For Fans Who Should Know Better

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Mudville: July 23, 2024 4:19 pm PDT

Through the years I’m happy to say I’ve been to plenty of honky-tonks in Texas. Little did I realize I was hearing the Astros theme song over and over again all those years. One of the best such places was the original Gilley’s in Pasadena, Tx., about 20 minutes from Houston.

That was fitting.

Hank Williams wrote the song in 1952, ten years before the Astros came into existence as the expansion Houston Colt .45s, along with another expansion team, the New York Mets.

This is what Hank wrote.

Your cheatin’ heart
Will pine some day
And crave the love
You threw away

The time will come
When you’ll be blue
Your cheatin’ heart
Will tell on you

The Astros 2020 postseason came to an end Saturday night with a 4-2 Game 7 ALCS loss to the Rays at Petco Park. Good riddance.

It was great to see the Astros trudge down the steps of the visiting dugout back to the clubhouse after young Pete Fairbanks got Aledmys Diaz to fly to right for the final out. In the past, you’ll remember, the Astros had their sign-stealing cheatin’ monitors set up at Minute Maid Park behind the dugout, near a trash can that could be banged like a drum to alert the hitter what kind of pitch was about to be delivered.

All the Astros success, including that 2017 World Series title is tainted.

And don’t forget last year in their ALDS Game 5 victory over the Rays they jumped on starter Tyler Glasnow for four runs in the first inning at Minute Maid. Maybe Glasnow was tipping his pitches.

Maybe not.

On Saturday night, the Rays would have none of it and ironically it was Charlie Morton who started for the Rays and did not allow a run as he pitched 5 2/3 innings. Morton was a key member of the 2017 Astros.

Also, at the end of this series it was good to see a .143 average next to Alex Bregman’s name. Bregman hit .353 against the Rays last year in the ALDS.

The Rays were led by rookie Randy Arozarena, who has blasted seven home runs so far in the postseason, a rookie record and his two-run home run in the first inning Saturday night was huge as he captured ALCS MVP honors. The Rays will bring a breath of fresh air to the World Series. They’ve only been to one other World Series and that was in 2008, losing that matchup in five games to the Phillies.

The Rays are easy to root for because they are a bargain basement team and the pure joy they exhibited at Petco after the final out was right out of a high school storybook season. As for Yankee fans, when you are in spring training next year you will be in Rays country, home to a World Series team.

“Cheaters aren’t supposed to win. Eventually the Baseball Gods take care of business.”

Rice-a-Roni. Randy Arozarena kicked ass and deservedly won the ALCS MVP.

Rooting for the Astros is tough for anyone outside Texas.

That’s just the way it is, the Astros will be scarred forever because of the trash can banging electronic sign stealing cheating scandal which muddied their 2017 World Championship. The Astros lost in seven games last year to the Nationals in the World Series.

Baseball fans have long memories. Like elephants. Most pull for their home team and can get behind the underdog when the timing is right and their team is not successful. The Astros ruined their reputation. They have no one to blame but themselves.

They were arrogant about their cheating, too. Many of their fans defended them and I get that to a certain degree, but those fans need to take a step back and really look how the Astros broke the rules, did the game harm and showed little remorse.

This February I was there that day in West Palm Beach when they opened spring training. From owner Jim Crane on down, there wasn’t a hint of remorse. They said what they said, going through the motions and that perhaps was the worst of it all.

Their peers in the game were pissed at them and that speaks volumes. That day I asked Crane what he had to say to the 2017 Yankees, who lost all four games of the ALCS at Minute Maid Park, Crane was clueless about right and wrong and stated, “Listen, the Yankees have had a few comments out there. You know our opinion is this didn’t impact the game. We had a good team. We won the World Series and we’ll leave it at that.’’

He really said “This didn’t impact the game.’’

Editor’s note: Yes, that is BallNine’s Kevin Kernan asking THAT QUESTION.

When he said that, for me, it was “game over’’ for the Astros at that moment.

Worse yet, no players were punished by MLB and Rob Manfred.

Yes, you already knew that was a joke. Baseball looked the other way.

Opposing players were furious all year with the Astros, especially the Yankees. Several Yankees told me how upset they were with the Cheatin’ Heart the Astros displayed. The lack of remorse, too.

You see, above all else, baseball is a brotherhood. Major League players have rightfully earned a special place in the game. It’s a small club and they all respect one another.

Until this happened.

When Rays left-hander Shane McClanahan made his major league debut in Game 1 of the ALDS against the Yankees this year, McClanahan became player number 19,901 to play in the major leagues. That’s it.

You should think of the fraternity of baseball, everyone who has ever played the game, of basically living in this small town of 19,900. When you look at it that way it gives you a much better understanding of the brotherhood that is Major League Baseball.

That’s it. And of those 18,960 who remain alive, we won’t count the Astros 40-man roster, they were all pissed at the Astros for their cheating scandal. And it didn’t end with the players. Opposing front offices, scouts and player development people were all angry with the Astros.

To make matters worse, the Astros really had to pay no fan penalty this season either. There were no fans in the stands. For a while they took a beating until spring training was shut down, but that was it. Fans were gone so essentially the Astros were free and clear from ballpark criticism.

And then the Astros stunk during the regular season, finishing under .500 at 29-31. Yet Manfred put new rules in place where the Astros got invited to the postseason as a wild card team with 16 teams going to the party, even teams under .500 like the Astros.

Cheaters lose

To make it even worse, they matched up against two of the biggest October chokers in the game, the Twins and the A’s. If Twins shortstop Jorge Polanco had not gotten lazy with a throw to second with two outs in the ninth inning of Game 1 of that series, the Astros might not have made it out of the wild card round. Hell, Carlos Correa was jogging into second base on the force play and wasn’t even in the picture when Polanco dropped a sidearm wild throw on Twins fandom, another dagger in their sad baseball hearts.

The A’s once again didn’t show up in October and the Astros won the ALDS and moved on to play the Rays in the ALCS.

The wealthy Yankees could not take care of business against the frugal Rays and gave away Game 2 with a terrible act of #Overnerding by manager Aaron Boone and the assembled Yankees analytic henchmen. Then, Aroldis Chapman made like he was facing Jose Altuve in the 2019 ALCS and surrendered a game-losing home run to Mike Brosseau in Game 5.

So the Yankees, who talked a big game about showing the Astros some street justice, never got the chance to have their Revenge Tour matchup. That job fell to the Rays.

Everything came up roses for the Astros to get them to the ALCS, most importantly Manfred giving the Astros an opportunity when the MLB postseason suddenly became the World Baseball Classic with everyone in the postseason water.

One break after another. Correa started talking big and producing big. The Rays won the first three games of the ALCS and then lost the next three before bouncing back Saturday night, a night catcher Mike Zunino also hit a big home run and lifted a key sacrifice fly as well.

Cheaters aren’t supposed to win. Eventually the Baseball Gods take care of business.

To get this far the Astros had to get lucky. The so-callled punishment over the winter turned out to be a blessing for the Astros. A.J. Hinch was banned for the year by Manfred, subsequently fired by Crane and replaced by Dusty Baker, one of the most beloved people in the game. A player and manager who has seen it all and is just a joy to talk to because he is so engaging and his relaxed, loving approach helped the Astros players to come back in this series.

If Hinch had remained, he would have been a constant reminder of the Astros cheatin’ hearts. Same goes for president of baseball operations and GM Jeff Luhnow, who was also fired by Crane.

Hinch told Sports Illustrated in early February this about his role as manager of the cheaters: “Leadership is also about what you tolerate. And I tolerated too much.’’

That was weak. He knew what was happening and never had the guts to put an end to it. Why? Because the Astros were winning. That made him look good, look smart as a manager and Hinch ran with it.

rayts win

Well.... the Rays won it.

Same for Luhnow. In his statement after being canned, Luhnow said, “I am not a cheater … I did not know rules were being broken.’’

Please. Rules were being broken on your watch. This was organizational cheatin’ and you were the head of the organization.

The buck stops at the sign-stealing monitors.

Hank Willians nailed it in 1952 and the same goes for today. The Black Sox had to live through their 1919 scandal and Eight Men Out became part of baseball history. Here we are 101 years later, and the Astros get a gift pass to the postseason.

But now they are out, finally finished in 2020.

I can’t tell you how many times this year I heard “Bleep the Astros’’ from baseball men I admire and trust. Time and again. And a number of former pitchers told me they would take pleasure in hitting some Astros in the back with a pitch.

Over in the NLCS the Braves built a 3-1 lead over the mighty Dodgers only to lose the next two games. That Game 7 will be played Sunday night. The World Series will begin Tuesday with all games being played at Globe Life Field in Arlington. The Rays will face either the Braves or Dodgers. Either way it promises to be an interesting World Series.

In the end, Manfred got what he wanted and so did TV. Both the NLCS and ALCS going the distance, seven games. Perhaps he would have preferred a Dodgers-Astros matchup just like in 2017. Everyone needs a villain. That would have made for some great baseball theater in a crazy short season of 60 games.

The Astros couldn’t hold up their end of the bargain.

They fell short.


All this coming 60 years after what I consider to be the best World Series of my lifetime, the Yankees and the Pirates and that series went seven games, a time when the World Series was The Postseason. Bill Mazeroski won the World Series for the Pirates with a ninth inning home run in the blessed days before they were called walk-off home runs.

Certainly, that Game 7 was the most exciting World Series game of all time and Jim Reisler wrote a wonderful book called Best Game Ever, read it some time. I reached out to the Pirates this past week to try to arrange an interview with Mazeroski who is now 84. He declined.

The Pirates led 4-0 early in that Game 7 and 9-7 going into the ninth inning. The Yankees tied it. Mazeroski, leading off the ninth inning, won it at 3:36 in the afternoon with a drive over the left field wall at Forbes Field.

I did speak to Mazeroski 20 years ago and he was a prince. Of Ralph Terry’s slider that he lifted over the wall, the second baseman said, “it didn’t slide.’’

I also remember Mazeroski telling me of his wild jaunt around the bases with fans all over the field and his jubilant teammates waiting for him at home plate as he flew around the base paths, waving his helmet in joy: “It’s funny. I never showed emotion on the field, except for that one day. I It was something I just couldn’t hold in. I got to live every kid’s dream.’’

He sure did.

Baseball was much more innocent back then for me. Sure, there might have been some forms of cheating like corked bats and loading up the baseball, but this was long before anyone could imagine such a thing as electronic sign stealing, banging a garbage can, monitors in place and everything else the Astros did to get their World Series edge.

Mazeroski’s home run came eight years after Hank Williams wrote his song. Back then “You’re Cheatin’ Heart’’ was about relationships gone bad.

Baseball changed.

The Astros are going to have to live with that stain forever. Maybe some of them were thinking about that Saturday night as they trudged back to their clubhouse losers of this Game 7.

This time the Astros did not have their inside edge and came up short. Good riddance. Your cheatin’ heart will tell on you.

45+ years, columnist at NY Post for the last 23 years prior to joining BallNine. Elected to the NY Baseball Hall of Fame. Former SportsTalk Host (KFMB), ESPN’s First Take and Cold Pizza contributor. Frequent guest on radio shows and podcasts nationwide. Author of seven books. Seen in episode 10 of ESPN’s “The Last Dance” (the one with Dennis Rodman). First baseball interview he conducted was with Thurman Munson. Now you know why he is America’s Most Beloved Sportswriter.

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