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Astros back in the Series so soon after scandal leaves sour taste

In 2020 Houston was found guilty of stealing signs from 2017 through 2019; now they’re back on baseball’s biggest stage again

Houston Astros’ Jose Altuve celebrates after a home run during Game 2 of World Series against the Atlanta Braves in Houston.
Houston Astros’ Jose Altuve celebrates after a home run during the seventh inning in Game 2 of baseball’s World Series between the Houston Astros and the Atlanta Braves Wednesday, Oct. 27, 2021, in Houston.
David J. Phillip, Associated Press

Wouldn’t you like to have been a fly on the wall of the Commissioner’s office when the Houston Trash Can Bangers — also known as the Astros — advanced to the World Series.

Only two years ago it was revealed that they had cheated en route to a narrow win over the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 2017 World Series. They used everything from high-tech cameras to trash cans to steal signals from the Dodgers. Even by baseball’s rich standards of cheating, this was a doozie and now here they are back in the World Series for the third time in five years.

The Astros have returned to the scene of their biggest crime. The only people who are cheering for these guys are People Who Live in Houston and their mothers, and maybe not even their mothers.

Anybody want to wager on what team baseball’s front office is rooting for, not to mention the league’s other teams?

Only a handful of players remain from that 2017 Astros team — the entire starting infield of Yuli Gurriel, Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, Alex Bregman, plus pitchers Lance McCullers and Francis Martes. But their teammates are considered guilty by association, wearing the Astros uniforms.

Opposing fans bring inflatable trash cans to games and call the Astros cheaters. As The New York Times reported, the team confiscated signs from hecklers during spring training last February. Reds pitcher Trevor Bauer wore a “Trash Town” T-shirt, mocking the team’s “H-Town” nickname, with a picture of the World Series trophy sitting on top of a trash can.

Headline in The Washington Post: “As Astros Return to World Series, is it Time to Forgive and Forget? Nah.”

The scandal is hanging over the Series like a thick smog.

The only way the 2021 World Series could offer more theater is if the Astros were facing the Dodgers in a rematch of that 2017 Series, which the Astros won in seven games. Wouldn’t that have been fun.

The way the cheating worked was this (short version): During the 2017 season and at least part of the 2018 season, Astros employees used the center field camera to steal the signals of the opposing catcher, decoding them and then relaying them to the Astros in the dugout who, in turn, relayed them to the batter or baserunner, sometimes simply by banging on a trash can. It was later determined that the Astros cheated during the 2017 World Series.

They got away with it, and the crime paid — they won the World Series — but the scam was revealed in 2019, prompting an investigation and considerable public indignation. Ultimately, the Astros were punished; they were forced to surrender their first- and second-round draft picks in 2020 and 2021 and pay a $5 million fine.

General manager Jeff Luhnow, manager A.J. Hinch and coach Alex Cora were suspended for the 2020 season and fired by the team. But no players were disciplined even though the investigation revealed they received signals and helped decode signals. They were given immunity in exchange for cooperating with the investigation.

If this had occurred in the Olympics or the NCAA championships, the Astros’ World Series title would have been vacated, but, no, they’re still the 2017 World Series champions without so much as an asterisk.

The Dodgers lost that World Series in seven games. They responded the following year by returning to the World Series only to lose again, this time to the Red Sox. It was eventually determined that the Red Sox had also stolen signs during the 2018 season (Sports Illustrated reported, “Boston posted an .872 OPS with runners in scoring position in 2018 —not only the best in baseball that year but also the best by any team in the previous 12 seasons). An investigation concluded that the Red Sox did not steal signs during the World Series, but they did steal signs to get there.

The city of Los Angeles petitioned Major League Baseball to have the World Series results of both the 2017 and 2018 World Series vacated, but to no avail.

The Astros scandal now takes its place among the great cheating episodes in sports history, among them:

Rosie Ruiz wins the 1980 Boston Marathon in record time — by taking the subway.

Lance Armstrong dopes and makes dopes out of everybody who believed his serial lying even though anybody with a hint of objectivity and common sense knew he was guilty years before he confessed.

Marion Jones dominates the sprints in the 2000 Olympics by using drugs and winds up in prison.

Tonya Harding’s ex-husband and his pal strike figure skating rival Nancy Kerrigan on the knee with a baton, injuring her a month before the 1990 Winter Olympics.

The Black Sox throw the 1919 World Series and eight players are banned for life.

• In what has to be the lowest of the low, the Spanish basketball team wins the gold medal at the 2000 Paralympics but later it is revealed that 10 of the 12 players were not disabled.

• Beginning in the late 1990s, suddenly unassailable Major League slugging records begin to fall, and commissioner Bud Selig and his underlings are the last to figure out that the steroid era was underway, years too late.

Unlike all of the above, the Astros were able to make a curtain call and go right on playing after they were busted. They’re back in the World Series and no one can do anything about it, except maybe the Braves. The series is tied 1-1.