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Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Champions to Asterisks*

The Astros’ cheating scandal inspires heckling, unites fan bases

Before the coronavirus became the daily conversation worldwide and suspended all events, the baseball world was gearing up for an exciting 2020 season. From the big offseason free agent signings of Gerrit Cole, Anthony Rendon and Stephen Strasburg, to the blockbuster trade that saw one of the game’s best players, Mookie Betts, move to the LA spotlight, there was much hype coming in. 

As always, the debates among fans picked up as spring training began and the season was still rapidly approaching. Yet, this offseason had one key difference. There was one team that, with a simple mention, filled fans with disgust and anger. A team that had done something never before seen in baseball, and had the rest of the league questioning the legitimacy of its past three seasons. Finally, a team that everyone could agree on was the most hated. Enter: The Houston Astros.

Shortly following the conclusion of the 2019 season that saw Houston lose in the World Series in a close seven games, the Astros — or, as many fans like to refer to them now, the “Asterisks*” — made waves in the media, but not for the right reasons. 

Former Astro and current Oakland A’s starting pitcher Mike Fiers told The Athletic on Nov. 12 that Houston used a camera in center-field to steal signs during their 2017 championship season. Fiers was a part of that team that won the World Series in seven games against the Dodgers, and the news sent shockwaves throughout Major League Baseball. 

The league office promptly conducted an investigation and announced the findings in mid-January. It discovered that the Astros had used this scheme from 2017 all the way until the most recent World Series. Instantly, the once well-liked, young Astros team turned into the most hated team in the league. 

History, geographic proximity and division affiliation generally determined the great baseball rivalries and which team a certain fan base hated most. The general consensus recently was that the New York Yankees were the game’s top villain. 

That changed once the scandal broke. The Astros became the lone villain in a sport that had historically struggled to create one. Even before the scandal, the team rubbed some fans the wrong way because of the arrogance they showed at times during their run of success, so this news just brought everyone together.

A prime example of this is the viral “Astros Shame Tour” Twitter account (@AsteriskTour) that has grown a significant following in such a short period of time. Created in February of this year, the account currently has over 188,000 followers and has become a place where fans can unite around their shared hatred for the Astros.

“One year to shame them all, one year to jeer them, one year to boo them all and from your seat deride them” reads the account’s bio.

And that it does, as the account regularly posts a variety of content from fans booing and jeering the Astros at spring training, comedic signs that spectators took to Astros games, heckling of the players and even tracking of the number of times the Astros players were hit by pitch during so far this year. 

It doesn’t stop there, though, as the account also adds informative content that shows the extent of the Astros’ cheating and “examples” of these practices in action. The account quickly gained traction and continues to grow. When the season eventually resumes, it will be in full force once again.

Another social media account that has flourished amidst the scandal is MLB Trash Talkers (@mlbtrashtalkers) on Instagram. The account made sure to flood its content with Astros criticism. Posting a wide variety of satire, facts and evidence, the already popular account gained even more followers, currently standing at 264,000. 

The list of social media accounts is long, but the most impactful voice of censure has come from the Astros’ own MLB counterparts. Other players have come out and said what they really felt about Houston, and that has only further ignited the fire among fanbases. One player in particular is the already outspoken Cincinnati Reds pitcher, Trevor Bauer. Bauer does not mince words, in front of the camera or on social media. During spring training, he called the Astros “cheaters” and “hypocrites,” citing their reluctance to admit what they had done.

“I think it’s important to stand up and say something because I’m not afraid of the backlash” he told reporters back in February. “We’re all pissed. If no one ever comes out and says anything, then nothing gets done.”

Bauer wasn’t alone, as many star players including Mike Trout, Cody Bellinger and Aaron Judge — to name a few — have made their frustrations heard. For a sport that has been criticized for having the most quiet stars, baseball’s top players certainly aren’t staying quiet in this situation. 

Throughout what was played of spring training, the Astros were mocked relentlessly for their sign stealing scheme. Heckling and boos filled Houston’s spring training games in Florida, and, once the season commences once again, they will have to endure the same treatment on the road, however many games they end up playing. 

Possibly the best example of just how far fans are willing to go to express their displeasure is that two historic — but very different — franchises have come together. Before the season was postponed, Houston was scheduled to play a series against the Angels in Anaheim during the second week of the season. Pantone 294, a popular Dodger fan group, bought upwards of 2,000 tickets for that series in order to attend and jeer the Astros. Even Yankee fans were going to join in on the booing, bringing together two of the biggest rival franchises in the league to express their hate for a team they believe cheated them out of glory.

There’s no question that what the Astros did crossed the line of sportsmanship in a major way. This scandal will stain the franchise for many years to come, and the players that were involved will feel it for the rest of their careers — whether it’s in Houston or elsewhere. Sign-stealing is part of the game, yes, but using sophisticated technology to know what pitch is coming next gives a team a significant, unfair advantage. 

The effect that Houston’s cheating had on opposing players and the outcomes of certain games is impossible to calculate, but it is clear that no one will be forgetting anytime soon. In addition to all of that, the attitude that most Astros players showed toward this situation was unprofessional and lacked remorse, and only served to further anger fans across the nation. The current pandemic may have taken some heat away from them for the time being, but when the game eventually comes back, that passion won’t disappear.

 In a way, this is a perfect example of the old saying, “any press is good press” for the MLB. Every sport needs storylines and a villain, but these are sometimes hard to develop. This scandal has opened many new doors for the MLB, good and bad, and will most certainly carry on for a long time. For a sport that has struggled to create interest outside of the game, baseball now holds one of the biggest storylines in sports history. This has sparked a new interest in the sport and attention that it has not seen in years.

 You either are a fan of the Astros, or you hate them. There is no inbetween. They cheated the sport and deserve whatever is meant for them. Still, the unity that these fan bases are displaying is something strange to see. The bond created from this is something unique and may last a long time. 

As Astros Shame Tour put it: “Maybe the real Astros scandal was the friends we made along the way.”

Written by: Omar Navarro — sports@theaggie.org


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