IS THIS THING ON?

Here's what MLB should do to give fanless Astros games more juice

Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

Earlier this week, the Reddit website ran a photo of two women standing in the parking lot outside West U Elementary School protesting HISD's decision to keep schools closed at least until October. Standing one parking space over was someone dressed like the Grim Reaper, a scythe in one hand, a sign in the other reading "Open Schools Now!" Battle lines clearly were drawn over the hot button issue of whether schools are safe for kids to return.

Photo by George Boehme.

Almost instantly, 2,000 Reddit followers from across the U.S. and around the world left comments. Yes, some agreed that schools should be opened immediately. Children learn best when they're in a classroom. No, more argued that it's too dangerous for students and teachers to be in face-to-face contact just yet. While children may not show symptoms of coronavirus, they can transmit the disease to their parents and grandparents.

But let's get to what's really important about that photo. Many of the comments zero'd in on one of the women's outfits. Look closely: she's wearing an Astros cap. The comments didn't exactly read like fan notes to the Astros.

"Cheaters!" "Losers" "Disgrace" "She's used to making bad decisions on what to support."

Talk about baseball as a metaphor for life. That photo and those comments are the entire 2020 baseball season reduced to a TikTok minute: Dodgers pitcher Joe Kelly tries to decapitate Astros slugger Alex Bregman with a fastball, sneers and mouths off after striking out Carlos Correa, followed by both teams erupting from their dugouts, and Astros manager Dusty Baker calling Kelly an "MF-er" clear as day over the TV.

Twenty-four hours later, Kelly was suspended by MLB for eight games, while Baker was fined for saying what every Astros fan was thinking. The TV announcers apologized for what Baker said. What did MLB expect him to holler, "Excuse me, Mr. Opposing Pitcher, would you kindly return to your dugout, and next inning, please can I have some more?" I had no problem with one uncensored, X-rated word Baker said.

Suspended? Fined? Apologized? ABC should sign Kelly and Baker to star in a remake of The Odd Couple. While Kelly was the villain here in Houston, he was a hero around the rest of the league. The Astros aren't exactly baseball's darlings, you know. Their flair-up has been the most exciting thing to happen this imperiled baseball season on the brink, if you want to call this a season.

More comments on Reddit: "Nice Astros hat. You can cheat baseball but not death." "Maybe if I bang this trash can, the vibrations will ward of COVID." And simply ... "F the Astros."

With all of baseball's problems, like more than half of the Miami Marlins testing positive for coronavirus, big-name players opting out of the season, Toronto not allowed to play in Toronto, no fans allowed at games .... baseball is worried about a live mic picking up a manager using profanity? When did baseball become such a pris?

Baseball lore is filled with Babe Ruth picking up whores along Yankee train rides to Chicago, Ty Cobb filing his cleats into razors, Roger Clemens throwing a broken bat at Mike Piazza, the Black Sox cheating to lose a World Series, the Astros cheating to win a World Series, steroids and greenies, booze and betting. Baseball history has legendary, colorful characters doing all sorts of nasty things. Now the commissioner, with his season on the edge of extinction, is worried about Dusty Baker saying a word that you'll hear on HBO a thousand times a night?

Players and managers getting chippy with each other isn't a bad thing. With empty stands, I was looking forward to eavesdropping on what players say to each other at first base and in the batter's box. I don't want anybody to get seriously hurt, but a bench-clearing brawl would be OK. Nobody really gets hurt in baseball fights, anyway. Remember the "Malice at the Palace," when NBA players rushed into the stands and punched out a couple of fans? Comic Daniel Tosh said, "if the NBA promised that would happen every game, I'd buy season tickets." The old Houston Aeros hockey team used to promote "Guaranteed Fight Night." Who didn't love when Nolan Ryan caught Robin Ventura in a headlock and gave him the greatest noogies in baseball history?

Baseball fights are fun. Instead of lightening up, Francis, baseball suspended a pitcher eight games (13-percent of the entire season) after he didn't hit a batter. And fined a manager for yelling something that Dave Chappelle uses in sold-out arenas and helped him win the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor. Do fans think that baseball players recite the soliloquy from Hamlet during games? By the way, if you want to see a baseball manager really unleash a blue streak, click on "Best Baseball Manager Ejection in History" on YouTube and enjoy the eloquence of Wally Backman expressing his opinion of an umpire's decision. It's six minutes that make Dusty Baker look like a Sunday school teacher. Now that's entertainment. Now that's what baseball needs in its cursed, plagued season.

MLB should be more concerned that the Marlins dugout is one big positive coronavirus test. The Dodgers are playing this season without big-name pitcher David Price, and the Giants are without their MVP catcher Buster Posey. Both opted out for personal reasons. Several more star players are sitting out 2020. The Astros season of vindication has turned into a nightmare with Cy Young winner Justin Verlander possibly out of the season, possibly much longer, with an arm injury. Slugging 2019 Rookie of the Year Yordan Alvarez and promising pitcher Jose Urquidy have missed several games with an "undisclosed injury." It's 2020, gee, I wonder what those injuries could be.

Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images.

Televised games are a welcome relief - for now - because we've missed sports so badly. But they may get same-old, same-old pretty fast with teams playing under a cone of silence. It's a sign of the times when Jose Altuve crushes a home run and a low-level Astros staffer leisurely strolls down an aisle to retrieve the ball. It's part of baseball to watch grown men spill their $18 beer and show their butt crack diving for a $6 foul ball. We still refer to 1972, 1981, 1994 (Jeff Bagwell's MVP year) and 1995 as "strike-shortened" seasons. Will 2020 be the "pandemic-shortened" year? Let's see how shortened it will be. The coronavirus sword of Damocles is hanging over baseball. While it lasts, let's have some fun. Put a microphone on Dusty.

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The power struggle continues. Photo by Getty Images.

Boy, with the recent blizzard of negative publicity – searing magazine cover stories with headlines blasting "Houston Has a Problem" and "The Chaplain Who Won a Power Struggle and Plunged a Franchise into Chaos" – I'll bet the Houston Texans wished they had a seasoned, respected and award-winning media director to handle damage control.

Oh yeah, that's exactly what they had in Amy Palcic, but she was fired last year. Reason: she "wasn't the right culture fit."

What exactly is the Houston Texans culture these days? Apparently the culture is players disliking and distrusting the team executive specifically charged with managing the team's culture. It's that same executive whose resume has more fudging than the Keebler Cookie Company. It's that executive who's accused of authorizing illegal practices and hiring private eyes to follow players in their private activities. It's that executive who's accused of intimidating employees who trash him to the media and threatening to sue media outlets. It's that executive who imposes his religious fervor on lower-ranked employees. It's that executive who has created a culture where gifted quarterback Deshaun Watson is said to want a trade out of Houston.

That executive is Jack Easterby - the backstabbing, butt-smooching BS'er who seems to have a Svengali hold on Texans chairman Cal McNair.

If it comes down to one stays and one has to go between Watson and Easterby … hmmm, let's see. Deshaun Watson threw for 4,823 yards and 33 touchdowns last season. Jack Easterby, zero and zero.

Last week, Texans legend Andre Johnson, who usually speaks up less than the magician Teller, tweeted: "Since Jack Easterby walk into the building nothing good has happened. For some reason someone can't seem to see what's going on. Pathetic!!!"

That "someone" would be Texans chairman Cal McNair, who continues to support Easterby despite all the accusations and revelations hurled Easterby's way.

By the way, Easterby has not sued any media outlet that is publishing stories about his bullying and sneakiness. And he won't sue because that last thing he wants is to be put in a witness chair and swear to tell the truth.

In the past 12 months, with Easterby sticking his nose in McNair's ear, the Texans have managed to alienate and infuriate superstar Watson: trade All-Pro receiver DeAndre Hopkins and create a losing, uninspired clubhouse that has favorite son J.J. Watt wanting a trade to leave his beloved Houston.

It's not like Easterby is some mad genius who somehow produces spectacular results despite his unorthodox tactics. The Texans finished 2020 with a disastrous 4-12 record, with little to show for it, not even a top draft pick to honor their futility. The Texans are clearly in need of divine intervention, and not from huckster Easterby, whose degree is in sports management from Newberry College. Easterby is only dimples and wavy hair short of being a TV preacher.

You can't deny that Easterby is inspiration. He recently inspired a public protest on the sidewalk outside NRG Stadium and signs swaying over Southwest Freeway with the same message: #FireJackEasterby. Watson asked his supporters not to attend the rally due to COVID precaution.

Then there's the case of Deshaun Watson v. Cal McNair.

Watson was born into an economically disadvantaged family and has worked for, and deserves, every penny he is paid. He is a champion.

Cal McNair found the Houston Texans under his Christmas tree in 2018 after his father Texans original owner Bob McNair died.

Watson is an extremely bright and sensitive man who is deeply involved in social issues off the field. Last year, during the summer of racial upheaval in America, he led the charge to have the name of a former slave owner removed from a building on his alma mater Clemson's campus.

McNair hardly ever speaks in public and his stumbling, confused performance at a press conference to announce the hire of general manager Nick Caserio showed why. It's rare when a team owner has to apologize after making what should have been a happy statement promising fans a better future. However, if a stage production of the Beverly Hillbillies ever goes to Broadway, we've got our Jethro.

Many times when a player gets into a public spat with a team owner, it's a dumb jock player vs. the super-smart businessman who owns a billion-dollar company. It's usually over money. And the public typically thinks, "just get rid of the ungrateful, overpaid and greedy player."

Not this time. Watson already got his – four years at $156 million. This is a war of morality. Watson is the hero here, McNair the fool being played by Easterby, who like Cassius is Shakespeare's play Julius Caesar, "has a lean and hungry look."

If it came to a public vote between Watson and McNair (Easterby), Watson's landslide win would rival Kim Jong-Un in North Korea … or LeAnn Rimes on The Masked Singer.

It's unfair to call McNair and Easterby polarizing figures because polarizing implies that there are two sides to the issue.

There is only one side. Houston loves Deshaun Watson and wants McNair to sell the team, right after he fires Easterby.

Seemingly the only defender rushing to Easterby's side is a Twitter account allegedly owned by Easterby under a fake name. If it is a burner account, Easterby has a whole lot of faith in himself.

Although football insiders say that Watson is all but out the door at NRG Stadium, there is still a chance that McNair could save the day, and do what is needed to keep Watson in Texans' gear. And that would be to fire Easterby. Now.

Sadly, given McNair's repeated pledges of loyalty to Easterby and insistence that criticism of Easterby is unwarranted, Watson's leaving Houston gets more likely each day. Andre Johnson had it right … "pathetic!!!"

Three exclamation points.

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