The presence of the Houston Astros, who arrived in Baltimore on Monday for a three-game series with the Orioles, has me thinking of “The Great Gatsby.”
In F. Scott Fitzgerald’s revered chronical of the Jazz Age, Gatsby introduces Nick Carraway to his shady business partner, Meyer Wolfsheim, whom Gatsby reveals was responsible for fixing the 1919 World Series. That was the year that eight Chicago White Sox players were accused of throwing the series in exchange for payments from a gambling syndicate. It seems to me that Fitzgerald chose a connection to this actual event in order to apprise the reader of the full extent of Wolfsheim’s nefariousness. After all, what could be worse than to defile the preeminent event of America’s pastime?
Which brings me to the Houston Astros.
In 2017, the Astros won 101 regular season games and ultimately defeated the Los Angeles Dodgers to win the World Series, while hitting a record 15 home runs in seven games. In 2018, they won 103 games and reached the American League Championship Series. During 2019, they won 107 games, and again went to the World Series, losing to the Washington Nationals in seven games.
However, the Astros’ success is forever tainted by the ultimate revelation that they had been employing a pervasive and illegal sign-stealing system involving cameras. In fact, speculation had long been spreading throughout baseball about the Astros tactics, so much so that the Nationals developed an elaborate system of signs designed to counter the Astros’ sign-stealing during the 2019 World Series. Shortly after that series, an article published in The Athletic detailed the sign-stealing scheme, which included using video monitors and players in the dugout banging on trash cans to convey stolen signs to the field.
A subsequent report from Major League Baseball confirmed that the team had employed illegal sign-stealing methods at least during the 2017 and 2018 seasons. Baseball suspended Astros’ General Manager Jeff Luhnow and Manager A.J. Hinch for one year, fined the team $5 Million, and revoked its first and second round draft picks for 2020 and 2021. Former Astros bench coach, Alex Cora, was later suspended for a year as manager of the Boston Red Sox. However, unlike the 1919 World Series scandal, when the eight implicated White Sox players were banned from baseball for life, not a single Astros’ player was even disciplined.
Whether Astros management condoned the extensive sign-stealing, or simply looked the other way, it is clear that it was players who enthusiastically carried out the scheme and benefited from it. The fact that none have suffered any penalty and all have been allowed to continue to earn their enormous salaries without interruption, leaves many fans feeling as if the true perpetrators of the crime have been given a pass.
There is, however, a means by which fans can give voice to their dissatisfaction, which is as old as the game itself. For generations, the “boo” has been the accepted norm for expressing disapproval at a baseball game. Even the game’s most cheerful hymn, “It’s a Beautiful Day for a Ballgame” asserts that “we’re gonna cheer and boo, and raise a hullabaloo at the ballgame today.” When well delivered in the proper circumstances, the boo can rise to editorial form.
With fans not in attendance during the pandemic shortened 2020 season, there was no opportunity for the Astros players to be informed of the fans’ opinions regarding the sign-stealing disgrace. But with fans returning in 2021, first in limited number, but now becoming unrestricted, the inhabitants of cities visited by the Astros have not been hesitant to express themselves.
There are particular star players on the current Astros roster who were part of the 2017 and 2018 teams, most notably position players Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, Carlos Correa and Yuli Gurriel, along with pitcher Lance McCullers Jr. I leave it those who will be attending the Astros games at Camden Yards on Wednesday, especially those seated within earshot of the visiting on-deck circle, to determine how these players should be greeted for their final game.
Raymond Daniel Burke, a Baltimore native, is a shareholder in a downtown law firm. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.