The Houston Astros have won the 2022 World Series, beating the Philadelphia Phillies 3 games to 2. I am conflicted.
I have hated the Astros since their inception, and for several very good reasons. (I admit that any reason for cheering or despising a sports team, unless it’s your home-town team, is totally irrational. But humans are an irrational species, and so, hating the Dallas Cowboys, for instance, is a common impulse. Just like hating the Yankees.)
It’s not that I was rooting for the Phillies. No one who cares about the Atlanta Braves, as I do, has anything but the rawest animosity for the team. But my hatred for the Astros trumps my natural disdain for the rival Phillies.
I was hoping — planning, even — for a World Series with the Braves, but barring that, between the Dodgers (I was willing to accept the Dodgers) and the Yanks, such a face-off being the historical classic. But fate was not kind to me, and I had to watch the last bits of baseball for the year as an uninteresting back-and-forth between teams I don’t care about — even despise.
Why do I hate the Astros? I’m afraid I have to confess that my animosity, like the Southerner’s for General Sherman, has its roots in ancient history.
The marks against them begin with the Astrodome — the first domed all-purpose stadium and the progenitor to a plague of such ballfields across the country (gratefully, they are all now mostly demolished as historical artifacts, good for neither baseball nor football). It was an ugly stadium.
Secondly: AstroTurf. Since grass would not grow without sunlight, the roofed stadium had a problem, and it was solved through chemistry — i.e., Monsanto, the chemical company that brought us glyphosate-based herbicides, now recognized as carcinogens. AstroTurf spread like cancer around Major League ballfields — an ugly uniform green rug, layered on top of concrete, and making a playing surface that injured the players forced to work on it.
Baseball was designed as a pastoral, bucolic game, and played on a field of grass. An industrialized baseball should be a contradiction in terms. Grass is natural, uneven, varied; Astroturf is as uniform as Imperial Troopers in Star Wars.
Thirdly, the early Astros uniforms were the start of another trend in baseball: ugly uniforms. The striped orange uniforms of the early Astros remain, in my mind, among the most despicable. They led to a rash of “re-imagined” uniforms that are now laughed at, such as the Chicago White Sox short pants version, and the San Diego Padres camo.
There are other reasons for me to hate the Astros, although some may be petty. I won’t argue that. But the Astrodome provided the setting for the climax of the Worst Movie Ever Made (or at least the most pretentious), Brewster McCloud. God, I hate that movie.
And after 51 seasons with the National League, they moved to the hated American League in 2013. The country may be divided politically into red states and blue states, but baseball fans have their own tribal affinities: National vs. American leagues. You have to choose one. My family, going back to my father, a die-hard Brooklyn Dodgers fan, has always been National Leaguers.
Then, there is the 2017-2018 sign-stealing scandal, where the Astros used a video camera in center field to steal the opposing teams’ catchers sending pitching signals to their pitchers. Baseball has always allowed for on-field attempt to steal signs, as when a runner is on second base and can see the catcher’s signs, but to do it surreptitiously with hi-tech equipment was a clear violation of traditional fair play. The team and players were sanctioned when caught, but for many fans of the game, it was little more than a wrist-slap.
All those are on one side. Maybe some of them are unimportant — I won’t argue about that — but look at the number of them. And what have we got on the other side?
There are two mitigating factors in my mind that ease the discomfort of the Astros World Series win.
The first is J.R. Richard, who, from 1975-1980 was probably the most unhittable pitcher in the majors and, for me, the most fun to watch. He could be wild, and regularly led the league in walks and wild pitches. Yet, he also struck out huge numbers and once had three consecutive complete game shutouts. I loved watching him.
The other mitigation is Dusty Baker. I loved him when he played for the Dodgers, but even more when he took up managing and moved from team to team, always bringing his quiet, careful demeanor with him. If ever anyone deserved to win a World Series just for character alone, it would be Baker.
And so, there you have it. I hate the Astros; I really liked two Astros on-field staffers. I’m not sure the positives outweigh the negatives. But then, this is only sports, and ultimately, it doesn’t matter.
But that’s how sports works. It doesn’t matter, but we give it all our hearts and minds as if it did. As I said, human beings are irrational.