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Published January 28, 2020

THE VIEW FROM MY SEAT

Say it ain’t so, Springer, Altuve, Bregman...

By Ernie Williamson / The Bulletin

My American Legion baseball team was facing a pitcher considered a “can’t miss” prospect.

But as Cy Yung (really, that was his name) warmed up, I spotted a flaw. I could tell the kind of pitch he was about to throw by how he gripped the ball.

We worked out a low-tech system of relaying information to hitters. I yelled “come on” if a curveball was coming or “let’s go” for a fastball.

Yung never saw the third inning.

What we did wasn’t cheating. We took advantage of an opponent’s flaw. It was no different than a football team blitzing an offensive lineman who can’t block. It was part of the game.

Given that experience, you might think I would be sympathetic to the Houston Astros after they were punished by Major League Baseball for stealing signs.

I am not. This fan is angry, disappointed and sad that the Golden Age of Astros baseball may be over.

A few weeks ago we had a team we could be proud of. We had personable and skilled players on the field and a pioneering front office admired for its analytics.

Now, we’re told our success was aided by fraud, and we are viewed nationwide as villains.

Although the story is still developing, and we haven’t, as of this writing, heard from the players, let’s review what we know.

In 2017, the year they beat the Dodgers to win the World Series, the Astros, in defiance of the league and their owner, used a high-tech scheme involving cameras and monitors to decode hand signals of catchers. Hitters would then be tipped off, sometimes by someone thumping on a trash can.

MLB says it’s impossible to determine how much the cheating impacted games, but former Dodger pitcher Yu Darvish wonders. Darvish had an earned run average of 1.59 in the 2017 National League division and championship series. Against the Astros, it ballooned to 21.60.

“A couple of Astros players told me I was tipping pitches,” Darvish says,“ but now it comes out they were stealing signs. Was I tipping, or were they stealing?”

The line between what my American Legion team did and what the Astros did may be thin, but it exists. My team didn’t break any rules, disobey orders or use electronic devices.

The Astros were handed the punishment they deserved. The manager and general manager are gone, the team is fined $5 million, and it loses draft picks.

The Astros keep the World Series title, but they lose the respect of this fan.

I have written earlier how much I loved the Astros, not only because they won, but because they seemed to be playing for fun, not just money. They appeared to be as happy as I was 55 years ago playing America’s pastime for pure enjoyment.

As a 73-year-old, I should know by now not to hero-worship. But, stuck in a wheelchair, I watched almost all the Astros games and came to feel the same way about George Springer and Jose Altuve as I did as a kid about Mick, Yogi and Sandy.

Now I feel betrayed. I doubt I will ever know which players cheated, and that’s a shame. It leaves them all tarnished.

The team’s legacy is that it will be mentioned in history books along with the Chicago White Sox, a team that took bribes to let Cincinnati win the 1919 World Series.

It was during what came to be known as the Black Sox Scandal that a famous quote was born. A reporter wrote that a heartbroken boy attending the trial of “Shoeless Joe Jackson” said, “Say, it ain’t so, Joe.”

The quote may be more legend than fact, but it captures my emotions.

I want Springer to tell me he wasn’t cheating when he slugged all those homers and was named World Series MVP.

I want Alex Bregman to tell me he wasn’t cheating when he stroked that walk-off single to win Game 5.

I want Altuve to tell me he wasn’t cheating when he won the batting title that year.

I find the defense of the team by some fans distressing.

Some say Jim Crane, the owner, should not have fired A.J. Hinch, the manager who knew about the scheme, and Jeff Luhnow, the general manager.

I say welcome to the real world. Disobey the boss, and you get fired.

Some say the Astros shouldn’t have been penalized because statistics show the hitters didn’t benefit much from cheating.

I say that is like letting a bank robber go free because he didn’t steal that much.

Fan reaction reminds me of what I see in our nation’s capital. We don’t judge on the merits any more.

We judge right or wrong by which party or which team did it.

Say, it ain’t so.

(Ernie Williamson welcomes reader input. Please contact Ernie at williamsonernie@gmail.com. Or, send letters in care of The Bulletin, PO Box 2426, Angleton, TX. 77516)