than just metal.  One of my other loves is the sport of baseball and, more particularly, I have been Houston Astros fan for most of my life.  My fandom comes from the fact that I was born in the city of Houston and the Astros ball club was always a scrappy little underdog of a team with the most amazing technicolor rainbow uniforms.  Sure they didn’t have the glorious history as the blueblood franchises like the Yankees, Red Sox, Dodgers or Cubs.  But it was always a point of pride that they weren’t the type of club trying to throw as much money as they could at as many free agents as they could to win a championship.  It always felt like the Astros were going about it the right way.  It always felt as though they were a decent set of guys and I, for the most part, felt good about having the Astros as my team.  Sure, there were rumors of Mike Scott scuffing the ball in ’86 and you had whispers surrounding the Astros in the 90s during the heydays of the steroid scandals, especially when Ken Caminiti revealed his long term drug use.  In hindsight, it’s hard to look back on those teams and not suspect that either member of the club’s iconic duo, Craig  Biggio and Jeff Bagwell, weren’t tainted in some manner during this time especially given their close friendships to Caminiti.  However, as a fan, it was easy to look the other way during this time because the steroid and human growth hormone issue was so prevalent during this time.

I believe the first time that I really started feeling a tad conflicted about my fandom with the Astros started when they made one of their more blatant splash into the free agent market when they signed both Andy Petitite and Roger Clemens from the hated Yankees.  At the time of the signing, Clemens, along with Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire, was one of the poster children of the steroids era and really represented the shitty side of professional sports (i.e. putting wining at all costs above everything else).  However, I, being the loyal fan, brushed aside any concerns about his possible cheating when the team began to win and even managed to make the World Series in 2005.  It was all awesome until it ended up coming out later that Petitite had tested positive for human growth hormone and his statement implicating Clemens as well.

So, let’s skip ahead a few years to this current crop of Astros.  You had to be a dedicated fan to be a fan of the Astros during the lean years.  The ball club changed ownership and the new regime brought in a new GM, Jeff Luhnow, to try and turn the team around.  The strategy resulted in the stripping of the club of all of its valuable parts and starting from scratch through the draft.  It was a wasteland on the field because the team was basically fielding a team made up of Triple A talent.  However, the strategy ultimately worked because the Astros had several successful drafts that resulted in a core group of young players that were extremely talented.  Sticking with the team through the lean years made it all the more satisfying when the team began to win.  And it is hard to discount how great these players seemed.  They always looked like they were having fun playing this game and it felt as though they all really enjoyed each other’s company as well.  It felt like a band of brothers in the best sense.  I got a lot of joy watching these guys play and I felt proud to show off my Astros colors wherever I was.  It just felt cool to be a fan of the Astros.  When they won the World Series in 2017, I was just beside myself with joy.  I never thought I would see the day that my scrappy little team would be crowned champions.  What made it even sweeter was that we weren’t the fucking Yankees.  We did this the right way.  Built from the ground up with a good group of dudes.

At least that’s what I thought….

I feel like I should have seen this coming.  My first sense that things weren’t as cool as they seemed in Astros land was when Yuli Gurriel made a slanty-eye gesture regarding Dodger pitcher Yu Darvish after he took Darvish deep in Game 3 of the 2017 World Series.  I was shocked and embarrassed by the gesture.  Now, for his part, Gurriel seemed contrite and genuinely sorry for the gesture and repeatedly stated that the gesture wasn’t malicious in intent.  But, c’mon, man, that’s just not something you do.  Then, in 2018, my fandom took another hit when the team traded for Roberto Osuna in 2018.  Osuna as a member of the Blue Jays had been serving a 75 game suspension from MLB after being arrested for beating up his girlfriend and mother of his son.  This was the first public face of the win-at-all-costs mentality that had gripped this team.  The Astros had a publicly announced zero tolerance policy against domestic violence by any of its players or staff.  Yet, here they were, signing a dude who was just coming off a serious suspension for a credible report of domestic violence.  It is very possible that the only reason Osuna wasn’t in jail was the fact that the victim had returned to Mexico and refused to cooperate with police in Toronto.  Houston’s management team gave lip service to doing due diligence in regard to the incident and Osuna’s off-field behavior and declared themselves satisfied that Osuna was working to change his future behavior and that there had been no further incidents since the alleged abuse took place.  It was just a coincidence that Osuna was one of the best young relievers in the game and Houston had a gaping hole in the back end of their bullpen.  Fuck our values and integrity.  We need a closer!  This really felt like a sellout by the team in my opinion.  But, they were still winning and I rationalized the move as being OK as long as Osuna didn’t get in anymore trouble.  Second chances and all that.  And from all reports, Osuna hasn’t had any off-field issues since he came to Houston.  But, I felt like shit every time he came into a game and helped them win.  It just felt dirty.  It stopped being a feel-good story.

And then at the end of last season as the Astros were attempting to win their second World Series title, rumors starting swirling about a pitching signal cheating scandal through the use of a replay camera and video feed that was located off of the Astros’ dugout.  Once again, I tried to rationalize it away.  These guys aren’t cheaters.  Look at Altuve, Correa and Springer.  No possible way these guys would stoop to cheating.

Well, I was wrong.  And they were wrong.  And I am fucking pissed.  The 2017 World Series Championship doesn’t mean shit.  It’s gone in my opinion.  Never happened.  Reading the Commissioner’s Report on the scandal shows that this rot infected every level of this organization.  MLB took decisive action by suspending GM Jeff Luhnow and Manager A.J. Hinch for not stepping into to stop the cheating.  The Astros themselves decided to take this punishment further by firing both Luhnow and Hinch.  I think the action taken in both instances was more than justified and a step in the right direction.  However, as the Commissioner’s Report noted, this was a player driven cheating scheme.  The only two members of the Astros named personally as being direct participants and ringleaders of the scheme were former bench coach, Alex Cora, and reserve veteran player, Carlos Beltran.  Cora is currently under investigation for his possibly using the same sort of cheating scheme in 2018 after he took the managing job with the Boston Red Sox.  Beltran had been hired this offseason as the new manager of the New York Mets, but was subsequently released after the report.  Both Cora and Beltran have been fired by the Red Sox and  Mets respectively for their part in the cheating scandal.

Since the report didn’t single out any other players, there is no telling which guys were involved in this scheme.  As a consequence, they are all culpable.  There have been a few players who were with the Astros in 2017 that have come forward and offered apologies and statements saying that they should have stepped up and stopped it.  The four players that have made such statements, Joe Musgrove, Dallas Keuchel, Charlie Morton and Marwin Gonzalez, are all no longer with the Astros.  Musgrove, to his credit, went as far as to say that it is hard to deny that the 2017 championship isn’t tainted.  There aren’t any current Astros that were on the 2017 team that have come forward with any comparable statements.  And I know there are legal issues and their agents have probably instructed them to not make any statements, but I find it fucking cowardly that no current players have made any statements of explanation or regret.  Alex Bregman gave a standard legal-speak during an Astros Winter Caravan stop with the lame, “The Commissioner came out with a report, MLB did a report and the Astros did what they did….I have no thoughts on it.”  That kind of shit is not going to cut it in repairing a damaged relationship.

So, where does that leave fans of the Astros?  Do we simply move forward as if nothing ever happened?  Do we still celebrate the 2017 championship?  Do we forgive the players for their deceit?  Do we stay in a state of denial and claim that everyone cheats and that the Astros were simply doing what everyone else in the league was doing?

I don’t really have an answer.  But my feelings for my team have changed.  I can’t look at this group of guys the same way.  Maybe I’m just being naive, but I want to believe that what I see on the field is real.  I want it to be the product of fair play.  I want to be proud to be a fan and have confidence that when they win that they are doing in a fair and just manner.  As of right now, I’m not there.  Every story I see about the Astros seems to be in this la-la land where the scandal never happened and they are expecting all of us to simply rally around the team with no questions asked or explanations given.  And I don’t want to hear excuses like, “Everyone else is doing the same thing.”  I don’t give a shit if they are.  I want my team to be better than everyone else.  Even yesterday, owner Jim Crane announced that there will be a team meeting to discuss a strategy in handling the matter going into the 2020 season.  I think we deserve better than “a strategy”.  I think every single player needs to come out and publicly own this shit.  There needs to be an unequivocal “We fucked up.  We cheated.  We apologize to the Dodgers and to their fans and to our fans for the deceit.  It will not happen again.”  And, honestly, even if they do come out in Spring Training and offer explanations and acknowledgment of fault, I’m not sure it is enough to make me feel better about my continuing affiliation with this ballclub.

This has been a really sad period for me.  I feel like I’m on the verge of a break-up.  I’m not sure where I go from here.  I’ll probably keep an eye on the team this year and see how the players react to the scandal going forward.  Maybe they can make amends.  I just don’t know.  But, there is a real possibility I move on to a new team.  Which also feels terrible.

It feels as though this is just a symptom of the time we live in.  Everything is terrible and everyone is looking for the quickest route to success at all costs regardless of the consequences or how many people it ends up hurting.  From Wall Street and the economy to our political system, there is a rot that is destroying everything good and decent.  When I can’t even find solace in rooting for a baseball team as a respite from the outside bullshit the world throws at me on a daily basis, I have to question what the hell are we doing wrong.

At least metal is still fucking awesome.  Nobody mess with that.  Please.

Addendum:  The Astros just had a press conference this morning to address the scandal.  Owner Jim Crane apologized, but actually said that he didn’t feel as though the cheating by his team affected the outcome of the 2017 World Series.  He said that they had a good team and seemed to imply that they would have won it even if they hadn’t cheated.  Then why did they do it, Jim?  And why did you fire Luhnow and Hinch?  If the cheating made no difference in the outcome, why have any repercussions within the organization at all?  Alex Bregman and Jose Altuve also gave extremely brief statements that basically sounded like canned answers.  We’re sorry.  We were wrong.  But we’re moving on to 2020.  Everybody rally around the family!  Yay!!  This just isn’t going to cut it with me.  I think I may be done with this team.

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