Theodore Roosevelt once said the iconic phrase: “Speak softly and carry a big stick”. While this phrase was talking about foreign policy, it may just be the perfect motto for the Houston Astros moving forward. In what has been one of the darkest and most ruthless off-seasons baseball has ever seen, the Houston Astros come limping into Spring Training, and they have not even played a single game yet. Their cuts and bruises do not come from hit by pitches or slides into second base, but rather verbal and electronic attacks from opposing players, media, and fans. Rightfully so, as we found out this offseason that this team, which had been the victors of over 300 games in the past 3 seasons, had been using an in game sign stealing operation to gain an unfair advantage on their competition. In dictionary terms…they cheated.
When the news broke in November, the baseball world went into a fury. When the commissioner released his report detailing the punishments, that fury really started to heat up, and hit what probably was the boiling point when Jim Crane gave his contradictory press conference last Thursday. This situation is a fiery mess and unfortunately for everyone, the Astros have just poured gasoline on the fire the entire time. From the Altuve and Bregman’s scripted Fan Fest answers to AJ Hinch beating around the bush and trying to explain his, now discredited, leadership techniques instead of just answering the questions to Carlos Correa calling out Cody Bellinger. The team has handled this situation poorly. With Spring Training here and Baseball games to begin starting soon, the Astros have missed their window to speak.
The time to speak and say sorry was back in November when the news broke. The time to speak and say sorry was in December when the investigation was happening. The time to speak and say sorry was in January when the report came out, or fan fest, or before Spring Training. The last chance to speak was this past Thursday. The team spoke and said sorry, but it was too late. So now they must speak softly, which basically means they can’t speak. Nothing they can say will make the situation any better. They can only make it worse. Everywhere they will go this year they are public enemy number one. No one will care what they say, yet everyone will be dying to hear what they say. Attempts for empathy are pointless and a waste of time. Along with attempts of empathy, expectations of the Astros apologizing from fans and opposing players are just as pointless. If you are a fan and waiting for an apology, it ain’t happening. And while they must speak softly they will be asked more questions now than ever before. Not only will they have the pressure of performing on the field in 2020, but they will also have to answer questions about the last 3 years and what was going on inside the clubhouse. The firing squad waits for the Astros outside the clubhouse every day ready to grill the team for what they did. If there is a team who is capable of speaking softly and being able to overcome the noise, it is this team. That will discourage many fans of other teams, but the truth of the matter is the Astros are a really good team. With a rotation that still has the reigning AL Cy Young winner, a veteran Zack Grienke, a healthy Lance McCullers Jr., and a lineup that returns 5 All Stars, 2 Rookie of the Years, 2 MVP finalists and a MVP, this team has what it takes to win it all. They will just need to be able to carry the big stick.
Carrying a big stick means to be strong and produce if you say you are going to do something. In the case of the Astros, they will need to do that this year more than ever. The reason is because this season is a lose-lose situation for the team. On one hand if the team goes out and wins 85 games and misses the playoffs, the fans will say that the only reason they won is because they cheated. On the other hand if they go out and win 100 plus games and cruise into October as the American League West champions for a fourth straight season, the people will say that it was stupid to cheat since you didn’t have to because your team was good enough to win already. There is no winning in this situation. However, the backlash and hate will be much more severe if they do not produce. They have to go out and show the world that they are an elite team. They have to do that for their team legacy and their individual legacies. With players like Altuve, who is on a hall of fame pace, he will have to show that he is a good hitter and can produce without the aid of a trash can. Alex Bregman, who has stepped into a spotlight role since 2017 and has branded himself as one of the faces of the game and a perennial MVP candidate, has to have another MVP caliber season to show he is for real. Even players like Yordan Alvarez will have to perform at an elite level or else the questions of whether cheating took place last season will only intensify and increase. The list goes on and on. The first 2 months of this season are crucial for the Astros to get off to a good start, because come the dog days of August, when they are bound to hit a rough patch, the Astros fans hope they have enough of a cushion in the standings to last until they start producing again. While this scandal will not go away for a long time, it sure can help their cases if they can swing the big stick to another AL west title and another lengthy October run.
Speak softly and carry a big stick! This will serve the Astros well as they tread the murky waters of the 2020 season. If you ask the author what he thinks about this team and the situation. He believes they have dug themselves a hole that cannot be climbed out of this season, but they have the talent and the manager to navigate this season. This is still a very good team, one that can still win the World Series. They have an uphill battle ahead of them, but if they stay the course by speaking softly and swinging a big stick, they could end up raising a certain piece of metal known as the Commissioner’s trophy.