Now, a brief interruption of this blog’s on-going obsession with the intolerable behavior of our #IMPOTUS, to offer evidence of the complete falsity of that old saying: it can’t get any worse.
Despite national championships from its professional basketball and baseball teams, and never even once from its NFL team, Houston is a football town in a football state. Always been that way. The Houston Oilers were the champions the first two years of the American Football League and never won it all again, but they were still the darlings of this town. Even when they set a league record for blowing the biggest lead ever in a playoff game (a record that still stands!), the people generally got over it by the start of the next season. (Didn’t forget, mind you, but bravely pressed on.) Their owner was hated, but the team was loved, and in 1997 when the hated owner made good on his threat and packed the team off to Tennessee, general melancholy set in among the folks left behind to mourn.
For many, a reason to live again came with the NFL expansion Houston Texans, who started league play in 2002 in a shiny new stadium that made the Astrodome look…well, just sad. Like most expansion teams (except the Oilers), the Texans were terrible; and yet, they have never not played before a sellout crowd in their home stadium. Because Houston is a football town, and the Texans are our team no matter what. In the past few years they have pretty regularly won the division in which they play, but have a losing record in the playoffs and have never gotten to the conference championship game and had a chance at the league championship game (which dare not speak its name). This year they had a come-from-behind victory in the first round of the playoffs which got them to a second round game against a team they had beaten during this regular season, and they started that game this past Sunday with a 24 point lead in the first quarter and so it looked like everything was going to go right this time. Right up until it didn’t. They gave up the whole 24 point lead, and more…much more; they were an utter embarrassment, far worse than most people predicted: I mean, c’mon, what kind of team allows the opponent to score touchdowns on SEVEN CONSECUTIVE POSSESSIONS?!?!
Today, there was general malaise, a lot of moping around, at least among those who weren’t still screaming at the execrable performance from Sunday or receiving treatment for their high blood pressure resulting therefrom. Disbelieving stares were exchanged in offices between co-workers who just couldn’t believe what they had seen on Sunday. The weather today also stunk, in the 50s and low 60s, drizzly and rainy all day long, nothing to help lighten the mood, even just a little. So when the bad news came today about the Houston Astros—and it was bad—it reminded me of the line from “Body Heat” when Ned Racine said “Sometimes the shit comes down so heavy I feel like I should wear a hat.”
Major League Baseball has apparently had its eye on the Astros for some time now, due to allegations that the team was breaking the written rules of baseball by using technology to steal the other team’s signs. Late last year, pitcher Mike Fiers was quoted saying that when he was an Astro in 2017—the year they won their one and only World Series championship—there was an elaborate plan to signal the batters so they would know what pitch was coming. That sparked a new investigation…today, Commissioner Rob Manfred released the report: in summary, it said that, yes, the Astros cheated; they cheated even after all the teams had been specifically warned not to do this very thing (after an investigation into allegations against the Boston Red Sox); that although the front office wasn’t behind the scheme the folks up there should have known and done something about it; and that the field manager, who knew what was going on but disapproved, didn’t stop it, either. (I’m still chewing on that: how does a manager who disapproves of his players conspiring to steal signs and sending signals to their teammates by beating on a trash can not put a stop to it?)
As punishment: the Astros lose first and second round draft choices in 2020 and 2021, pay a five million dollar fine, and the general manager and the field manager are each suspended without pay for all of the 2020 season!
Wow. Let me start right there — wow: big fine, four top draft picks gone, and the loss for a season of the general manager who transformed a train wreck into a winner and the manager who made it work and was widely regarded as one of the best in the business these days. Thinking that this was about as low as we could go, right…nope:
The owner fired the GM and the manager! Baseball suspended them but Jim Crane fired them both: “I felt that, with what came out of the report, they both had responsibility. Jeff [Luhnow] running the baseball operation and overseeing AJ [Hinch] and all of those people associated with that. And AJ, on the bench and was aware, if you read the report, it’s pretty clear. AJ didn’t endorse this, and neither did Jeff. Neither one of them started this, but neither one of them did anything about it. And that’s how we came to the conclusion.”
We’ll see if Crane is right, if his extreme punishment is enough to convince the fans in this town that his team is serious about playing by the rules, and they keep on creating traffic jams on the concourses at Minute Maid Park. We’ll see who the team hires to take over for Luhnow to run the baseball operation and who replaces Hinch in the dugout, with only a month to go before pitchers and catchers report to training camp.
One thing is for sure. though: I will not assume that the worst is over.