Keidel: MLB Must Strip Astros Of 2017 Title

Baseball Needs To Send Strong Message About Cheating

Jason Keidel
February 14, 2020 - 11:57 am

It feels cruel at first. After years of boasting, roasting and toasting a team that never won a title in 45 years, the fine fans of Houston finally saw their Astros win the World Series. Now we're telling them that their enchanted 2017 season never happened. Vacate the title. Sweep clean the only great season since the Colt .45s first took the field in 1962. 

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All those forlorn years in the Astrodome. All those brutal losses and near-misses and that painfully classic Game 6 against the Mets in 1986 would once again be the best they got. Telling them to pull those rings from their fingers just feels cruel. 

But we must. 

All the trappings that come with fandom —  the late nights watching on TV, the wet nights watching at the ballpark, the overpriced pretzels and parking and squatting in traffic and wrapping yourself in team colors and all the good luck charms and tchotchkes you saved over the decades — can only exist under one premise.  

The Houston Astros celebrate defeating the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 7 to win the 2017 World Series at Dodger Stadium on Nov. 1, 2019.
Richard Mackson/USA TODAY Images

The games we're watching are real.  

The reason baseball banned Pete Rose and is so scared of gambling is because they are threats to that reality. So when we have confirmed reports that the Astros cheated in 2017 by installing illegal equipment in their home park for the purpose of sign stealing — and the subsequent punishments by MLB and the twin firings of the manager and general manager — then we can't abide by a World Series title they didn't win by the book. 

Sure, baseball has flouted the rules. From spitballs to steroids, our pastime has some glaring gaps in its conscience. It took Jackie Robinson to show the game that all men are created equal, and it took Curt Flood to prove they deserve fair pay and free agency. 

But this wasn't a rogue player jamming equine potions into his bulging buttocks. This wasn't a single, sick man lost in gambling addiction. This was systemic cheating, known and carried out by the bosses, from the GM to Carlos Beltran. (For those of us who actually wanted the Mets to keep Beltran … my bad!) 

The Astros didn't just win unfairly; they mutilated history. For all we know, the Yankees would have won the '17 Fall Classic, which would have saved Joe Girardi's job. Or maybe the Dodgers beat the Yankees and win their first title since Tommy Lasorda, Orel Herschiser and Kirk Gibson shocked the Oakland A's in 1988. 

And these aren't just the musings of indignant Yankees fans or gasbag sportswriters. A conga line of luminaries is calling for the Astros to surrender their title. CC Sabathia, Andre Dawson and the immortal Hank Aaron are just a few crying foul and forfeit. 

A former Blue Jays pitcher, Mike Bolsinger, is suing the Astros for effectively ending his career by pounding pitches they knew were coming. He's merely asking for the Astros to funnel the $31 million they won in World Series bonuses to charity. 

Josh Reddick, a career .263 batter who miraculously hit .314 in 2017, responded with a caustic tweet. Who can blame him? Houston got away with it, while MLB fined them $5 million, which is barely more than team owner Jim Crane can dig up between the cushions on his couch. 

No one feels sorry for the Yankees, their fans or the Big Apple. That isn't the story. The Astros must take off the title belt because of the precedent it sets if they don't. If we let the Astros pretend they won the World Series, then we condone cheating on an industrial scale. We are saying that a team's brass can bless or hatch a plan to steal games from opponents who don't have the same chance to win. We're saying it's better to ignore the rules than obey them, that even in our oldest and proudest sport, victory trumps virtue.

Baseball already has a problem luring young fans because of the way the games are played. They don't want to lose them forever because of the way the games are won. 

Follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonKeidel.