Are the Houston Astros the villains or the antiheroes of baseball? The answer is not so simple

Courtesy+of+Keith+Allison

Courtesy of Keith Allison

Kyle McKee

Shortly after the punishment was announced Astros owner Jim Crane decided to fire both Hinch and Luhnow.

The methods of the Astros’ cheating was initially uncovered by Mike Fiers, a pitcher for the Oakland Athletics who played for the Astros back in 2017.

Explaining the Astros’ cheating tactics to The Athletic, Fiers said that the Astros used a video camera in center field to film the opposing catcher’s signs to the pitcher. Astros players or staff members, who would watch the video feed behind the dugout, would then signal to their batter to indicate the type of pitch that was coming. The players would relay this information by banging on a trash can. According to the commissioner’s report, one bang would represent a breaking ball, such as a slider, while two bangs corresponded to a curveball. The absence of a bang would indicate a fastball.

In addition to those signals, Astros employees and even interns in the video room would decode signs and send them to the dugout to be relayed to runners on second base, who would then relay the signs to the batter.

Anyone who has played baseball or softball can attest to this simple truth: knowing what pitch is coming makes batting so much easier. What makes hitting a baseball in the Majors so hard is trying to figure out which pitch is coming. Former and current MLB players have told the media and stated through social media that knowing what pitch is coming is a bigger advantage than taking steroids.

Although this opinion may seem extreme, one can understand their perspective better by comparing the Astros’ actions to school. Knowing which pitch is coming is similar to a student receiving a copy of the answers to a test ahead of time. To compare, taking steroids is similar to having a professor as a tutor. The student, is more prepared for the test than his or her classmates but does not know the answers heading into the test.

None of the players were punished because Manfred granted them all immunity in exchange for information. Manfred has come out publicly many times saying that giving the players immunity was the best way to gather all the facts without the threat of retribution from the MLB Players’ Association.

 In response to Manfred’s actions, many prominent members of sports media, current MLB players and former baseball players have come out strongly against the commissioner. His actions have garnered criticism from outside baseball, with basketball superstar LeBron James weighing in on Twitter, bookended by an impossibly long hashtag, #JustMyThoughtsComingFromASportsJunkieRegardlessMyOwnSportIPlay.

To baseball fans, it is understandable to want to see the players get punished. They are the ones who did the cheating, so people want to see them punished for it. However, Manfred was in a no-win scenario. If Manfred didn’t give the players immunity, how would he and his staff get all the facts and information about everything that occurred?

With all that said, the lack of punishment for the players is not as shocking as fans believe it to be. In fact, the argument could be made that it is better that Manfred and his staff did not suspend any of the players because it will baseball more interesting when the season starts. More people are going to watch the Astros now, just to see all the boos and hate they receive. If the players got suspended, it wouldn’t be the same. Ultimately, sparking interest in baseball is the best thing that can happen for the sport, since interest in it has declined every year over the past decade. 

What has made the Astros’ story so polarizing has been how the players themselves have behaved. In theory, the team should be apologetic, acknowledge what it did, and say that it will earnestly attempt to move on. In reality, the Astros have been unapologetic, even to the point of arrogance and that is why this story is still being discussed.

Baseball now has a legitimate villain in the Astros and having villains in sports is what makes them so entertaining and increases popularity. Look at the NBA. Ratings are down for this season, which is not too serious, but why are they down? The league is wide-open this season, there are so many great teams that are legitimate title contenders, the Lakers, Clippers, Bucks, Celtics and Raptors being just a few examples. Additionally, there are so many great players around the basketball league, such as Giannis Antetokounmpo, LeBron and Kawhi Leonard to name a few. Well, the problem with the NBA is the absence of a villain to help make headlines.

The most recent example of these types of storylines has been the Golden State Warriors during their dynasty of four years from 2015 to 2018. Those Warriors teams, who many people believed were bad for basketball due to their continued dominance, were just the opposite. They were fantastic for basketball because it gave a reason for casual fans that normally would not be interested until April to watch a Wednesday night basketball game in the middle of February. 

The Astros fulfill the villain role  in the MLB as those Warriors did in the NBA. Houston will spark interest in people that wouldn’t normally tune into a Sunday night baseball game in the middle of June. 

The idea of a villain or a Goliath in sports is special in that fanbases and teams can be loosely united under a common banner. Everyone wants to see Goliath fall, no matter who David is. Although the fall of Astros’ is not set in stone, the schadenfreude that many fans will have seeing Houston lose will keep fans coming back to baseball.