There is some rejoicing, and much consternation, over the penalties levied on the Houston Astros in the wake of revelations that they did not come by the 2017 World Series title honestly.
General Manager Jeff Luhnow and Manager A.J. Hinch went, overnight, from esteemed leaders to answers to trivia questions for years to come. (“I’m sorry, ‘Who is Buck Showalter?’ is not correct. Perhaps you were thinking of our earlier question, ‘This manager is kind of dumb but he won a lot of games anyway.’”) Draft picks have been lost and 500,000,000 pennies taken away.
But, you aggrieve, they didn’t take away the Astros’ championship that was won under false pretenses. Flags fly forever and stuff like that. That worry only exists if you think the Astros won anything in 2017.
Which, in a sense they did. They most certainly won more games than the other guys during a week or so in late October. Just as if you put any basketball team on the court and lowered their rim to 9 feet while keeping their opponent’s rim at 10 feet, undoubtedly they could win at least 4 out any 7 games you asked them play.
That’s not winning. History will remember some great pitches and dramatic hits, but it will also recall the asterisk — even if it is only implied — that sits along side ill gotten gains. It’s not that the Los Angeles Dodgers are champions from 2017, it’s just that the Astros aren’t.
And this is sad, especially if you are an Astros fan, in light of the immense amount of talent that team has had the past 3 years. They could most certainly have won a World Series title on their own merit just by suiting up and playing ball. But the toxic “win at all costs” culture pervading the organization has stripped the club of the chance to be seen as winners even though they won games, and if perception is reality in the court of public opinion then the verdict is in and cannot be appealed.
As an A’s fan, my reaction to all this is not much anger, even if the cheating persisted into 2018 and/or 2019 when Oakland was competing for the division. That’s because I am only interested in, and only really recognize, fair wins — 97 of which the A’s earned each of the last two seasons playing (as far as we know) fair and proper.
I wouldn’t trade places for even a minute, not for a tarnished flag nor for the number 107 beside some published win column. Events like this just make me more proud to be an A’s fan, to have Bob Melvin at the helm, Billy Beane and David Forst leading the way, a clubhouse culture well known to be positive. Would I like 10 more wins? Would a World Series championship be nice? Sure. But at any cost? No. No way. Not even close.
The Astros will pay, in some ways, for the culture that pervaded the front office and clubhouse. They will pay with top draft picks and money, and in two cases with their jobs. But really they have already made a bigger payment and that is to be steeped in a culture that does not really understand what it even means to be a winner. And in some way, that is actually tragic.