By Jeff Kallman
Carlos Correa still didn’t really get it. As gracious as the Houston Astros were after the upstart Atlanta Braves blasted them out of the World Series, their shortstop still spoke as though Astrogate was just one of those things from which the world, never mind the Astros, needs to move on, already.
“My time here was not just amazing," Correa said, after the Braves flattened his Astros 7-0 in Game Six, "but the seven greatest years of my life. I got here as a boy, turned into a man, grew up in this city, and the fans embraced me. This has been my home. This is my home now. So I'm grateful for everybody.”
Forget for the moment that speaking in the past tense indicates Correa accepting the possibility of moving on from the Astros as a free agent. Forget for the moment that he’s liable to command a new contract above and beyond what the Astros might be willing to pay even to the arguable best among the free-agent shortstops this winter.
He turned into a man? Well, now.
Men don’t partake of their sport’s arguable worst cheating scandal ever, then act and speak as though they were just going along because, well, everybody else was doing it, too. Men don’t play the whatabout game when they and theirs get caught with their hands in the proverbial cookie jar and pulling off a heist at the cookie factory.
Men don’t shirk responsibility for their role, whatever it was, in an illegal, off-field-based, electronic sign-stealing plot that was verified to have gone above and beyond mere reconnaissance out of the replay rooms baseball’s governors themselves installed for all teams home and road alike.
(No, folks, the Astros weren’t “scapegoated,” no matter what the stubborn among Astro fans like to shove in commissioner Rob Manfred’s face. If anything, Manfred—for assorted reasons—let most of the cheaters off the hook. He promised immunity to Astro players in return for spilling the deets while docking the organization key draft picks. He fined owner Jim Crane the maximum-allowable $5 million. He suspended then-general manager Jeff Luhnow, then-manager A.J. Hinch, and then-bench coach Alex Cora for 2020. It fell to Crane to fire Luhnow and Hinch almost on the spot after Manfred’s January 2020 report.)
Men don’t deny that their team, and its front office, engaged in an extravagant intelligence operation involving computer-generated algorithms (Codebreaker, which its creator warned Luhnow was legal before or after games but illegal during, a warning Luhnow ignored) and a camera above and beyond center field, altered illegally off its mandatory eight-second transmission delay, sending signs to clubhouse monitors for immediate deciphering—and the long-since-notorious transmission by trash-can thump to hitters in the batter’s box.
That wasn’t even close to being “the same” as the 2018 Boston Rogue Sox’s (and a few others’) replay-room reconnaissance ring—in which someone stealing a sign still needed a base=runner to send it forth for transmission to the batter. That was MLB itself, essentially, being Mom and Dad handing the kids custody of the liquor cabinet keys and trusting them not to get drunk while left to themselves for the weekend.
Men don’t abet or stay quiet about the smearings and threatenings leveled at Astrogate whistleblower Mike Fiers—who’s been verified long since as having objected to the Astro Intelligence Agency while still an Astro; who warned his subsequent teams about the AIA; who was one of several players that tried to convince baseball writers to expose it; and, who finally took it on the record to The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal and Evan Drellich a fortnight after the Washington Nationals waxed the Astros in the 2019 World Series.
Men acknowledge that being part and parcel of Astrogate-level cheating wasn’t just “foolish,” “stupid,” or “a mistake,” but inflicted a stain upon the sport that just wasn’t going to erode poof! like that when “winning fixes everything.”
Men ask themselves why it is that—despite having only five remaining or (in the case of spare part Marwin Gonzalez) returning Astrogaters (six, if you count pitcher Lance McCullers, Jr., who missed the postseason with an arm injury)—opposing fans still treated the entire 2021 Astros like a group of barely-repentant cheaters. (To their eternal credit, Braves fans saved the “cheater! cheater!” chants strictly for the Astrogate holdovers.)
Men acknowledge what Luhnow himself finally acknowledged when interviewed by the podcast The Edge in November 2020: “We should have and could have won [in 2017] without [Codebreaker and the AIA]. I apologize for what the Astros did. I apologize to . . . any team that we might have gained an advantage on during the ’17 and ’18 season because we were breaking the rules. I really want that to be out there. I feel bad and I’m sorry. I really am sorry.”
If only Luhnow hadn’t spoiled it by saying right then and there, “I wish I had known about it. I would have stopped it.” What did he think he was fostering with his since-exposed culture of organizational amorality, a pranking contest?
Correa is an intelligent young man. Such a young man must know in his heart of hearts that there’s only one way baseball fans, observers, and analysts may yet begin to treat the Astros as an untainted team. That’s when the last Astrogater standing in Houston no longer wears an Astros uniform.
Unfair? Yes. But so was Astrogate itself.
Jeff Kallman is an IBWAA Life Member who writes Throneberry Fields Forever. He has written for the Society for American Baseball Research, The Hardball Times, Sports-Central, and other publications. He has lived in Las Vegas since 2007 and, alas, has been a Met fan since the day they