It’s Nov. 2, 2017 and the Houston Astros have just won their first World Series championship since joining the big leagues in 1962. After years of languishing in the trash heap of professional baseball’s worst teams, the Astros are now champions and the living embodiment of why perseverance and sticking to a plan pays off.
Fast forward a couple of seasons. It’s now Feb. 26, 2020. We are a month away from opening day and the Houston Astros, having since been exposed as cheaters, are the most reviled, universally hated professional team in American sports.
Listen, I’m just as tired as you are of reading about the Astros. Since the The Athletic detailed in November how the club electronically stole signs during their World Series run, it feels like anyone with a column, podcast or Twitter account has felt the indomitable need to share their thoughts on the scandal. It’s a really disheartening, shitty revelation about cheating at the top levels of American sports, and it also just so happens to be an incredibly apt allegory for American politics today.
So let’s get to it. In 2011, Jim Crane bought the Astros for $680 million. Like another prominent businessman whose name will be revealed shortly, Crane faced a slew of undesirable allegations, ranging from bigotry, sexism and systemic discrimination at his business to price-fixing and even profiteering off the Iraq War.
In case it was not already hopelessly obvious, I will now be discussing another businessman whose wealth is exceeded only by his sheer lack of morals — Donald Trump.
On Nov. 9, 2016, Trump won the United States presidency. Like Crane, Trump had a checkered past of his own. During his 2016 campaign, Trump mocked a disabled reporter, proposed a plan to ban all Muslims from the United States and attacked a Gold Star Family. These events were paired with a near constant stream of xenophobic rhetoric and the release of a now-infamous audio-type in which Trump brags about sexual assault.
Just to further reinforce the comparison, Trump’s businesses shared a similarly disturbing record as Crane’s with numerous allegations and reports of bigotry. Would you look at that — the two were made for each other!
I could go on, but the main point is that these spineless schmucks both entered into their respective positions with plenty of controversy and questions to answer, and just as their reputations suggested, both of them have gone on to be just as feckless— actually exceptionally more feckless — than any of us expected.
Upon taking over as owner of the Astros, Crane made good on some promises to embark on organizational overhaul. In many respects, the overhaul went well: The Astros were successfully rebuilding, their staff was diversifying and the team’s 2017 World Series title effectively elevated them to the position of baseball’s standard bearer.
Unfortunately for Crane, the facade began to unravel when an Astros executive taunted a group of female journalists in the clubhouse last fall. The executive, Brandon Taubman, did so by repeatedly yelling at the journalists how happy he was that the team signed Roberto Osuna, a pitcher who had previously been arrested for alleged domestic violence against the mother of his child.
Crane’s team defended Taubman and accused one of the journalists of fabricating the story. Then came the aforementioned cheating.
Though MLB’s investigation has described the Astros sign-stealing scheme as player driven, the Wall Street Journal reported that the team’s front office laid the groundwork for cheating by creating an application called “Codebreaker” to decode opposing catchers’ signs. By doing this, the Astros cheated the Los Angeles Dodgers out of a title, tarnishing opposing players’ legacies and the integrity of America’s pastime in the progress.
Trump’s list of misdeeds, failures and faux pas is too long to recount here, so I’m going to focus specifically on his cheating. Last summer, only months before the Astros’ facade unraveled, Trump attempted to coerce a foreign government into investigating one of his political rivals.
Then, during the same time frame that the Astros’ image crumbled, so did the foundations of American democracy, when Trump successfully convinced Republicans in Congress to block every key impeachment witness.
To make matters worse, the allegory isn’t only limited to the Astros. According to The Ringer’s Michael Baumann, the persistence of scandals like the Astros’ seems to be reflective of a modern societal trend toward brazen dishonesty — with teams all over the world joining in the new “golden age” of cheating.
In the same vein, Republican politicians across the country are cheating. From gerrymandering in North Carolina to suppressing minorities’ votes in Georgia, it’s as if Republicans have abandoned religion because it’s become overwhelmingly clear that they need Jesus.
You want another parallel? I’ve got one coming right up. In January, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred announced that all players interviewed in the cheating scandal would be granted immunity. Less than a month later, Trump pardoned 11 criminals guilty of a range of crimes from corruption to tax fraud.
I actually can sympathize with Manfred in this situation: He’s a former labor lawyer looking out for players’ interests. Trump is a feckless dirtbag doing favors for his close friends at Fox News.
I would like to highlight a shred of hope in all of this, but honestly there isn’t one right now. The Astros currently have the third best odds of winning the 2020 World Series, and Trump has even better odds of winning re-election (yes, you can bet on that).
Never has America’s pastime more closely resembled America’s nightmare.
Stuart Carson is a junior writing about the intersection of sports, politics and American society. He is also a sports editor at the Daily Trojan. His column, “The State of Play,” runs every other Wednesday.