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!

Getty Images

Caveat ahead of the rest of this column: So much is trivial relative to the life and death and other critical Covid-19 pandemic issues. But sports matter as passions of so many, as multi-billion dollar industries with impact on many other businesses, and beyond. All things in context.

This should have been a fantastic sports weekend around here. The Astros should have opened their season Thursday night at Minute Maid Park against the Angels. Might George Springer have belted an Opening Day homer for the fourth year in a row? Meanwhile at Toyota Center, Friday night should have brought play in the NCAA Tournament with a South Regional Sweet 16 doubleheader. It stood a pretty good chance that Baylor would would have one of the four teams playing. Friday's two winners would have played Sunday for a spot in the Final Four next weekend.

Two more entries on a seemingly infinite list of reasons to say bleep you coronavirus.

Respect upon the​ loss of Jimmy Wynn

Sad news with the passing Thursday of former Houston Colt 45 and Astro Jimmy Wynn at 78 years old. "The Toy Cannon" listed at five foot 10 inches, 160 pounds. He was not 5'10". Jose Altuve lists at 165 pounds. Wynn is a highly underappreciated player in baseball history. He had tremendous power, and would have much larger stats and be held in much higher regard playing in this era. Wynn certainly didn't amass no-doubter Hall of Fame numbers, but it's ridiculous that he got zero votes in his one and only year on the ballot (Class of 1983). Five players on the ballot that year with fewer career Wins Above Replacement (WAR) ultimately would make the Hall of Fame. Wynn got zero votes and hence never again appeared on the ballot.

Wynn's career batting average was .250. That's obviously not remotely impressive, but Wynn was a walk drawing machine with six seasons racking up more than 100 walks topped by a whopping 148 in 1969. So his career on base percentage was .366. Altuve's is .364. Keep in mind that Wynn played his first several big league seasons in the 1960s, the worst decade ever for offense in Major League Baseball. Starting in 1965 he played his home games in the new power-sapping Astrodome. While players shouldn't get credit for what they did not produce, it's worth noting that Wynn basically lost a year of his prime when his wife at the time stabbed him in the gut with a steak knife on their anniversary in December of 1970. An argument got way out of hand, Wynn grabbed an unloaded shotgun, and his wife came at him. In '71 Wynn was obviously affected physically and mentally, batting .203 with just seven homers. In '72 he was back to being tremendous.

One simple stat used to rate how good guys are in the batter's box is OPS+. That's on base percentage plus slugging percentage, adjusted for the ballparks in which guys played. 100 is average. Jimmy Wynn had six seasons in which his OPS was over 140. For context, Jeff Bagwell had eight seasons over 140, Lance Berkman six. The also-underappreciated Jose Cruz topped 140 three times. Altuve has done it twice, as has Alex Bregman the last two years.

Childhood memory time. Wynn was 35 when he joined the Yankees for the 1977 season. He turned out to be washed up. But Opening Day in his first at bat Wynn launched an absolute mortar shot of a home run to center/left-center field at Yankee Stadium. The deepest left-center wall in those days measured 430 feet from home plate. It was the last of Wynn's 291 big league homers.

In the limited number of post-career conversations I had with him Jimmy Wynn was always a delightful guy. Rest in peace "Toy Cannon."

Making due. Somewhat.

As we trudge on in our largely sports-less society of the time being, well, the NFL Draft is now less than a month away! We could almost happily overkill the run up to that, with breathless anticipation of which hole the Texans will fill with their first round pick. But, as you know the Texans don't have a first round pick. Come June in their drafts (as presently scheduled anyway) neither do the Astros or Rockets. Crummy year for Houston draft parties, even if gatherings were allowed.

Most of the heaviest lifting of NFL free agency is already done, though Jadeveon Clowney hasn't found a lavish home yet. Clowney is really good, but not a consistent hell raising superstar worth the 20 plus million per year he's seeking, especially with durability questions about him. The Texans certainly could use him...ha!

Buzzer Beaters

1. Only Opening Day no-hitter pitched in MLB history? Bob Feller in 1940. 2. The Astros' Ken Forsch threw one the second day of the 1979 season. 3. In game show Match Game style: Open ______. Bronze-Gym Silver-For Business Gold-Sesame

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