When does it become a big deal?

As accusations continue to mount, how much leeway and goodwill does the 2017 World Series title buy the Astros?

Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Let's start off with the obvious: The latest Astros "scandal," an allegation of electronic sign stealing, is already being vastly overplayed in the media. The Astros aren't the only team to do it, and the original story even said it is widespread. But the Astros have become easy targets, because they are good on the field, and they have made themselves easy targets by continuing to find controversy.

Taken each individually, none of the incidents involving the team warrant the coverage they have gotten. But collectively, maybe it is time to stop giving them a pass.

Cheating is part of baseball's culture

First, however, some context. Make no mistake, teams have been looking for edges every year since baseball began. Spitballers are in the Hall of Fame. The sport turned a blind eye to steroid usage for years because it led to TV ratings and butts in the seats.

Corked bats. Scuffed balls. It has been there forever.

Stealing signs is part of the game and has been forever. Anything to get an edge. If you aren't protecting your signs? That's on you. Where the Astros got in trouble was using technology to do it, and while even that is up for debate, it does cross a line. Also, the "other teams are doing it" excuse rings hollow.

Does it taint the 2017 World Series? Of course not, no matter what you might read from bitter journalists. The trash can beating would have never worked in a playoff game. But when you keep adding everything up, it gets harder and harder to just dismiss all of the things the Astros have been accused of over the past few years. A look at some of the highlights or lowlights:

1) Where it all started

When the Astros were losing 100 games every year, no one cared. They were a cute story of a team blowing up everything and starting from scratch. When they started to win, they were the smartest guys in the room, guys who used analytics to gain an edge on other teams.

When you beat teams like the Yankees and Dodgers, however, you know there will be sour grapes. That's life. You punch the big boys in the mouth, you make enemies.

Everything started turning when the Astros acquired Roberto Osuna after his 75-game suspension for domestic violence with the Blue Jays ended in 2018. Most of Astros Twitter defended him.

The fan excuses: Nobody knows what happened between the two of them. The court cleared him. The Astros did their "Due Diligence." He deserves a second chance. No big deal.

The reality: It was a bad look, plain and simple, and a move they did not need to make. But hey, we gave them a pass because they are the lovable Astros.

2) Tyler/Trevor Bauer

In 2018, then-Indians pitcher Trevor Bauer implied Astros pitchers were doctoring balls. The infamous "spin rate."

The fan excuses: Dude is just bitter. The Astros are just good at improving pitchers. No big deal.

The reality: Probably sour grapes. But is it impossible they are doctoring balls?

3) The first sign stealing accusations

In the 2018 ALCS against the Red Sox, and Astros employee with a camera was investigated for alleged sign stealing. MLB cleared the Astros.

The fan excuses: They were cleared. Nothing to see here. No big deal.

The reality: Probably nothing to see here.

4) The Verlander issue

Earlier this season, the Astros refused to let a reporter into the locker room because of a beef with Justin Verlander.

The fan excuses: It's the reporter's fault. Verlander said he was unethical, so they had every right to keep him out. No big deal.

The reality: This was a bad look, no matter what kind of beef there was. And it was unnecessary. It also created a beef between the Astros and the media, which is never a good idea.

5) Whistle while you work

In this year's ALCS, Yankees players thought the Astros were signaling signs by whistling.

The fan excuse: This is dumb. How could you even hear whistles? No big deal.

The reality: Yeah, no big deal at all. Silly. Not worth even mentioning, but that's what happens when things start adding up.

6) The Assistant GM

In what became a circus, an Astros assistant GM's apparently drunken yelling at an SI Reporter led to his firing.

The fan excuse: The reporter made herself the story and it was way overblown. He was just drunk. No big deal.

The reality: Lying about it was the biggest problem. It could have been handled much better and maybe it would not have become a media bleep storm. But it was poorly handled. Again.

7) Forcing out the Ryans

The Astros reassigned Reid Ryan, replacing him with the owner's son. As a result, Nolan Ryan removed himself as a consultant.

The fan excuse: What did Nolan really do to help the team? If Jim Crane wants to start grooming his son, why not now? Reid Ryan got his job because of his father, too. No big deal.

The reality: Nolan is a local legend, beloved in the baseball community. Reid is a self-made businessman who did a great job for the Astros and was an ambassador for the team. He got everything he had on his own. Sure, if Crane wanted his son more involved, there's nothing wrong with that. But forcing out the Ryans was another bad look.

8) The Mike Fiers report

Finally, this week's news where former pitcher Mike Fiers said the Astros were using technology to steal signs in 2017. A Chicago White Sox pitcher confirmed it (forgiving the fact that on the at-bat in question, the pitcher got an out).

The fan reaction: They were better on the road than at home. It's not like they did it all the time. It did not impact the playoffs or World Series. Fiers is a punk. Where was all that sign stealing when they blew Game 7 against the Nationals? No big deal.

The reality: Fiers is indeed a rat. The lowest of the low. He should take a cue from Carlos Beltran, who is a stand-up guy. But the reality is they cheated. To what extent? Who knows. Did it make a difference? Maybe in a game or two. Did it win them a title? Not at all.

The bottom line

Taken individually, are any of these incidents that bad? (Well, the Osuna deal and the banned reporter, but that's up to the individual to judge). Throw in the Yuli Gurriel racist incident at the 2017 World Series, how players like Alex Bregman and Josh Reddick are hated by pretty much everyone that is not an Astros fan, and you can see why the rest of the world is piling on. It is the price of success; if this were the Cincinnati Reds, would anyone care?

Of course not.

But still, at what point do you quit dismissing these incidents as no big deal? At what point does it become a pattern? When do we stop excusing it? Winning a World Series covers up a lot of sins. That's always been the mindset; winning is all that matters. And the Astros have won.

But we have to ask, how much more good will does it buy them? It's not unlike a relationship, where the other person has given you the best times of your life. Then the cheating accusations start. But you ignore them, because, boy, you love that person. It's just talk, right? No big deal.

Until it becomes one.

Getty Images

So the Houston Astros, using cameras and video monitors and a labyrinthine baseball-bat-and-trash-can notification system, were stealing signs from opposing teams. From all indications, this is cheating and this is not kosher.

Let me just clarify that:

You are allowed to steal signs, you just can't do it electronically. In other words, it is really not wrong until you utilize the best means of technology.

Got it. I accept this, because, well, I don't feel like arguing this.

(I guess I'm glad the medical profession doesn't use this same standard. Uh, we could treat your headaches with Ibuprofen and heating pads, but let's stick with the ancient method of an elixir containing human blood and drilling a hole in the skull to relieve pressure.)

The Astros deserved MLB's punishment, but, as a student of history, Couch Slouch would like to point out that there have been multiple instances of similar swindling, defrauding, scamming, flimflamming, hoodwinking, fleecing, shafting, video-sign-stealing chicanery in modern and pre-modern times.

For your edification, here are some prominent examples:

Socrates and Plato: In an attempt to outsmart his perpetually smug teacher at the third annual Greek National Spelling Bee held at the Grand Hyatt Athens in 401 B.C., Plato sparked controversy by employing shadow puppets on the brightly lit north wall of the banquet hall to help him spell out different entries. The winning word: "aëricumbens."

Marie Antoinette: The somewhat unpopular queen of France hired a sketch artist to secretly document agitators cutting into bread lines. Once the drawings were discovered, along with a recording of her saying, "Qu'ils mangent de la brioche!" she was guillotined on Oct. 16, 1793 outside of a Le Pain Quotidien just before the lunch rush.

Burr-Hamilton duel: On the morning of July 11, 1804, Vice President Aaron Burr and former Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton met at a dueling ground in Weehawken, N.J., near Bed Bath & Beyond. They agreed to stand back-to-back, then each would take 10 paces before firing. But Burr had one of his seconds hold a large vanity mirror in front of him, so he could see precisely where Hamilton was at the conclusion of the 10 steps. Burr then fired a fatal shot into Hamilton's lower abdomen.

Battle of the Little Bighorn: As George Armstrong Custer led U.S. troops toward Little Bighorn Valley on June 25, 1876, Lakota chief Crazy Horse utilized two sublime tactics to outmaneuver the lieutenant colonel: A primitive GPS device, tracking the government soldiers' movement via Pringles left on the incoming trail, combined with smoke signals sent back to the camp. This allowed Native American forces to ambush Custer and his infantry.

"Rear Window": In direct violation of HOA regulations, photographer J.J. "Jeff" Jefferies – confined to his condo because of a broken leg – routinely used binoculars to eavesdrop on his Greenwich Village neighbors in 1954. This led him to witnessing a marital spat, followed by his suspicions that the husband killed his wife and buried something incriminating in the garden. The neighbor was arrested but eventually acquitted of murder charges while Jefferies got convicted under the city's recently enacted peeping Tom laws.

Macy's vs. Gimbels: During the famed department-store rivalry in the 1960s and '70s, Gimbels – using a Polaroid camera with a telephoto lens – took snapshots of Macy's shoppers' credit cards as they paid at the register to steal customers. Did Gimbels tell Macy's? No. But Macy's found out through an anonymous whistleblower; Gimbels lost face and went out of business in 1986.

New York City garbage strike: Boy, the streets sure stank of garbage when the sanitation workers walked out in 1968. Teamsters leaders sped up talks the old-fashioned way – they woke up city negotiators each morning with one trash can thrown through a living room window, with two trash cans on off-days and three on weekends. When all else failed, they took a baseball bat to Mayor John Lindsay's office and asked him if he wanted to step outside.

New England Patriots: Uh, duh.

Ask The Slouch

Q. Agent Drew Rosenhaus terminated his relationship with Antonio Brown until the free-agent wide receiver seeks help. Exactly what type of help? (Ron Kirkpatrick; Chicago)

A. Frankly, I thought Brown might end his relationship with Rosenhaus until ITAL he END ITAL got help.

Q. Are the regular LSU boosters annoyed they were not invited to personally hand out cash to the players in the Superdome after the championship win? (Mike Soper; Washington, D.C.)

A. Nah, that was scheduled for the Red Lobster in Baton Rouge the following afternoon.

Q. Given their history, would it count toward diversity if the Cleveland Browns hired their first competent coach? (Rich Tucker; Falls Church, Va.)

A. We may never find out.

Q. Would MLB have considered managing the Mets punishment enough for Carlos Beltran's role in the Astros cheating scandal? (Stuart Gavurin; Vienna, Va.)

A. Pay the man, Shirley.

You, too, can enter the $1.25 Ask The Slouch Cash Giveaway. Just email asktheslouch@aol.com and, if your question is used, you win $1.25 in cash!


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