Trash-Canning the Rich Tradition of Baseball

As one of the largest MLB cheating scandals of all time ensues, the Houston Astros’ fanbase, players, coaches and front office attempt to defend their past actions.

Cartoon+by%3A+Zach+Long

Cartoon By: Zach Long

Cartoon by: Zach Long

OPINION BY: Josh Hennings, Sports Editor

In 2011, a 5‘6, 168-pound kid from Venezuela named Jose Altuve made his Major League Baseball (MLB) debut for the Houston Astros. He would go on to be a six-time all-star, three-time American League (AL) batting title winner, the 2017 AL MVP, the 2015 second base gold glove award, a five-time second base silver slugger and a 2017 World Series champion. With such a decorated career, Altuve found himself as a role model for young baseball players who do not have a tall, muscular, and large stature with big dreams. In the autumn of 2019 however, Altuve found himself at the forefront of one of the largest cheating scandals in MLB history. 

During the 2019 MLB regular season, former Astros pitcher and 2017 champion, along with Altuve, and current Oakland Athletics pitcher Mike Fiers came forward to The Athletic, a sports media and journalism company. Fiers told Ken Rosenthal, a popular MLB beat writer and journalist for The Athletic, about the Astros stealing pitching signs during their 2017 season, in which Houston won the World Series and Altuve won the AL MVP. The report included accusations that the Astros had cameras positioned on opposing teams’ catchers, during games in Houston, at Minute Maid Park, the Astros home field. These cameras would have a live stream directly in to a television in a room of the Astros dugout unable to be seen by the fans or by TV cameras. In the room with the live stream of opposing catchers’ signs, a member of the Astros staff would bang a trash can in specific sequences to signify which types of pitches the Astros’ batters would receive. The report also claimed that the Astros only used this form of cheating during home games, not away games. 

After this report leaked out into the public’s hands, baseball fandom had an uproar, leading the MLB commissioner, Rob Manfred, to conduct an investigation into the sign stealing cheating scandal Fiers claimed his former team used during the 2017 season. The commissioner’s investigation was completed in January of 2020. The team received a punishment of their head coach A.J. Hinch and General Manager Jeff Luhnow being suspended from baseball for one season, a loss of two furure first and two future second round draft picks and a $5 million fine. 

As a lifelong baseball fan, I am absolutely repulsed and dumbfounded by the Astros’ cheating, however what I am more disgusted by is the Astros’ players’ apologies. At the start of spring training, some of the Astros’ most influential players of the 2017 season, in which they cheated their way to a World Series, held a press conference apologizing for their actions. Some of the best players in the MLB, including Alex Bregman, Jose Altuve, George Springer, Carlos Correa, and many more read, which I am sure was an impressively written letter by their publicist, to the media. These apologizes were measly and it was clear that the players felt almost zero remorse for their actions; the apologies seemed like more of a “sorry we got caught,” rather than a legitimate sorrowful and regretful apology. 

MLB stars like Cody Bellinger, Aaron Judge, Trevor Bauer, and Mike Clevinger are some of the players that have publicly ripped the Astros as a team, their players, their executives and their fanbase. Bellinger believed the Astros stole a title from his Dodgers in 2017 and Jose Altuve, the Astros’ second basemen robbed Aaron Judge of the 2017 AL MVP. Bellinger is the voice of all of baseball in this scenario. The Astros’ shortstop, Carlos Correa may be the most annoying of the current Astros’ players defending their actions. Correa went at Bellinger claiming that the Dodgers’ outfielder does not know how to read. Correa is in absolutely no position to be firing at other players.  

Even MLB’s poster boy, Mike Trout, who is far and away the best current player in baseball, went after the Astros franchise. Trout, usually a rather conformed and non-opinionated player, belittled the Astros, a team who plays in Trout’s team’s, the Los Angeles Angels, division. He commented on the ordeal saying how it was sad for the sport of baseball, and publicly disagreeing with the players themselves receiving no punishment whatsoever. 

I am with Trout on this one; the Astros players, who knowingly participated in the cheating, received zero suspension time, zero fines, zero endorsement restrictions and no personal punishments. I seriously do not understand the MLB commissioner, Rob Manfred’s, thought process on this. The players went out of their way and cheatingly paved their road to the world series trophy. Manfred is under serious scrutiny after releasing the punishment details for the organization, as he should be. The fact that the players only punishment is—for the most part—hate from opposing fans is proof that the MLB commissioner took this far too lightly; Manfred’s reasoning for the level of punishment was due to no previous precedent set in the league for a scandal like this, but this is clearly a poorly executed excuse to get himself off of the hot seat.  

I am just baffled by the Astros’ players’ ability to act like their cheating does not have a large effect on the game. Carlos Beltran, a player on the 2017 Astros retired from his playing career the same year. In 2019, the New York Mets hired Beltran to be their manager for the 2020 season, however in January of 2020, in the midst of the commissioner’s report releasing to the public, Beltran was fired by the Mets. Another example of the way the scandal affected so many in the MLB is former Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Mike Bolsinger, who suing the Astros for changing the overall course of his career. On August 4th, 2017, Bolsinger faced the Astros in Houston, where he gave up four runs on four hits, one of which was a home run, and he recorded just one out. Bolsinger was then sent down to the minor leagues and has yet to have seen an MLB mound again. The day Bolsinger got lit up by Houston’s offense occurred on the same date, August 4th, 2017, that the most recorded bangs (54) were tracked 

The entirety of the Astros’ cheating scandal is bigger than baseball; not only is it a disgrace to America’s oldest sports league, but it is a degradation and a complete and utter act of pure disrespect by the players, coaches and executives involved to the league, others teams, and the public.  

As a fan who follows baseball almost religiously, I respected the Astros organization for so long for building up their team, rather than paying for it like the Dodgers, Red Sox and Yankees are known for doing. Players like Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, Alex Bregman, George Springer, all of which are top tier players, were drafted, developed, and trained into stars—all by the Astros organization themselves. It’s so difficult to build a super-team from the ground up, which is why I held the Astros’ organization with such high esteem and respect in the past, however now, I—and the majority of baseball fans—have completely lost any sense of dignity once held for the Astros. The last sliver of respect I had for Houston’s MLB franchise faded once the Astros’ players began firing back at other MLB players for slandering their organization. 

What the Houston Astros did is a disgrace and defilement to the tradition of class and integrity among so many of the franchises in baseball. The Astros’ sign stealing scandal is worse than steroid usage in the game, it’s worse than the 1919 black sox scandal, where the Chicago White Sox intentionally threw the 1919 World Series for extra cash and it’s far worse than Pete Rose betting on his own team to win. Steroids, while clearly a disgrace to baseball, is still not nearly as bad as this scandal; while on steroids, players still must have the ability to play the game of baseball, see pitches, read pitches, and put bats to balls. The Astros hitters used technology to rely pitch signs to batters, so they would know exactly what pitch was coming. This puts their hitters at an astronomical advantage in the offensive department.  

Even more repulsing is the Astros’ fanbase’s response to other players, fans and people bad-mouthing Houston’s franchise. The Astros’ fanbase searches for a multitude of meager alibis and excuses to exonerate their team and players. I understand backing up your favorite franchise, but there is only so much one cannot accept. It is glaringly clear when looking at the Astros’ 2017 home and road splits; almost every single batter on the Astros playoff roster had nearly double the batting average, runs batted in, home runs and much more. The toxicity of the fanbase has reached nearly every other MLB team’s fans, causing only more hatred and slander to be thrown at the team. Houston’s fan’s response to the entire scandal is only further lighting the fire that the Astros’ front office has been attempting to put out since Fiers brought the scandal to light.  

Now, the Astros players seek forgiveness from the fans, after the details were released from the commissioners investigation, not when they won the World Series, not when they banged trash cans on the majority of their home games and not even when Mike Fiers, who was on the team in 2017, came forward. The players who participated in the sign stealing will never be able to live it down. Players who were loved by so many, such as Altuve, Correa and Springer have permanently tarnished and blacked their careers, and they must accept that they will never be looked at the same, not by the current generation of baseball fans or fans decades from now. Even one of my personal favorite MLB players not on my favorite team, Alex Bregman, will never be looked at the same by me. I used to love the way he played the game, I looked up to him as a man, as did many others, but now Bregman has forever polluted his legacy. 

Fiers should be listed as a whistleblower, not a snitch; he had the interest of all of baseball in mind, rather than his own personal interest in mind when leaking the scandal. Despite Fiers having knowledge of the cheating, he was the first of very few Astros players from the 2017 team to take responsibility and own up to the team’s actions. 

It’s completely fair for fans to feel little to zero remorse for the Astros organization, their players, coaches and executives, because that is precisely the way the team and players handled this situation, with almost zero grief, guilt or acceptance of responsibility, as every player’s apology wasn’t a true apologetic speech, but a reasoning for why it wasn’t really as bad as all of the fans thought, and they’re right, it’s far more worse than they could have ever imagined.   

Personally, I am counting down the days until the Astros first away series in Oakland, California, one of the rowdiest sports cities in America, just to bask in the noise and sight of the rain of boos, taunts and hate they are going to receive from the home crowd. The players are going to be booed all season long, and for many, for the majority of their career. The stats and 2017 title next to each player’s name on that roster will forever have an asterisk next to it, whether it’s metaphorical or literal, the team as a whole and the careers of the players of the 2017 World Series champion Houston Astros are forever going to be blemished, and rightfully so. 

Today, that short and speedy Venezuelan kid named Jose Altuve finds himself in front of a tower of hatred from MLB fandom, opposing players and the general public. The man once praised for being a pioneer and role model for less physically imposing athletes, is now known as one of the biggest cheaters in baseball history, with his legacy forever tainted. Once touted as a future hall of famer, Jose Altuve will be lucky to receive a fraction of hall of fame votes that others have by the time his career wraps up. As a teenager who has grown up throughout this Astros dynasty, respecting their organization and enjoying their players and success, I would say that I speak for all of baseball fans, when I say that I want to see this Houston Astros’ organization figuratively burn to the ground.