THE COUCH SLOUCH

Let's be honest: The only fair punishment for the Astros is taking away their title

Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

Simply put – and I realize I am last in on this, but I only write once a week and I also sleep in weekday mornings, mainly to avoid bad news – Major League Baseball should vacate the Houston Astros' 2017 World Series title.

I understand there is some Astros fatigue right now, but this sign-stealing saga has generated more reader mail than any issue in recent memory. In fact, if I paid out $1.25 to every Astros-related Ask The Slouch submission, I'd be writing this column at a loss.

Plus every time another layer is pulled off this Astros scandal, something tells me we will find something else sordid. Eventually, we'll discover the Astros also had a hand in the Great Chicago Fire, the kidnapping of the Lindbergh baby and the Watergate cover-up.

So, how far have we fallen as a once reasonably-minded group of revolutionaries pulling away from British oppression?


1. The Astros – following the lead from Wall Street to the White House – not only decided to flimflam repeatedly, but once caught, took a "get over it" stance.

2. Many Astros opponents, unhappy with Commissioner Rob Manfred's let's-just-move-on jurisprudence, have spoken of taking justice into their own hands – by throwing at Astros batters; of course, this follows the old Latin "an eye for an eye and a 90 mph fastball at your head for a tooth" credo.

3. Naturally, we can gamble on how many times Astros betters are hit by a pitch. At William Hill sports book, the latest over-under season total is 81.5; there's something very American about the ability to wager on players getting assaulted by beanballs.

Meanwhile, we heard last week, pitifully so, from Astros owner Jim Crane and Astros players, all of whom stepped to the plate and said nothing – apparently they cannot speak unless they know what pitch is coming.

(We did not hear from defrocked general manager Jeff Luhnow or defrocked manager A.J. Hinch, both currently relocated in MLB's new witless protection program.)

Harry S. Truman famously had a sign on his desk that said, "The buck stops here." Crane's version of that is, "The buck stops down the hall and to the right, in an office adjacent to the men's restroom."

Crane contended that the electronically-aided sign stealing "didn't impact the game." In his defense, I'll say this: If I played on the Astros, I probably would hit .000. And if I knew what pitch was coming every time, I'd still probably hit .000.

The Astros' spring training apology tour can be summed up in a dozen words:

"We're sorry, but we're not THAT sorry – we are still the champions."

Manfred acknowledged he could've stripped the Astros of their title, but he said, "There are a lot of things that happened in the history of the game that arguably could be corrected, and I just think it's an impossible task for an institution to undertake."

No, it's not an impossible task.

You know what's an impossible task?

-- Making a full-bodied Cabernet Sauvignon without a single grape.

-- Leaving Tallahassee, Fla., Monday in a hot air balloon and landing on Mars by Friday.

-- Convincing Skip Bayless he is wrong about anything.

This was a simple task: The World Series champions had gamed the game for the entirety of their title season. They broke MLB rules in wide-scale fashion, again and again – it's called CHEATING. If a high school kid scores 95 on a biology test and it's discovered he had the answers beforehand, do you still give him an 'A' on the exam?

You vacate the Astros' championship. Case closed.

Like Baretta used to say, "Don't do the crime if you can't do the time."

Manfred said even putting an asterisk on the Astros' title doesn't make "that much difference."

Let's test that.

Example A: The Houston Astros are 2017 World Series champions.

Example B: The Houston As*tros are 2017 World Series champions.*

* Actually, they're not – they CHEATED.

I've got to say, short of taking the Astros' title away, Example B looks a whole lot better to me than Example A.

Ask the slouch

Q. You recently wrote, "March showers bring April flowers." Did you get permission from the EPA to update the original expression, "April showers bring May flowers"? (Dudley Chase; St. Inigoes, Md.)

A. Listen, pal, I have been ahead of the climate-change curve since getting drenched in a Las Vegas rainstorm on St. Patrick's Day 1999.

Q. I just read your book, "Hold On, Honey, I'll Take You to the Hospital at Halftime." Please tell me you wouldn't really wait until halftime. (Ray Hauley; Valatie, N.Y.)

A. I did. And my first ex-wife did not wait until game's end to leave me.

Q. You wrote that you hate the XFL, yet you pick XFL games on YouTube. Are you a hypocrite? (Jason Karlin; Chicago)

A. The Greek actor Hypokritḗs was a hypocrite; I'm just trying to make a living in an ever-changing media universe.

Q. What is Michael Strahan doing these days now that he is no longer playing football? It's like he dropped off the face of the earth. (Steve Owings; Spokane, Wash.)

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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The media has mixed feelings about the James Harden trade. Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

James Harden was 100-percent exactly right earlier this week when he said the Houston Rockets were "just not good enough."

How could they be? Not when their moody superstar scorer, who makes about half a million dollars per game, shows up chubby, looking like a kielbasa about to explode in the microwave. Hey, some people eat when they're unhappy, it's a defense mechanism. In Harden's case, the only defense he's exhibited this season. At least he had a good excuse for missing pre-season training camp and alienating his teammates - he was busy partying with Cinnamon and Cherish in Atlanta and Vegas without a mask. Worst of all, he went into the tank his last four games in a Rockets uniform, standing around, arms folded, scoring fewer than 20 points each time, all Rockets losses. Fans in the front row were asking him to move, he was blocking their view of players who cared about winning. James Harden sabotaged his own team, a team that offered him $50 million a year to stay. Something that crazy could only happen in professional sports these days.

There's a saying that drives the American labor movement: "a fair day's wage for a fair day's work." It's the motto of the American Federation of Labor. The National Basketball Players Association is not a member. Harden's sulking on the court, cheating the Rockets and their fans, was unforgivable.

Harden, sitting out games while somehow being on the court, forced the Rockets to trade him - and quick - to Brooklyn. The trade, when you ignore the fine print and unindicted co-conspirators Cleveland and Indiana, sent Harden to Brooklyn in exchange for Caris LeVert (immediately flipped for Victor Oladipo), Jarrett Allen, three first-round draft picks and four swapped first-rounders. It's true, when you trade a superstar, you never get back equal value. The other team wins.

If it makes Rockets fans feel any better, the media in New York already has problems with their new problem child. I should say newest problem child. Kyrie Irving plays for the Nets.

"They (the Nets) gave up everybody! There's nothing left now. I just want to cry, It's awful," weeped WFAN Radio talk host Evan Roberts. For those who don't subscribe to weekly Arbitron ratings reports, WFAN is the most powerful, top-rated sports talk station in the Apple.

"You're leading down the road of doom. Harden and Durant could be gone in a year and a half. I'm not convinced this gives them a better chance to win a title. I'm living a nightmare again. They better freaking win."

Circle March 3 on your Rockets schedule. That's when the Brooklyn Nets, with their Big 3 of Kevin Durant, James Harden and possibly Kyrie Irving visit Toyota Center. I hear talk radio salivating over the record jeers that will cascade over Harden's name, although I'm not buying it. Fans don't think like the media does. I'm thinking that Rockets fans will welcome Harden back - one night only - with cheers.

Toyota Center public address announcer Matt Thomas: "Usually when former Rockets come to town for the first time since leaving, I give them a positive introduction. It's up to the fans how to react."

James Harden spent eight seasons with the Rockets. He is a spectacular player who watched other NBA players engineer trades so they could compete for a title. Harden didn't think the Rockets were good enough, and he's right. So he wanted out. We've all been there, a job we didn't like for a company we didn't like, for a boss we didn't respect. Harden wanting to be traded is understandable. How he went about it was deplorable. He hurt his co-workers.

Houston will make Harden pay for his disrespectful departure. He has an upscale restaurant set to open here. The name of the steakhouse will be "13." Harden's business partners may want to change that number ... before the restaurant's telephone number is disconnected. There are plenty of other restaurants in Houston. Rich people who can afford steakhouse prices hold grudges.

Rockets fans searching for a silver lining say, "We got two decent players and a whole bunch of precious first-round picks" for a malcontent who would rather be anywhere (except maybe Sacramento) than Houston." Yes, a bunch of first-round picks does bode well for the future. Anywhere, except maybe Houston.

Houston's draft war room isn't the most successful operation in the NBA. Over the past decade prior to 2000, under the direction of general manager Daryl Morey, the Rockets made 16 draft picks. Not one of them is still in a Rockets uniform, many of them have sought employment outside of America, some outside of basketball. Among their first-round whiffs: Nikola Mirotic, Terrence Jones, Sam Dekker - all out of the league. Best of all, Royce White, who played three whole games in his NBA career and finished with a scoring average of 0.00 points per game.

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