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Astros: Jim Crane’s actions look worse with hindsight

WEST PALM BEACH, FLORIDA - FEBRUARY 13: Owner Jim Crane of the Houston Astros reads a prepared statement during a press conference at FITTEAM Ballpark of The Palm Beaches on February 13, 2020 in West Palm Beach, Florida. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
WEST PALM BEACH, FLORIDA - FEBRUARY 13: Owner Jim Crane of the Houston Astros reads a prepared statement during a press conference at FITTEAM Ballpark of The Palm Beaches on February 13, 2020 in West Palm Beach, Florida. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images) /
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The way Houston Astros owner Jim Crane handled the sign stealing scandal looks worse now.

I’ll be the first to admit that I was initially supportive of the way Houston Astros owner Jim Crane handled the fallout from the sign stealing scandal. He took swift action, firing GM Jeff Luhnow and manager AJ Hinch and apologizing for the team’s transgressions while assuring the public it would never happen again on his watch.

But since that happened, his reaction has looked steadily worse as the months have gone by. That’s not to say what the Astros did wasn’t wrong, because it was. But we’ve since found out that illegal sign stealing was a leaguewide problem that Major League Baseball ignored until it was forced to finally take action, much like it did with steroids.

In reality, Major League Baseball itself is the most culpable party in all of this. It allowed teams to expand their use of video during games, and sign stealing was an inevitable (and, frankly, foreseeable) result of that. The Astros were not the first to do it and they certainly weren’t the only ones, although their method may have been more brazen than others.

The Yankees and Red Sox were the first ones to get busted after they stole signs against each other in 2017, but that wasn’t even viewed as a big deal by most. Mike Fiers’ decision to go on the record and rat out his former team is what really made this mess hit the fan, and since the league could no longer ignore or downplay it, the Astros were turned into the obvious scapegoat — and Crane has let it happen.

House of Crane

Crane has been getting railroaded by the league since the beginning. Former Commissioner Bud Selig refused to approve his purchase of the Astros unless he agreed to move the team to the AL. I don’t necessarily blame Crane here since he had no choice, but MLB has manhandled him from the start.

Then he willingly takes the league’s blame and punishment for the sign stealing scandal. If he didn’t know that illegal sign stealing was a leaguewide problem, he absolutely should have known. But he bent over and took what was coming instead of standing up against it, and now the Astros have a PR problem that’s never going away.

HOUSTON, TEXAS – JULY 28: Joe Kelly #17 of the Los Angeles Dodgers has words with Carlos Correa #1 of the Houston Astros as he walks towards the dugout at Minute Maid Park on July 28, 2020 in Houston, Texas. Both benches would empty after Kelly had thrown high inside pitches at Correa, Bregman and Guriel in the sixth inning. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
HOUSTON, TEXAS – JULY 28: Joe Kelly #17 of the Los Angeles Dodgers has words with Carlos Correa #1 of the Houston Astros as he walks towards the dugout at Minute Maid Park on July 28, 2020 in Houston, Texas. Both benches would empty after Kelly had thrown high inside pitches at Correa, Bregman and Guriel in the sixth inning. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images) /

Look no further than what’s happened this season. Most fans purport to be against the prospect of intentionally throwing baseballs at other people’s heads, except when it comes to the Astros of course. Joe Kelly throws at Alex Bregman and Carlos Correa, then runs away while making a childish pouty face, and he’s viewed as a hero, both in Los Angeles and in the national media.

I would remind them that Kelly was part of the 2018 Red Sox team that cheated its way to a World Series, but no one seems to care about that. The Red Sox were able to blame their transgressions on a rogue video operator, which is absolute horse manure. Rob Manfred continues to protect the Yankees despite there being plenty of evidence of their crimes.

But no one outside Houston pays any attention to that, or to the fact that several other teams have also been accused of using technology to steal signs, including the Dodgers. The “Orange Team Bad” narrative that the league and the media have colluded to perpetuate is what most people want to believe, regardless of whatever evidence is put in front of them.

Yet in spite of all this — in spite of how ridiculously unfair this is to the Astros and to their fans — Crane has kept silent and let the punishment and the narrative stand. Why let your team be treated like this? If you invest hundreds of millions in this franchise, why let the rest of the sport take a collective dump on it?

Time For Change

More from Climbing Tal's Hill

I’ve started to wonder if there’s a reason Crane is allowing this. Maybe when approving his purchase of the team, the league agreed to overlook the skeletons in his closet if he would be a good soldier, so to speak. Crane’s skeletons are many, from previous failed attempts to purchase a team to issues of discrimination and war profiteering with his logistics company.

To be clear, I have no evidence of any agreement of this nature, but it would make sense. Otherwise, why wouldn’t Crane take a stand? It might not earn him any fans outside Houston, but he and the Astros don’t have any such fans anyway. Even the apology the team offered was deemed to be insufficient by the millions of self-proclaimed judges who rely on faulty information.

Instead, the team’s response should be defiant. Crane should make clear that the sign stealing began when Carlos Beltran, who’d spent the last few years with the Yankees, came to Houston and told the Astros they were behind the times. The sign stealing operation was devised as a way for the team to keep up with what was already being done around the league, and the league knew it was going on but did nothing.

That doesn’t make it alright, of course, but it’s completely unfair to view the Astros as the team that ruined the sport, and Crane should emphatically say so. It’s unlikely to change anyone’s opinions, since most people have their own idea of what happened, but there’s something to be said for standing up against injustice.

But is Crane actually going to do that? I rather doubt it. The Astros have been made into a scapegoat for something the league allowed to happen, and Crane has stood by and allowed it. He won’t have too many fans in Houston if he won’t stand up and defend his team.

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