The Major League Baseball season is officially underway — in some limited form, at least. Fans aren’t in the stands; producers are generating cringey fake crowd noises anyway to keep up the appearance of normality. Also, players have to remain relatively isolated, games already are getting cancelled abruptly as players test positive for second-wave coronavirus, and the season has been shortened by more than 60 percent.
Still, baseball is baseball, and for those of us with nostalgic memories of youthful Little League games, Saturday-evening barbecues, and special nights at the ballpark with Papa, nothing could be more exciting. (Sorry, upcoming James Bond installment No Time to Die. But you’re almost as exciting).
Anyway, where am I going with this article? The title may have given it away: The one thing that could spoil baseball’s charmingly flawed return for me is if the Houston Astros find a way to win the World Series. This isn’t a particularly brave take at the moment: Ninety-nine percent of baseball fans seem to be united in this sentiment. Even Red Sox fans, who have a rivalry of epic proportions with Yankees fans, have told me that they would rather see my franchise go the distance than see the cheating slime down in Space City win it all.
For those readers unacquainted with the Astros’ cheating scandal, here’s the deal: An official MLB investigation earlier this year found that the franchise had engaged in sign-stealing at least during the 2017 and 2018 seasons. Sign-stealing basically amounts to gaining a competitive edge by cracking the code that a pitcher and catcher (or coach and baserunner) use to communicate with each other about what to expect on an upcoming pitch. Not so controversial; minor tactics like this are employed all the time. The Red Sox were found to have employed similar ones in 2018.
The difference with the Astros was that their conspiracy was far graver — reaching all the way to the top of the organization — and far more systematic and tech-driven. There’s a long-standing difference recognized in baseball between soft and hard cheating; the behavior of the Astros clearly falls into the latter camp.
To me, these tactics are personal. Watching my brilliant Baby Bombers play against the Astros in the 2017 American League Championship Series for a spot in the World Series, valiantly overcoming a 2-0 deficit only to blow two straight opportunities to seal the deal in Houston, was heart-wrenching enough. I was sick to my stomach. My ten-year-old brother was bawling on the floor of our living room.
But the fact that this series might have been decided by the sign-stealing? This is simply infuriating. Likewise, I imagine, for Dodgers fans: Their team lost to the Astros in a tight seven-game World Series, just after the Yankees lost the ALCS. Perhaps the worst part about the whole thing is the arrogance with which the Astros took people for fools, expressing performative indignation at the mere suggestion that they would cheat.
The Astros have caught a lucky break: COVID-19 likely will ensure that the organization doesn’t have to contend with a single angered fan for the remainder of the season. (Nevertheless, the sound of plentiful fastballs launched intentionally onto the backs of Astros players promises to fill the air like sweet music.) But if there is any justice at all in this atrociously bad year, if this baseball season is even able to conclude, please, God, let the Astros fall to a heroic slayer — agh, it could even be the Red Sox, I guess.