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Column: Lovable Astros? They’ll always be the team that cheated Dodgers out of World Series title

Houston Astros manager Dusty Baker Jr. left, celebrates with the team on the field after defeating the New York Yankees
Houston Astros manager Dusty Baker Jr. celebrates with owner Jim Crane, left, and the rest of the team after defeating the New York Yankees in Game 4 of the 2022 American League Championship Series.
(John Minchillo / Associated Press)
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Those suddenly lovable Houston Astros have become the universally respected favorites to win the upcoming World Series.

I hope they lose every game.

Those newly embraceable Houston Astros are led by beloved manager Dusty Baker, impressive slugger Yordan Alvarez, timeless pitcher Justin Verlander, and a collection of tough players who have regained a nation’s admiration.

I hope the Philadelphia Phillies destroy them.

Five years after they stole a championship, one of the most dishonest organizations in the history of professional sports is somehow perceived as a smart and savvy operation that deserves another title.

Not here.

After a record-setting 111-win season, the Dodgers’ World Series aspirations imploded in spectacular fashion. Why did the Dodgers fail in 2022?

Oct. 24, 2022

Many are conveniently forgetting, or casually ignoring, or just not caring.

Not in this space. Not in this town. Not ever.

The Astros stole the 2017 World Series from the Dodgers, electronically cheating their way to a victory that forever damaged the legacy of a franchise while crushing the hopes of its city.

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I hope those crooks never win another one.

Current Astros hitters Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman and Yuli Gurriel benefited from a sign-stealing operation that gave them a clear advantage in winning two of three games from the Dodgers at Houston’s Minute Maid Park, leading to their seven-game triumph.

Houston third baseman Alex Bregman and first baseman Yuli Gurriel celebrate after the Astros defeated the New York Yankees
Houston third baseman Alex Bregman, right, and first baseman Yuli Gurriel celebrate after the Astros defeated the New York Yankees to clinch the ALCS on Oct. 24 in New York.
(Julia Nikhinson / Associated Press)

I hope Phillies fans bring their trash cans.

In the wake of a disgustingly minuscule penalty from Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred, the Astros organization was essentially unpunished and clearly unapologetic.

I hope they get mercy-ruled.

Only five years have passed, but memories have become foggy and public opinion has changed. People cite a new roster, new management, and a new culture as reasons for forgiveness. This is a different Astros team, they say. Get over it, they say.

Get over it? Really? This may be mostly a different team, but it is the same Jim-Crane owned operation showcasing the same spoils of their crime.

The Houston Astros sign-stealing scandal has been a major topic of conversation at spring training. It’s been tough to keep up, but these memes ought to help.

Feb. 19, 2020

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The franchise kept the trophy. The players kept their rings. Their playoff shares have long been banked. The Astros were fined $5 million and draft picks and they shrugged and kept winning. They beat the system. They beat the rap. They conned the Dodgers.

I hope they get swept in four. No, three. Two?

Manager A.J. Hinch is gone, general manager Jeff Luhnow is gone, and some of the more blatant offenders are gone, but five impact players from that 2017 team remain — Altuve, Bregman, Gurriel, Verlander, and Lance McCullers Jr.

Hey, Phillies’ fans, the appropriate chant is pronounced, “Cheat-er!…Cheat-er!”

This is not a criticism of Baker. He has done a tremendous job steadying a team that was initially booed in every opposing stadium. The former Dodger deserves to finally win a championship. Just not as an Astro.

Houston manager Dusty Baker Jr. celebrates with his team in the locker room
Houston manager Dusty Baker Jr. celebrates with his team in the locker room after the Astros eliminated the New York Yankees in Game 4 of the ALCS.
(Seth Wenig / Associated Press)

Last summer I asked Baker about the likelihood of his Astros players being booed at Dodger Stadium during the All-Star Game, and he said, “I would prefer that this beautiful town of L.A. move on and forget the past, because most of the players that are here weren’t even there during the scandal. I just wonder about the forgiveness of mankind.”

That’s all very sweet, very Dusty, but he has to understand, L.A. can’t move on, not when the heist cost the Dodgers their only full-season World Series championship in the last 34 years.

The distaste around here is so intense, it is doubtful the Dodgers could ever sign one of the Astros from that team simply because their fans would turn on them. Believe me, I know. I wrote a column last winter that proposed the Dodgers should consider replacing a potentially departing Corey Seager with former Astros shortstop Carlos Correa. I figured once Correa was out of an Astros uniform, fans would eventually overlook his misdeeds for his greatness.

The Dodgers’ top priority should be re-signing Corey Seager. But if they don’t, they must put the Astros’ cheating scandal aside and pursue Carlos Correa.

Nov. 12, 2021

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I figured wrong. I was rightfully skewered for not understanding the depth of the local disdain. Folks around here don’t abhor just the Astros franchise but everyone who was involved with that 2017 larceny.

When I’m booing hard during this series, I know I won’t be the only one.

And, again, my boos will be for more than any individual. I’m booing the brand, the business, the operation, and that wretched owner who is still profiting from the pilfering.

Do you remember Crane’s comments when he finally spoke about the scandal in the winter of 2020, a full month after Manfred’s relatively light penalties were imposed?

Astros owner Jim Crane came across as an out-of-touch plutocrat used to people telling him they agree with whatever nonsense comes out of his mouth.

Feb. 13, 2020

“There’s nothing that’s clear to suggest it affected the outcome,” he said, seriously.

Asked whether the championship was tainted, he said, “I think absolutely not. I think we’ve had a very good team for a number of years before [2017], we were turning the corner … I don’t think it taints it.”

And you want to cheer for that guy? The thought of him holding the Commissioner’s Trophy next week makes me sick.

The thought of Clayton Kershaw and Yu Darvish watching him hold the Commissioner’s Trophy makes me sicker.

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Austin Barnes, Yu Darvish, Clayton Kershaw and Enrique Hernandez watch the Astros celebrate on the field from their dugout
From left: Dodgers Kiké Hernández, Clayton Kershaw, Yu Darvish, and Austin Barnes watch the Astros celebrate on their field after Game 7 of the 2017 World Series at Dodger Stadium.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

In the most blatant example of the impact of the Astros’ cheating, the top two Dodgers starters were clearly victimized in two losses in Houston during that series. The Astros correctly predicted nearly all of their pitches, racking them for a combined 10 runs in 6 1/3 innings, winning both games and taking control of the series.

In a Game 3 loss, Darvish induced one swinging strike in 49 pitches. In the Game 5 loss, according to Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci, Kershaw induced zero swinging strikes in throwing 51 sliders and curves.

Also in that Game 5 loss, two of the biggest beneficiaries of the sign stealing — Altuve and Bregman — went five for 10 with one home run and five RBIs.

“Everyone knows they stole the ring from us,” said the Dodgers’ Cody Bellinger after the scandal was revealed.

Disappointment and anger was prevalent in the Dodgers’ clubhouse at Camelback Ranch. Cody Bellinger’s reaction was strongest to the Astros’ scandal.

Feb. 14, 2020

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They stole more than that.

The Dodgers still haven’t won a full-season championship since 1988, and even the 2020 COVID-abbreviated title could not ease the pain from their latest collapse in San Diego. A 2017 crown would have bought the sort of postseason credibility and trust that is still missing today.

Darvish never recovered mentally from Game 3, blew up in Game 7, could never come back to work here, and now a good guy and powerful competitor plays for the Padres.

Kershaw finally atoned for his postseason failures with the 2020 championship, but again, it was in a 60-game season, and think about how his legacy would have been strengthened if he had led them to a full-season title.

Then there’s the plight of Dodgers manager Dave Roberts, who fell out of favor with many fans in that Astros series and has been trying to win them back ever since. Think he would have been booed so hard in the last five years if his desperate bullpen maneuvering against a sign-stealing team in 2017 had worked?

Dave Roberts plans to host a visitor at his home next week.

Jan. 11, 2018

The Astros stole more than signs. They stole history, legacy, careers and, ultimately, a piece of the heart of a city’s sports landscape that has yet to be replaced.

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Sure, this 2022 bunch is largely a new team with a new culture lead by an endearingly charming dugout presence.

But they’re still the Crane-owned, banner-hanging, trophy-showcasing, dirty dog cheating Houston Astros.

Go, Phillies.

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