The Crookedest Team in Baseball History

The Houston Astros cheated their way to a World Series title—and mostly got away with it.

The fired Houston Astros manager A.J. Hinch
Aaron Doster / AP

I’m mad enough to eat a baseball.

I want to attend every Houston Astros game this season with a trash-can lid and bang it every time one of their sign-stealing cheatballs comes to bat. I want to find Commissioner Rob Manfred and pelt him with Stay Puft marshmallows for his pillowy-soft punishment of the most crooked team in baseball history. Chicago Black Sox? Please. That scandal was eight players in one series. This was the whole team, and coaches, for two full seasons.

Fans know that they cheated. The players who received immunity admitted it. Using a center-field camera, a video monitor near the dugout, and a system of trash-can bangs from a teammate in the dugout, the Houston Asterisks knew what pitch was coming for two years. According to opponents, the Asterisks taped tiny buzzers to hitters’ chests, set off little blinking lights, and even whistled.

They used all these tricks to rob the Los Angeles Dodgers of any fair chance in the 2017 World Series, and who knows how many teams on their way to the 2018 American League Championship Series. It’s the skunkiest scandal in baseball history, and yet Manfred didn’t punish a single player. He fined the Asterisks a pathetic $5 million and a few draft picks. Five million? They can make more than that selling Frito pies. The commissioner didn’t even suspend the Asterisks’ owner, Jim Crane.

For heaven’s sake, the racist Cincinnati Reds owner Marge Schott got suspended in the 1990s for owning a Nazi armband. But at least she didn’t destroy the integrity of the game.

Crane pooh-poohed the burning wreckage smoldering at his feet. “Our opinion is, this didn’t impact the game,” he sniffed.

It didn’t?

Let me ask you: If Drew Brees knew when the blitz was coming, do you think that might impact the game? If Steph Curry knew when he was going to get double-teamed, do you think that might impact the game?

Now there’s talk that pitchers from other teams will impact Asterisks batters with fastballs to the ribs and—oh, the irony—probably get suspended for it. I can’t blame them. Trying to guess which pitch is coming is the whole art of hitting! Otherwise, it’d be like a blackjack player knowing what card was going to be flipped over next. You guess a curveball is coming, and you get a fastball? You look like a drunk trying to kill a moth. You know a curveball is coming? You look like Ted Williams. “Me, going up to the plate, knowing what’s coming?” the Los Angeles Angels superstar Mike Trout said dreamily the other day. “Be pretty fun up there.”

In 40 years of covering sports, I’ve never seen athletes so mad. I’m with them. “Every single guy over there needs a beating,” the Atlanta Braves outfielder Nick Markakis said. “If someone cheated me out of winning the title … I would be F*^king irate!” LeBron James tweeted. “[They should] be out of baseball for the rest of their lives,” Hank Aaron said.

The Asterisks say they’re sorry. If they mean it, there’s plenty they could do to make this right.

First, they could go to Minute Maid Park and take down the 2017 World Series banner. Then burn it.

Second, they could give away the $429,000 each of them got just for—cough—“winning” that World Series. (The Baseball Assistance Team would be a nice choice.)

Third, they could pawn their World Series rings and give all the money to the former Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Mike Bolsinger—who, after getting shelled by the grifting Asterisks during one game in August 2017, never pitched in the bigs again.

Fourth, their star José Altuve could give back the 2017 MVP award he robbed from the New York Yankees’ Aaron Judge (who says he’s “sick to my stomach”).

Fifth, they could ask Major League Baseball to formally vacate the title they won. Why not? It’s been done before by people with actual consciences.

When an undefeated Cornell realized it had won a 1940 football game with the help of a fifth down against Dartmouth, the team famously gave back the victory. When the running back Reggie Bush was found to have accepted massive under-the-table gifts to play football at USC, he gave back his Heisman Trophy. When it was revealed that the guys from Milli Vanilli weren’t even singing on their own album, they had decided to give back their Grammy when the Recording Academy beat them to it.

Baseball, you’re no Milli Vanilli.

Imagine: If a team is allowed to win a World Series using a crappy camera and a trash can, by 2025, teams will be implanting microchips in hitters’ brains. If Altuve can keep his rotten MVP award, then Pete Rose can go in the Hall of Fame tomorrow, followed by Barry Bonds and, I don’t know, Rosie Ruiz? And if Crane can profit from pirating a title—his team’s value has risen an estimated $300 million since the scam began—then maybe Bernie Madoff should get a new trial. Sigh.

Like a pilot in a blizzard, America is flying upside down right now. We have a president who lies with every other breath and then demonizes anyone who tells the truth. We have senators who swear on the Bible and then run a trial without a single witness. And now we have a national pastime that knows the Asterisks robbed Fort Knox and let them keep the gold anyway.

The World Series trophy is called the Commissioner’s Trophy, and Commissioner Manfred should take it back. Just as every Astros hitter from those two seasons should take a voluntary 30-day suspension. Just as Crane should sell the team and never come back. If Major League Baseball doesn’t do the right thing, this scandal isn’t going away.

Come to think of it, if baseball won’t do the right thing, then maybe we should stop doing baseball.