Astroball, by Ben Reiter, was published in March 2019, just months before its subject, the Houston Astros under true dickweed Jeff Luhnow, were exposed as possibly the worst cheaters in baseball history. Reiter’s book has the subtitle “The New Way To Win It All,” which is very funny when you realize that it does not identify as even part of Houston’s way of winning the brazen advantages the team took from simply pointing a camera at the opposing catcher’s dick and balls and using the information gleaned to tell its batters in real time what pitch to expect.
Reiter wrote a bold cover story for Sports Illustrated in 2014 in which he correctly predicted Houston’s 2017 World Series victory, based on observations he’d made of the team’s cutting-edge analytical and technological innovations. Reiter spent the next several years closely following and researching Luhnow’s Astros, in order to piece together a narrative account of their rise from a pile of shit to the top of the baseball world. What came of all that close observation and rigorous journalism was 288 pages of tumescent praise of the team’s post-human eggheadedness that had the Wall Street Journal falling all over itself to hail “powerful insights into how organizations—not just baseball teams—work best.” And not one of those insights—not one!—was how the team used a Crotch Cam and metal trash can lids to utterly break the integrity of the sport.
What I am saying here is Reiter’s reporting on the Houston Astros, in sum, represents one of the truly stupendous journalistic failures in the history of sportswriting. Not only did he fail to notice the central technological innovation of the nerd circus he’d embedded with—that it had found a novel use for a part of a trash can—he wrote a historical document that told the exact opposite story of the true one. He watched a clown car nakedly abuse HOV thruways and told the world to celebrate its brilliant navigation of right-lane traffic. The soul-searching that follows that kind of failure should be the sort of thing that is done in relative exile. Instead, Reiter is hosting a serial podcast where he will reexamine the Astros in light of all the new shit, and attempt to account for his own insanely poor reporting.
“I immediately remember feeling a deep sense of personal responsibility … to figure out how I missed this and to get to the bottom of how this happened,” Reiter said in a recent interview. He spent much of this year working on a serial podcast, “The Edge,” an attempt to reexamine both the Astros and his own reporting.Washington Post
Listen. In the same way that cynical shitheads atop baseball organizations are clamoring to hire bespectacled disruptor types to help them find new ways to avoid paying baseball players for being the central attraction in the baseball business, cynical sportswriters are drawn to the possibility of hitting on the next Moneyball-type crossover phenomenon, a narrative of sports innovation that makes them a god across multiple spheres of culture and industry. There’s a degree to which this exercise will always necessarily involve huffing the farts of the business types doing the disrupting—even Michael Lewis had to swallow the baloney of small-market disadvantages and the nonsense of cheap owners and their underpaid players being feel-good underdogs. You will not titillate Wall Street Journal book reviewers by taking too hard or human a look at the conditions being exploited by this or that innovating interloper.
The incentives are all screwy. Reiter missed the cheating because he wasn’t actually trying to understand how the Astros were conquering baseball, he was blowing smoke up a front office’s ass so he could introduce the world to the next big victory for hedge-fund logic. Turning around now and saying he wants to “get to the bottom of how this happened” is a little like Captain Renault in Casablanca, expressing shock at the realization that there’s gambling going on in Rick’s. Renault’s outrage was at least pure performance; Reiter was in fact too blinkered by his own ambitions to have noticed that there was cheating going on right in front of him.
I don’t know why anyone would be interested in hearing more from this guy. Then again, people will listen to a podcast dedicated to confirming the existence of music, so I guess anything goes.