Winners in 2020: The Houston Astros?
How will they be received in a short season?
So the 2020 season is going to be off to a really late start since MLB and the MLBPA couldn't seem to reach an agreement on how to proceed for the longest time. This unprecedented year in the sport affects everyone involved differently: owners and the league are losing revenue, players are losing income, and minor leaguers are getting released. In short, there are losers on every side of this situation. However, there is one party or better yet, a team in particular that can and probably will benefit from all this: The Houston Astros.
Remember them? It was announced earlier this year that they cheated on their way to a World Series victory back in 2017. The players and coaching staff admitted to using an advanced system of sign stealing and then, along with management and the team owner, proceeded to give half-hearted apologies while at the same time stating that this system somehow didn't give them an unfair advantage. MLB then decided to inexplicably discipline only the front office and the coaching staff but not any of the players that were willing participants of this conspiracy. As a result, opposing pitchers took matters into their own hands. Before the cancellation of the remainder of spring training, the Astros were leading the league in hit-by-pitches. Ring any bells? This was supposed to be a sign of things to come during the regular season.
Heading into the 2020 season, the Astros were expected to be met with a hostile reception by opposing teams and fans alike. They were set to be baseball's pariahs everywhere they went. Boos and jeers would follow them to every stadium but their own. I'm sure Dodger fans were prepared to treat the Astros worse than they treat the Giants. Yankee fans were ready to heckle them worse than the Red Sox. And Nationals fans would likely rub the 2019 World Series victory over their collective faces. If Major League Baseball was to have a new villain in 2020, it was going to be the Houston Astros.
However, this was not the case. The Astros scandal was suddenly overshadowed by the coronavirus pandemic that cancelled spring training and has been the main reason why the regular season has a late start. The other reason why the regular season's start has been delayed is because of the dispute between MLB and the Player's Association. Neither side could agree on how to proceed with the season had taken center stage as the most compelling story in the sport and rightfully so.
Because of this dispute, we were potentially looking at the first work stoppage in baseball since 1994. And if both sides hadn't reached an agreement, we could have been looking at a cancelled season for the first time in Major League history which would have been a major detriment to a sport that continues to lose popularity. This unprecedented possibility had overshadowed all other major stories that fans and writers alike were paying attention to heading into the season. When labor relations and the sport itself are at risk, a cheating scandal is understandingly diminished to the point of being virtually forgotten. In addition, this dispute has also added "villains" that could replace the Astros. Depending on who you ask, they'll tell you that the villain of this story is either the Commissioner/team owners, or the players association. On thing everyone can agree on, however, is why each side can be considered to be in the wrong: money.
This dispute in its simplest form was about money. It's about who gets payed what in a shortened season. The players feel like the owners are offering too little and the owners feel like the players are asking too much. If there's something sports fans dislike just as much as cheating (if not more) is watching billionaire team owners fight their millionaire players fight over money. The owners can be considered villains in this story because historically they've always tried to take advantage of players in an attempt to save a few dollars and this year's dispute could be the latest example of that. The player's can also be seen as villains because they're fighting against a pay cut in a time where a significant percentage of Americans have either had their pay cut or gotten laid off. I understand the principle of the union's arguments, but it does seem rather petty for players to be fighting a pay cut when their average salary is around $4 million. The fans' perspective on this could be summed up like this: "If I had my pay cut because of this pandemic, why should wealthy athletes be exempt? Especially when they make more than enough money to live comfortably and not worry about bills".
Now that it's official and the season will resume, these questions pop up: How will the baseball world treat the Houston Astros? Will the situation still be fresh in people's minds or will they forgive and move on? Will fans have the bad taste/memory of a labor dispute replace whatever disdain they had for the Astros? We'll know these answers soon enough.
My theory, however, is that the Astros will only get some negative attention and its intensity will be considerably less than it would have been back in April. I believe that too much time has passed and that these events that have made 2020 a trying year may encourage most people to stay away from the negativity of a cheating scandal in favor of bringing some positivity to an unfortunate circumstance. Any attempt at bringing this scandal back into the spotlight may be seen as inappropriate, petty and unnecessary. Of course, there will be people like Trevor Bauer who will poke fun at the scandal by bringing it up or ranting against it, but for the most part, the baseball world may be ready to move on. Admittedly, the Yankee fan in me is disappointed that the Astros won't really get what was coming to them, that would have been fun to watch and it would've made for an interesting rivalry with the Astros. This will make it feel like the Astros got away with it in a way, not only did the players not face any disciplinary action, but they will not face the full extend of the punishment that fans were going to dish out.
So it is by a series of strange and unprecedented circumstances that the massive stain on the Astros organization will be virtually washed away; leaving only a faded version of itself behind. It is because of the circumstances that have dominated the headlines for the first half of this year that I feel that the Houston Astros will be the main beneficiaries. In a year where most of the season was lost, the Astros may be the only true winners this year. At least one good thing will come out of this though, hitting a trash can will be a lot louder in an empty stadium...