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Devil’s advocate: Why A’s fans can be happy the Astros beat the Red Sox in the ALCS

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The Astros are easy to root against, but should we have been doing so?

Championship Series - Boston Red Sox v Houston Astros - Game One
There’s exactly one cheater in this photo
Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

I’m not a fan of the Houston Astros, and I’m not rooting for them to win the World Series. In my ideal world, they wouldn’t have made the playoffs at all, because my Oakland A’s would have won the AL West division instead.

But here we are, and last week the Astros faced off against the Boston Red Sox in the ALCS. With Houston being both our bitter division rival and the trendy villains of MLB after their recent cheating scandal, it seemed obvious to root against them as A’s fans. This was a total no-brainer and shouldn’t even require a second thought. Even if it meant success for the Sox, for whom the Oakland faithful has no particular love either.

As the series unfolded, something strange and unexpected happened in my brain. It was such an uncomfortable thought that I didn’t even want to say it out loud, and I’m even more conflicted now that it’s come true.

I was rooting for the Astros to beat the Red Sox, and I’m happy they did. Here are three reasons why.

The All-Time List

There are lots of stats and records in baseball, but one in particular stands above the rest. That’s the list of teams who have won the most World Series championships in MLB history.

Right now, the A’s stand in third place on that list, out of all 30 clubs. Impressive! However, they don’t hold that spot all alone. They’re tied, with the Red Sox.

  • 1st: Yankees, 27 championships
  • 2nd: Cardinals, 11
  • T-3rd: A’s, 9
  • T-3rd: Red Sox, 9
  • 5th: Giants, 8
  • 6th: Dodgers, 7
  • ... 50 feet of crap
  • T-21st: Astros, 1*

If Boston had won the title this month, they would have taken sole possession of that spot, and the A’s would have dropped down to fourth on the list. We can’t have that. Despising the Astros right now is an important part of a balanced sports diet, but I’m prioritizing the interests of my own favorite team over the schadenfreude of a recent rival. I care more about the A’s being third in championships than I do about the Astros being sad.

It was only 15 years ago that the A’s ranked second on this list, before St. Louis won in 2006 and 2011, led by none other than our own former manager Tony La Russa. If you’ve been a fan that long then you’ve already seen Oakland slip down one spot, so let’s not do it again yet. Houston is in no danger of passing us, and the Braves aren’t either as they’ve only won three times in 116 tries. Third place is safe for another year.

Cheater Bowl

Of course, division rivalries and championship totals aren’t the only issues at hand. The Astros cheated in 2017 when they won their title. They cheated, got caught, admitted to it, but then offered a weak apology and got only a slap on the wrist from the league as punishment. They should never ever get a free pass for that in the history books, and fans across the nation are still upset about it.

At this point though, we’re just yelling at the laundry. Only six players from the 2017 Astros played on the 2021 Astros, not counting the injured Justin Verlander. The list is Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, Carlos Correa, Yuli Gurriel, Marwin Gonzalez, and Lance McCullers Jr. The rest of the roster has turned over, as has the manager, most of the coaching staff, the GM, and the scouting director.

Heck, the A’s themselves technically employed four members of the 2017 Astros this year, between Tony Kemp, Mike Fiers, Michael Feliz, and Reymin Guduan. Granted, the three pitchers only combined for 24 of Oakland’s innings, and Kemp has been credibly exonerated from being part of the cheating scheme, but then the same report that cleared Kemp also cleared Altuve.

That still leaves a core of several complicit stars remaining in Houston, but not the same entire organization. It’s been long enough that it’s more complicated than that now. They have a bunch of new stars who never did anything wrong, and many of the tainted names have moved elsewhere.

Among those departures was Alex Cora, their bench coach at the time, who was identified as a mastermind and ringleader of the operation. He was one of the only people suspended by the league over the matter, for a full year. He’s now the manager of the Red Sox.

So we must ask ourselves, are we more mad at the team who cheated, or at the person who was actually most responsible for the cheating? Because in this case they were playing against each other, so we had to pick one of them.

Cora was also the manager of the Red Sox in 2018, before his suspension came down. The Sox won the World Series that year, and then later had their own much smaller cheating scandal come up. Cora was never connected to any involvement in that one, and most of the Boston roster has turned over since then, but it’s still a thing that happened.

If you don’t like teams who cheated, then this series wasn’t as simple as just rooting against the Astros. One way or other, someone central to the 2017 scandal was going to the Fall Classic.

And that’s all before looking in the mirror and reminding ourselves that Oakland has had two stars suspended for PEDs in the past three years, and three in the past decade.

Dusty Baker

From the perspective of A’s fans, Dusty Baker is often managing in the wrong dugout. For a decade he skippered the local rival Giants, and now he’s leading the division rival Astros. But regardless of uniform he’s one of the great people in baseball history, and it’s tough not to like him, with an extra reminder that he played two seasons for Oakland in the 1980s.

Houston beating Boston means Dusty gets to go to a World Series, for the first time since 2002. That’s a neat detail. I can’t go as far as rooting for the Astros to win the title just so Dusty can get his first career managerial championship, because I still have to keep it real as an A’s fan, but I can handle being happy for him winning a pennant.

Go Braves!

Fortunately, all of these considerations have been satisfied and don’t require any further winning by the Astros. The Sox are out and the A’s spot at third place on the champs list is safe no matter what happens over the next week. With the elimination of Boston goes the coach deemed most responsible for the 2017 Astros scandal, Cora. And hey, Dusty Baker gets to go to a World Series!

Now I can get back to normal. Houston plays Atlanta next, and this time I’ll be in my familiar mindset rooting against the Astros, which presumably will put me alongside most of Athletics Nation. After all, the Braves don’t have any cheating scandals from 2017 to worry about. Except for that one thing where their general manager was banned for life in November of that year for cheating. Shit.