A couple of nights ago, I was walking to the grocery store in the evening, having failed to pick up a crucial ingredient for dinner, when one of my favorite stranger interactions happened. We both reached the corner at the same time, him going straight and me also needing to turn to go that way, and we did that little dance full of jukes and false starts to try and let each other go first. It is such a courteous little dance, and I have been having a hard time, so I was filled with warmth for the beauty of humanity on the first chilly night of the year, already dark outside at 6:15 p.m. I stopped my juking to let him go first, feeling magnanimous, full, happy. And then I saw his hat.
Perched on his head was a Houston Astros hat, and even though I had just had this nice, silly stranger interaction with this man, I now walked behind him fuming. Why would he wear his cross-body bag like that? Why did he walk the same speed as me so that I couldn’t pass him in a huff? Why hadn’t I noticed earlier, flung my arm out to my side, dipped my left leg behind my right in a graceful bow, looked up through my eyelashes and said, “After you, cheater!”?
I’m still mad about the Astros cheating scandal. I grew up a Texas Rangers fan, and even though they weren’t in our division then, there was a nice kind of home-state rivalry that bred anyway. I have been a Washington Nationals fan for eight years. I was in Nationals stadium for one of the World Series games the team lost to the Astros, and it sucked. The vibes were absolutely awful. It felt terrible.
It’s an easy pill to swallow, rage against the Astros. But it doesn’t feel good, either. While watching the ALCS I have been (reluctantly, it’s not like I like Boston teams) rooting for the Sox. Things got a little ugly during Game 3 on Monday night. There was one out in the bottom of the second inning, and the bases were loaded when a well-hit ground ball by Christian Arroyo hit Jose Altuve right in the chest above his glove and ricochetted to the left.
On my couch, I cackled maniacally. A run scored. This was good, to me. This failure. E4, I wrote merrily in my scorebook. I drew a little exclamation mark to the side to indicate that this was a play that I enjoyed. The next play, Kyle Schwarber hit a grand slam. Brutal.
Normally, I hate to see a player make a crushing error in a big playoff game, and if Altuve was a player on any other team, I probably would have felt a swell of pride for him last night, when he hit an eighth-inning home run to tie Game 4 up at 2-2:
But my generosity for all Astros, for Altuve, for the man in the Astros hat, is below the bottom of the ocean. It is undiscoverable. The lack of forgiveness I have for this team burns under my skin. But the anger is getting harder to maintain. I am pro-players and anti-management. I am smart enough, I tell myself, to know that if the Astros can get away with banging a damn trash can, then there are possibly other teams doing the same or worse.
And yet I remain angry, because the duty of forgiveness has been placed on me and all the other fans by Major League Baseball. A couple of days ago Eireann Dolan, baseball knower and wife to Mariner’s reliever Sean Doolittle tweeted this:
I felt this immediately in my gut because I knew she was right. This was the problem! The problem is that chanting “Fuck Altuve!” will never be satisfactory because it does no real harm. Altuve still makes millions of dollars; the Astros are still in the ALCS for the fifth year in a row. We, the fans, can’t do anything. We have been left alone out here with this rage and the knowledge that it will never be satisfied.
Rob Manfred’s office did such a shoddy job enforcing any kind of standard or discipline on this team that the duty to decide who can be forgiven, and when, has become my problem. Imagine a world where, instead of shrugging off one of the greatest cheating scandals in Major League Baseball, the commissioner actually handed out some real, consequential punishment. In this world, A.J. Hinch may have been banned from the league for good, and the Astros might have been barred from the postseason for several seasons. Maybe in that world I would be able to feel some real sympathy for the players stuck toiling away on a non-playoff team, or some catharsis at seeing the best of them flee to other organizations as the Astros struggle to rebuild.
Would this alternate baseball universe be more just than ours? I can’t say for sure, but I do know it would have at least put a period on a scandal that has otherwise been allowed to loom over every playoff series the Astros have been in since. That sort of closure is valuable, not just to me, but to fans who I imagine want to feel that their investment in the game is more important than the need to protect the reputation and security of a single team or owner.
Instead I am trapped in a feedback loop of loathing and self-recrimination, in which I continue to despise strangers on the street simply for wearing an Astros hat, and then feel bad about myself for not being able to move on. Maybe this is just a me problem! Either way, it’s one I wish I could figure out how to solve, because Rob Manfred isn’t going to fix it for me.