Falcon Points

Houston's national sports identity: Liars, cheats and hypocrites

My friends are degenerates
But I'd never change them
Liars, cheats, and hypocrites
Not the type for saving

- A Day To Remember

If you listen to the Blitz, that is the second hour intro. And if you have been paying attention to Houston sports this week, you know it has been filled with liars, cheats and hypocrites. Many have said it was the worst 24 hours in Houston sports history. From a national attention standpoint, it might be the best, because finally the rest of the nation has noticed the sports scene here.

For years, Houston sports fan has chafed that their teams don't get enough attention from the national media.

They are getting plenty of attention now. Congrats, Houston, this is what your sports teams are known for after one of the most bizarre weeks in Houston sports history.

The liars

University of Houston quarterback D'Eriq King made the odd decision to red shirt after four games, with the presumption he would return in 2020. He constantly repeated that he would be back. On Tuesday night, clearly hoping to avoid the spotlight, he announced during the national championship game his intent to transfer.

He insisted he was staying several times, despite rumors that turned out to be true that he never had any intention of returning. It was a bad look for coach Dana Holgorsen, who banked his 2020 season on King, and a worse look for King, who could have just said "as of now, I am planning on staying." Instead he was intentionally misleading.

And the national media noticed. Even though it happened during the championship game, the story made the front page of ESPN.com, and it mentioned all the times King said he was staying. It was a subtle way of highlighting the lies.

It was a bad look for everyone, and closed out a rough day for Houston sports fan.

The earlier news, of course, was The Big Lie.

The cheats

Well, that's easy. The Astros were hit with a loss of draft picks, a fine, and year-long suspensions for their manager and GM.

Shortly thereafter, owner Jim Crane fired GM Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch. Major league baseball's discoveries were damning.

There is no doubt the Astros cheated. It's hard to believe that everyone in the organization did not know. But the statement exonerated Crane. We can debate if the punishment was enough, but lost in all of it was that it was a "player-driven" scheme. MLB chose not to punish the players, presumably since there is nothing in the collective bargaining agreement to allow it. Regardless, it leaves a lot of questions. Which players? All of them? Just the stars?

Make no mistake, this has been a major national story from the beginning. It dominated talk and headlines on Monday, even in the wake of NFL playoffs and the college championship. The national opinion? The Astros are cheaters and should have been punished more. If you are a fan, you likely don't care. Or you blame the whistleblower. But the nation has a different opinion. If the team struggles in 2020, you can bet the narrative will be that they can't win without cheating. This one isn't going away. But the controversy let someone else off the hook...

The hypocrites

Rest assured, no one was happier to see the Astros announcements than Bill O'Brien, whose epic, historic collapse in Kansas City was swept to the back pages. His inane comments that "we are headed in the right direction" went without being called out. His poor decisions went unnoticed. His inability to look at his organization and recognize change is needed was lost.

We have been saying that in Houston for years. But after his flaws were exposed to a national audience, finally the rest of the world realizes he is in over his head. Several national outlets said he should be fired.

O'Brien said again he won't hire a GM. He said that defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel is expected to return next year despite two years of terrible defense. His complete power over the organization makes it clear meaningful change is not coming. We get that O'Brien is not going anywhere, but his stubborn reliance on yes men and cronies and refusal to bring in a legitimate offensive coordinator or replace Crennel means there is no hope for the franchise to take the next step. Sometimes you need new voices. O'Brien's just gets louder and louder and drowns out everyone else's.

Since he became coach, the other three teams in the AFC South have made the AFC Championship Game. The Texans are the only team to fail to do that. Yet they are going in the right direction, according to O'Brien.

What does it all mean? 

The city's teams are finally getting national run. Whether or not it is for good reasons in immaterial. Houston is in the national spotlight. If you are a fan, all you can do is embrace the liars, cheats and hypocrites, and roll with it. And wait for the Rockets to find a way to make news.

The reality is this has been going on for decades. Baseball in particular is a sport that welcomes cheating. Athletes and teams have been lying to you for years. Speaking of hypocrites, if you ripped the Patriots but defend the Astros? The bottom line is fans love to turn a blind eye. And that's just fine. But pretending this isn't a reality is naive.

As fans, you want to believe you are rooting for good people. You wear their jerseys. But the reality is when that much money is on the line, people are going to do whatever they can outside the rules. Maybe it is overly cynical, but the truth is most of them grew up in a culture of cheating and taking short cuts and trying not to get caught. Should we act surprised when they do? Bad people exist in all walks of life. Money attracts more of them.

There is a LOT of money in sports.

And to think it is just Houston is silly. Players like Cody Bellinger saying the Dodgers did things the "right way" might want to hold off. More will come out, and you look even worse when you say stuff like that and your team is the next one.

That leaves Houston fans to just embrace and accept reality. And before you say, "this is harsh and unfair..." is there anything in here that is not true?

Oh, and enjoy the 2017 World Series, because at this rate, that is all you will be able to hang your hat on.

But at least the national media notices you now.

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Good news for Jose Altuve. Photo by Harry How/Getty Images.

One never knows how things will play out but of the known General Manager candidates, Jim Crane nailed it in hiring Dana Brown out of the Atlanta Braves' organization where he was Vice President of Scouting. The 55-year-old Brown's scouting and development pedigree is stellar. The Braves have been a talent-producing machine in recent years. Obviously all the credit isn't Brown's but his four years with the Braves preceded by a productive pipeline he was part of in Toronto speak highly of him. Not that it was or should have been the guiding principle to Crane's decision-making, but the Astros now have the only African-American General Manager in Major League Baseball (Ken Williams is Executive Vice President of the Chicago White Sox).

Brad Ausmus is a super-smart guy, but if had he gotten the GM gig it would have been in large part because he was teammate besties with Jeff Bagwell. While “It's not what you know it's who you know” plays a role in many, many hires, it would have been a poor rationale for tabbing Ausmus. Maybe Ausmus would have done a great job. Maybe Brown does a lousy job. Brown was the much more strongly credentialed candidate. While Bagwell has moved way up Crane's confidante list, Brown played college baseball with Craig Biggio at Seton Hall.

Speaking of Halls…

If I could tell you as absolute fact that exactly two members of the 2023 Houston Astros will someday make the Baseball Hall of Fame, who are you picking? Jose Altuve isn’t a lock just yet but he is obvious pick number one. So for the second spot are you going with Alex Bregman or Yordan Alvarez? We’ll get back to this a couple of paragraphs down.

As was basically a given, former Astro (and Phillie, Met, Red Sox, and Brave) Billy Wagner was not elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame this week, but as I suggested last week the voting returns were very favorable toward Wagner making the Hall next year, or if not next year in his final year of eligibility on the Baseball Writers Association ballot for the Class of 2025. “Wags” in the Class of ’24 is looking good. Wagner jumped from 51 percent to 68 percent “put him in” votes. The only guy this year to get the necessary 75 percent for election is worthy third baseman Scott Rolen. Two years ago Rolen got 53 percent of the votes needed, last year 63 percent, before getting the call to Cooperstown with 76.5 percent this year. Wagner going from 51 to 68 to 75-plus looks likely. Of course it’s not as if Wagner can pad his case with a good 2023 season, but this is how the process works. The other ballot returnee well positioned to make it next year is former Colorado first baseman Todd Helton. Unlike this year there’s a sure-fire first time ballot guy going in next year. Third baseman Adrian Beltre will undoubtedly wear a Texas Rangers cap on his plaque.

As expected Carlos Beltran didn’t come close to election in his first year of eligibility, but drawing 46 percent of the votes sets him up well to eventually get the Cooperstown call. Beltran was a fabulous player and his Hall credentials are solid. However, no one reasonable would argue that Carlos Beltran was as good or better than Barry Bonds. In his first year of eligibility back in 2013 Bonds garnered 36 percent of the vote. There has been some turnover in the voter pool over the last decade, but it's clear that Beltran’s central role in the Astros’ sign stealing scheme was not held against him to the extent that PED use (actual and/or suspected) was held against Bonds and Roger Clemens. And Alex Rodriguez. And Sammy Sosa. And Manny Ramirez. And others. Foremost right now that’s encouraging for Beltran, but it’s also encouraging down the line for fellow Astros of 2017-18.

What does this mean for Jose Altuve?

If Jose Altuve retired today (perish the thought!) he’d have a good case for the Hall. He had superstar seasons in 2016, 2017, and 2022, and has five other seasons that while not in the realm of his three best certainly rate as excellent. If you judge a player by his five best seasons, there aren’t 10 second basemen in the history of the sport who’d rank ahead of Altuve. Among those who clearly would: Joe Morgan, Rogers Hornsby, Eddie Collins, and Nap Lajoie. Among those four only Morgan played more recently than 1937. Then there’s a group of arguable guys like Jackie Robinson, Ryne Sandberg, Roberto Alomar, and yes Craig Biggio. Altuve has had the prime of a Hall of Famer. What sort of final numbers will he accrue? In late May or early June he should reach the 2000 hit plateau. How many more prime years does Altuve have left before inevitable decline? His career batting average is .307. Four years ago it was .316. Will Altuve retire a .300 hitter?

Bregman or Alvarez? Bregman gets extra points for being an everyday third baseman as opposed to a left fielder-designated hitter, but by age alone Yordan is the better play. Bregman turns 29 on opening day this year. Yordan doesn’t turn 26 until late June. When Bregman was 25 (2019 season) he put up a season more valuable than Alvarez’s tremendous 2022. In the three years since Bregman hasn’t approached that level, though his big second half last season could be a springboard back to that stratosphere. Yordan is in that stratosphere and figures to stay there for a while if his health holds up.

Can't get enough Astros coverage?

Stone Cold ‘Stros is the weekly Astro-centric podcast I am part of alongside Brandon Strange and Josh Jordan. On our regular schedule it airs live at 3PM Monday on the SportsMapHouston YouTube channel, is available there for playback at any point, and also becomes available in podcast form at outlets galore. Such as:

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