Farewell, Astros

Gary Whittington
Nov 27, 2019 · 3 min read

A lifelong Astros fan resigns

I grew up in Houston. I still have my copy of “Letters from Lefty,” Mickey Herskowitz’s book about the Colt .45s’ first spring training. I remember the mosquitoes at the old Colt stadium. I used to climb a light pole in Meyerland to watch as workmen lowered the curved beams of the Astrodome roof into place. I saw a game in the first exhibition series against the Yankees. Mickey Mantle hit a home run, Roger Maris a triple. When I made straight As, the club sent me four free tickets. I went to bed with my AM radio tuned to Lowell Passe: “Now you chuckin’ in there, Larry!” I sold sodas as soon as I was old enough to carry the wire tray. I watched Don Wilson throw a no-hitter. My mother and I teared up in the parking lot when the Mets pulled out the sixth game of the 1986 NLCS in the thirteenth inning. For special games, I wore the giveaway cap my father got at the game the day before he died. There were family reunions at playoff games. I commiserated with an old man on the El, who we figured out had been my high school assistant principal, after Houston lost Game Two of the 2005 World Series in the cold rain. “But we were there!” I admired the latest, greatest teams the Astros have ever assembled: teams that did not need to cheat to win.

I spent thousands of hours watching watching batters face pitchers: the chess match of pitch selection, the batter’s decision, his discernment of the pitch’s shape and velocity or sellout to a guess, and the execution of the swing. Hitting one one of a thousand major league pitches would be a miracle for any ordinary person. This is why hitters and their fans must accept failure more often than success. But the cheaters imagined they were doing me a favor by launching pitches they knew were coming into the seats.

The careful planning of this form of cheating makes its depravity complete. Pitchers on other teams lost money in free agency because their performance suffered. The effects of a few timely hits rippled through the destinies of the other 29 teams, and the possible outcomes of untainted seasons entered the cloud of unknowing. This is stealing. Not even the rudest Yankee fan deserves this treatment. Astros fans were also cheated out of a lot of money: travel expenses, tickets, and so much time, taking in, in one-game increments, the complex, unique drama of each season. Then came Octobers that I will now look back on with embarrassment and regret. The celebration of the 2017 World Series championship comes to mind.

This is a chance for some KonMari cleanup. I plan to free myself of my classic red jacket with the open star, a gift from a dear friend. And with it will go the jersey, with my nickname and the number 25 for my years of service, that my co-workers had made for me when I retired last year. I will extract some utility from my puppy’s Astros leash, but after he chews through it, I will not bother to tie it back together. I will give my father’s cap to my son.

Of course, this is not the first time that people driven by ego and greed have gone astray. I suppose that if Pope John Paul II can forgive the man who shot him nearly to death and left him drained of all but a few pints of his lifeblood, I can get around to forgiving the players who cheated. If Altuve was involved, who could stay mad at him? But I plan to spend my time doing other things, and my travel dollars on destinations other than baseball stadiums. With my sixty-fifth birthday coming up next Friday, I need to make myself as comfortable as possible in the time I have remaining. Thanks, Mike Fiers, for freeing up my summer evenings.

It all comes back to Chaucer’s Pardoner’s Tale: “Radix malorum est cupiditas.” Money is the root of all evil. And it has ruined baseball. I am looking for a new, clean sport. Women’s lacrosse, maybe.

Of course, if the organization and players are cleared, I take all of it back. Like that is going to happen.

Gary Whittington

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