WE ARE CHAMPIONS!

The wait is over: Astros win the big one for a city whose spirit could not be denied

What a moment for the city of Houston. Harry How/Getty Images

It took 56 long years, and one magnificent night, to create memories that will last forever in Houston. The Astros are World Series champions!

As the players whooped and hollered and hugged on the field, fans back home heard their message loud and clear. "We did it for our city, our fans," said World Series MVP George Springer

If anybody stood tall for Houston, it was Springer. He started the Series by striking out four times, and finished holding the Willie Mays MVP trophy. That's Houston, picking itself up off the mat and shining new again. 

Starting pitcher Lance McCullers said, "We wear this patch ("HoustonStrong") and we wear it proudly."

Jose Altuve, 5-6 and 165 pounds, all heart, became a baseball giant, showing the country who he is — baseball's best hitter, batting champion again, and surely the 2017 American League's Most Valuable Player.

We know the story: Houston went through the wringer this summer with Hurricane Harvey. Much of the city and Astros fans are still reeling from the flood. We rallied around this team of wonderful players and triumphed. If a flood couldn't get Houston down, what chance, really, did the Dodgers have?

Baseball record books will simply record Wednesday night as "Astros 5, Dodgers 1." But this was so much more. Houston baseball fans have waited since this team was born in 1962 as the Colt .45's to raise a World Series banner. The wait is over. We are champions.

Quite simply, this is the greatest sports moment in the history of our city. Nothing comes close. We're talking the World Series — the very words mean the ultimate accomplishment. And they did it with style, taking Game 7.

The two most exciting words in sports —Game 7.

How could you not cheer for Carlos Correa, rubbing the heads of his teammates after a home run, jumping over the dugout rail to celebrate a win, then getting on one knee and proposing marriage after winning the World Series? Yeah, that's a pretty good 24 hours for our shortstop.

Get ready for a party, 2 pm Friday in downtown Houston. And the party won't stop any time soon. These wondrous homegrown players, Carlos Correa, George Springer, Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, Lance McCullers, Marwin Gonzalez, Dallas Keuchel and others are all coming back next year. Justin Verlander has two more years in Houston.

"I literally love Justin Verlander" - Jose Altuve.

"I literally love you, too, Jose Altuve" - Justin Verlander.

"We love the whole darn team - all of you" - millions of Houstonians.

Many teams fill the back pages of newspapers with stories of ego and griping and dissent. They challenge their coaches, question their owner, mutter they want out.

Here's how that plays in Houston. When centerfielder George Springer caught the final out of the American League Championship Series against the Yankees, he gave the ball to manager A.J. Hinch.

Dallas Keuchel said, "I owe everything to (pitching coach) Brent Strom. He means the world to me."

Consider this, over the past few weeks, the Astros beat the Boston Red Sox, the New York Yankees and the Los Angeles Dodgers, three legendary baseball franchises, to claim their first World Series title.

This is pure joy for a team, a city, a spirit that could not be denied. Celebrate it.

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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.

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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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