A BITTER END

Hoffman presents an ironic twist to the shocking Astros firings of A.J. Hinch and Jeff Luhnow

Photo by Jason Behnken / Getty Images

This article originally appeared on CultureMap.

You like irony? In 2015, the Positive Coaching Alliance asked if I'd interview and write a column about the guest speaker at its annual fundraiser. The Positive Coaching Alliance promotes good sportsmanship in youth sports. Its mission statement is, "Play by the rules, honor the sport."

The guest speaker? A.J. Hinch, the Houston Astros manager first suspended for a year by Major League Baseball, then fired forever by team owner Jim Crane for his role in the Astros' sign-stealing cheating scandal.

I am sad to see Hinch go. He seemed like a good guy and the perfect manager for the lovable Astros. Obviously, he was involved enough in the skullduggery to warrant a suspension and Crane is right to clear house, including dismissing Hinch. The Astros need to be a clean machine.

General manager Jeff Luhnow, I never cared for. He always struck me as a skunk and bit of a nut job. I once corrected his spelling on Twitter and he didn't see the humor in that.

Then I saw him wearing flip-flops at Fuddruckers and I saw nothing funny about that. I've got a thing about feet and food.

There's cheating...and then there's cheating
But cheating is a weird thing. There's cheating...and then there's cheating. As a Little League manager, I was a member of the Positive Coaching Alliance. One time, the local PCA rep asked if I thought "framing" a pitch was cheating.

Framing a pitch is when the catcher moves his glove slightly after catching a pitch so the umpire is more likely to call the pitch a strike. I said it wasn't cheating, every big league catcher does it on TV. It's part of the game. The PCA rep said it absolutely was cheating and I should tell my catcher not to do it. I told him, I'm lucky if my pitcher can reach home plate, and if he does it's unlikely my catcher will catch the ball. Next subject.

I didn't grow up in Houston, so my life will go on without Hinch and Luhnow fired. I remember comedian Robert Klein telling how he worshipped the New York Yankees when he was a kid growing up in The Bronx. He lived and died with the Yankees. He celebrated each win, mourned each loss. Then he became a celebrity and was invited into the Yankee clubhouse. During his visit, he saw Yogi Berra emerging from the shower. From that day on, he was OK with the Yankees losing a game.

My kid and his friends did grow up here. They're devastated by the news that Hinch has been fired as Astros manager. They all played baseball through Little League and high school and some beyond. One of them told me, "We stole signs on every level." In Little League, managers in the third base coach's box often could see the opponent's catcher stick down one finger for a fast ball, two fingers for a curve. If the coach saw one finger, he'd yell to the batter, "C'mon, Johnny." If the coach saw two fingers, he'd holler, "C'mon number 5!" Not exactly Navajo code talkers, but the batter was 12 years old.

If a tournament had a strict 90-minute time limit, coaches would tell their batters to stall, tie their shoelaces, call time out, adjust their batting gloves. Catchers were told to visit the mound and recite the Gettysburg Address. There's a company that will take a metal bat and practically turn it into a rocket launcher by hardening the metal or shaving the inside to make it lighter. I've seen parents let their hotshot kid pitch six innings for one team in the morning, then another six innings for a different team that afternoon. That's sick and more than a little dangerous and possibly rising to child abuse.

Continue on CultureMap to read about the distinction between theatrics and cheating.

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It was a long night for Lance McCullers. Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images.

When it rains, it pours. Boy did it pour. The Astros lost Game Three of the World Series 7-0 to the Phillies in Philadelphia. The game was supposed to be played on Halloween, but MLB decided to postpone the whole series by a day because of the rain. It must've been enough to throw off the Astros' momentum. The bats came out flat and stayed that way. Meanwhile, the pitching staff gave up a World Series record-tying five home runs in the blowout loss.

Bryce Harper got the action started with a two-run blast in the bottom of the first. Alec Bohm and Brandon Marsh hit solo shots in the bottom of the third. Kyle Schwarber hit a two-run shot in the bottom of the fifth followed by a solo blast from Rhys Hoskins. The Phillies seemed to be sitting on Astros' starter Lance McCullers Jr's pitches. Either they knew the breaking stuff was coming or sat on the fastball. They shelled one of the Astros' best pitchers to take a 2-1 lead in the series.

The bats struck out seven times total. Chas McCormick and David Hensley each struck out twice. However, they also had a hit a piece, and those were two of the five hits this team managed in the game. So, there's that.

Another World Series appearance, another NL East opponent, another series deficit. The Astros have been here before. They were down in 2017, then came back and beat the Dodgers. No one wants them to win. Most of the media is still bringing up the sign stealing scandal. Opposing fans are relentlessly showering Astros' fans with cheating this and cheating that. The conspiracy theories abound. Misinformation is still very pervasive. I wouldn't have it any other way.

This team is resilient. They've had their backs against the wall before. They know how to come out swinging. Literally and figuratively. I expect Game Four to be an Astros win and the series tied 2-2 heading into the pivotal Game Five. Justin Verlander will take the mound, get his first World Series win, and this thing heads back to Minute Maid Park for Game Six with the home team up 3-2.

From there, closing out the series in front of the home crowd will be a fitting cap to proving all the haters wrong. This is a great team and a great organization. Jim Crane needs to bring James Click back and continue to allow him to build this thing. If Click isn't back, I hope Crane finds someone else who'll be able to keep thing rolling. That said. Let's focus on winning Game Four and quieting that raucous Philly crowd.

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