From the Sidelines: Houston Astros achieve redemption


The Houston Astros have reached the World Series for the third time in the past five years, the most by any team in that span. However, they leave a complicated legacy due to their cheating scandal in 2017, which exposed them for using hidden cameras to know what pitches were coming. They then signaled the other team’s pitch to their batters by banging specific sequences on a trash can. Fans were further incensed when the MLB commissioner refused to penalize the Astros players. A lot of bitterness remains today, leading many to discredit Houston’s accomplishments, including their trip to the World Series this year. Does their 2021 World Series berth prove that the Astros never needed to cheat to be successful, or is their legacy already indelibly tainted?


Although it is extremely difficult for detractors to admit, there is one clear truth about the Astros: they have dominated baseball for the past half-decade, with or without cheating. 


Let’s revisit the Astros’ controversial 2017 season. Houston’s method of cheating relied on banging on trash cans, but they did not do it in away games because they were afraid of getting caught. Then, it would be reasonable to assume that their statistics would be much better at home than away. Surprisingly, Houston was better on the road in just about every way. They won more games, scored more runs, and got more hits. Those numbers prove that even if cheating helped Houston’s batters in some aspects, it was a negligible difference. Those players were already great.


Now let’s fast forward to the 2021 season. Houston led the league in batting average, runs scored, runs batted in, and a host of other offensive metrics. With their cheating scandal far behind them, Houston remains elite. In fact, Houston’s numbers in 2021 were better than those of 2017 on a rate-by-rate basis. At this point, denying their talent would be plain disrespectful.


However, public perception about the Astros has been slow to change. Even the people who recognize the Astros’ talent continue to label them as cheaters, refusing to give them the same amount of respect and admiration as other teams of the same caliber.


In this aspect, the Astros’ legacy is just like some of baseball’s most disgraced players, specifically Barry Bonds and Alex Rodriguez. As Jeff Passan of ESPN noted, “winning clean does change the Astros’ narrative. It makes what they did in 2017 even sadder—yes, in the same way Barry Bonds’ and Alex Rodriguez’s use of performance-enhancing drugs is sad. It wasn’t necessary. They didn’t need the boost.”


The comparisons to Bonds and Rodriguez are very apt because they are two players whose baseball skills are never in doubt, yet they have never been forgiven for using banned substances. Bonds’ statistics suggest that he is one of the greatest of all time, but he is struggling to get into the Hall of Fame right now because voters are reluctant to endorse such a controversial figure. Similarly, to a lot of people, the Astros’ actual skill was never in question. They are fully aware of Houston’s greatness but struggle to overcome the stigma attached to their achievements. 


But those doubters need to move on and admit that the Astros are a true baseball dynasty. They reached the American League Championship Series (ALCS) for the fifth consecutive year, only the second team to achieve that feat in baseball history. How much more sustained excellence do they need to display? Houston’s players and coaches have continuously emphasized that the scandal is behind them, and there is no reason to believe that they have continued to cheat. At the very least, Houston’s accomplishments after the scandal must be recognized as completely legitimate. 


We must be able to forgive teams for past wrongdoings and encourage them to succeed in the future. At the moment, the best way to do that is to acknowledge Houston’s incredible legacy and root for them. Enjoy their greatness while it lasts.