LOS ANGELES — The Houston Astros were a joke. A literal punchline to whatever baseball joke you could come up with. They were “The Aristocrats!” of baseball, something you could say at the end of a long, drawn out explanation of utter and total baseball incompetence. Say the word “Astros,” and you would get laughs.
The Houston Astros are World Series champions for the first time in their 56-year history.
It took skill, luck, talent, and smarts, which is what it took for every other championship team before them. The 2017 Astros were an incredible collection of talent. They were found talent, acquired talent, developed talent, and bought talent. They won 101 games in the regular season, and then they won 11 games after that. When future generations look back at the 2017 season, they won’t think, “Now how did that happen?” It makes sense. What with the talent and all.
But I want to talk about how bad they were if that’s okay.
I can’t stop thinking about this.
... not a single, solitary Nielsen household tuned in for as long as a few minutes in any given quarter-hour to watch the Astros lose to the Indians for their 105th defeat of the year.
The Astros pulled a 0.0 Nielsen rating for a regular season game in 2013. A total goose egg. The next year, it happened again. It was possible to sample nearly 600 Houston households and not find a single one that would turn the Astros on for a second. For perspective, note that about four percent of the population believe that lizard people control the government. Five percent believe Paul McCartney has been dead for decades.
Zero percent were willing to watch the Astros on purpose in 2013 or 2014, give or take.
And those people shouldn’t be blamed. The Astros were transcendentally terrible. If you want moving images, here’s a tidy collection. If you want words, oh, there are words. If you want a single video, this will do:
For my money, I’m very much into this kid losing his innocence just to laugh at how horrible the Astros were:
He wasn’t wrong.
The Houston Astros are World Series champions, though. It didn’t take witchcraft or space-age technology. They put out a “QUIET! WE’RE SUCKING TO GET BETTER” sign in front of Minute Maid Park, and they asked for patience, which they couldn’t possibly have expected to get. Then they built the foundation. Then the frame, then the plumbing, a little drywall, and it was up before we had a chance to realize it.
Suddenly, the Astros were a contender. The high draft picks, the deep farm system, and the twists of fate conspired to make them relevant again. But contending teams are a dime a dozen. The Twins made the postseason this year. The Rockies, too. The Angels and Brewers cared about what was going on in September, somehow. Next year, the Marlins, A’s, and Rays might all care about September.
No, the Astros were a contender, a juggernaut, a team with enviable talent stacked upon enviable talent. It’s important to remember how they got that talent.
There were the players who required a lot of losing. The Astros lost 86 games to get George Springer. Tommy Manzella started more games at shortstop for them than anyone else in 2010, and that’s part of how they got Springer. They lost 106 games in 2011 to get Carlos Correa and Lance McCullers. They lost 107 games in 2012 to get Not Kris Bryant, who turned into Ken Giles, who most definitely didn’t close out Game 7.
They lost 111 games in 2014 to almost get Brady Aiken, which is how they ended up with Alex Bregman in a roundabout way, but that was all a huge mess. People are still arguing about it.
They weren’t all nonsensical losing seasons, though. They built players, too. Charlie Morton was someone available to all 30 teams, but only one of them was creative enough to sign him. Dallas Keuchel was a 23-year-old non-prospect, striking out five batters per nine innings in Double-A. He was brought up to the majors because the Astros were that bad. The new guard rebuilt him and turned him into a Cy Young winner.
They bought players. Brian McCann came over because the Yankees wanted to shed payroll, which is inherently funny. Yuli Gurriel was a high-risk investment, and because of his advanced age, that move didn’t have a huge window with which to work. Carlos Beltran and Josh Reddick sure weren’t cheap.
They traded for players. Justin Verlander was the obvious get, but there were more than that. They gave up a strong prospect to get Evan Gattis. They made a lesser deal with the A’s to get Brad Peacock.
Perhaps most importantly, they inherited players from the people who built those 110-loss teams. I keep thinking about Jose Altuve, who was brought up as a sacrificial lamb in 2011, straight from the low minors. Someone from the Bad Astros had to recognize him as a diamond in the rough and follow through with that evaluation, signing him and developing him, and all that. Keuchel was already here and nothing more than a generic organizational arm. A particularly funny one is Marwin Gonzalez, who came over in the Rule 5 Draft the same day in 2012 that GM Jeff Luhnow was officially hired. That’s a heckuva mint to leave on the pillow for the new guys.
It all coalesced into a team of disparate parts that liked each other. They were from all over the globe. The World Series MVP was Connecticut-born to parents from Panama and Puerto Rico. There was Cuba and Puerto Rico and Venezuela and New Mexico, and the Jewish kid from New Mexico really wanted to learn Spanish so he could speak to his teammates from Cuba and Puerto Rico and Venezuela.
This team, the one that rose out of the depths of the deepest, stinkiest compost pile, that was cobbled together and reinvented itself several times over, was the one in place for a city that needed something to distract itself from Hurricane Harvey. There are still people without homes, people who need a car to function, and the damage isn’t completely fixed, not even close.
But everyone can rally around the sports, now. It’s a small token, but it’s an important one. In Houston, everyone was jabbering about the Astros. There were handwritten notes on the menus of restaurants all over town, and there were large, silkscreen signs in front of the hotels. The Nielsen rating was higher than 0.0 this October. Everyone was very much into this team winning for this city.
It took transactions, sleights of hand, unexpected developments. players left over from the last tenants, and talent, talent, talent. Oh, how the Astros had talent. Their star middle infielders were a second baseman who was cross between Bilbo Baggins and Pete Rose, and a shortstop who was a Greek god with puppy dog feet.
They weren’t a joke anymore, an automatic punchline. The 2017 Houston Astros were the best team around, and they went through the Red Sox, Yankees, and Dodgers to get there. That’s 366 combined years of baseball history standing in their way, and the Astros navigated it deftly.
The Astros are World Series champions. If you were around in 2011 or 2012, that still reads weird, right? They were so bad, everyone.
I’d like to bring this to your attention, via Baseball-Reference.com:
What a marvelous collection of faces and names. The first two rode a tandem bike to work every day, but they couldn’t win a World Series. There was Jose Cruz, and Lance Berkman, and Joe Morgan, and Nolan Ryan, and Mike Scott, and Terry Puhl, and Glenn Davis ...
It all led to this team, this one right here. This was the team that did it. The Astros had a secret legacy of pain that started with this 1980 NLCS, in which there were four straight extra-inning games. Can you imagine that stress? You cannot. From there, the Astros biffed it against the ‘86 Mets, and they lost to the White Sox in ‘05. They were incapable of winning in the postseason.
Until they did.
This brings us to the Dodgers, the other side of the tale. The last time they won the World Series, the Astros were as old as the Rockies. Nobody is worried about the Rockies’ legacy of pain. No one is contemplating the championship curse of the Rays.
Which is to say, it’s been a long, long time since the Dodgers have won the World Series.
This is the season in which they did everything right. They built the team that went on the historic run. They traded for the complementary ace at the deadline. They took great pains to make sure they didn’t overwork Clayton Kershaw and strip him down for parts. This was the team with Chris Taylor and Justin Turner batting seven times every inning, somehow.
Let them be an example of how hard it is to win a World Series.
They had everything going for them. They had the money. It was the kind of money that let their Plans A, B, and C fall through, like it was no big deal. They had the talent. They had the brain trust to dig up more talent than they thought they already had. And it still wasn’t enough.
The Dodgers had a plan going into Game 7. They were going to count on the All-Star to start the game. Then they were going to bring in the All-Star to bridge the gap until the next All-Star. It was a fine plan, until the first All-Star messed the bed.
There was no reason for Yu Darvish to face George Springer. That’s not something we needed the benefit of hindsight to complain about; it looked dicey at the time. But it wasn’t the only reason the Dodgers lost the 2017 World Series.
They lost because of absolutely crappy luck, among other things. The Dodgers were 1-for-13 with runners in scoring position, and they left 10 men on base. Some of those outs were hit exceptionally hard. Joc Pederson pounded a grounder that deserved better in the first inning with the bases loaded. Chris Taylor roped a ball that should have been a triple, at least, in the second inning, except it was a flukey double play. Yasiel Puig just missed pitches, fouling them back or popping them up. On another day, he would have been the hero.
On another day, they all would have been the heroes. What we know is this: The Dodgers planned better than any team in modern history. They spent more, and they built the best baseball players they possibly could. They still couldn’t navigate around the tricky obstacle of “Oh, by the way, Yu Darvish is Scott Erickson now.” They couldn’t overcome the classic baseball booby trap of all-your-hitters-hit-it-straight-into-a-mitt. You can spend all the money in the world to create the best team, but baseball can still take your wallet and dump it into a fountain when you aren’t looking.
The Dodgers are proof of that.
The 2017 World Series was a tremendous contest, filled with twists, turns, landmines, and locusts. Game 7 happened to be the most boring of them all, a game with the obvious conclusion telegraphed from the very beginning.
Except it wasn’t that boring because you kept waiting for the ninjas to pop out of the jack-in-the-box. You kept waiting for the blernsball nonsense from Games 2 and 5 to pop up again. It never did.
The Houston Astros are the World Series champs for the first time in their history. Congratulations upon congratulations to them.
Before the game started, the Dodger Stadium PA was playing Drake at 400 decibels, as they do. It wasn’t just any Drake. It was this one:
This video could have been a five-minute loop of the butt slide. Or the quintuple-error that captured our imagination back in 2012. Instead, it was a standard hip-hop video with Brian McCann and/or Evan Gattis.
And while it was supposed to fire up the Dodgers, ostensibly, it reminded the Astros of where they came from. Dallas Keuchel and Jose Altuve were footnotes on some of the worst baseball teams in history. Now they’re champions, actual World Series champions, because they persevered and everyone got a lot smarter around them.
The Houston Astros used to be funny. Trust me, really, really funny. Now they’re a model franchise, and they have the championship that previous iterations couldn’t figure out. The ‘90s/’00s had two inner-circle Hall of Famers, and the supporting cast wasn’t too shabby, either. The ‘70s had some of the most underrated players in baseball history, with Jimmy Wynn and Cesar Cedeno. The ‘80s had Nolan Ryan and Mike Scott and some fantastic chances.
This was the team that did it, though. It came with the backdrop of a city trying to rebuild, trying to shake everything off. This was a city with “Fuck it, try again” as an unofficial motto. They don’t have to try again. The Houston Astros are World Series champions for the first time in franchise history. I’m not going to say they deserved it, because deserve’s got nothing to do with it. But it was long overdue.
It was long overdue and well-timed. The Astros are champions, even though they were a blight on baseball, a complete embarrassment, just three years ago. They started from the bottom and now, well, you know. Smart teams don’t have to succeed.
This one did. The 2017 Astros won the World Series. You’ve seen the Sports Illustrated cover predicting it. It’s real now. The message for the rest of baseball is this: If they can do it in just a few years, buddy, your team can definitely do it.
That’s a lesson that doesn’t have to be applied in 2018. Or 2048. It’s a universal lesson, and there’s no better example than the Astros. They were so bad. So, so, so bad. Now they’re the champions, and they’re carrying a city on their shoulders.
I remember the butt-slide. I remember the multiple errors on one hilarious play. But it all led to this. The Astros are World Series champions. It seemed like an obvious possibility before the season. It seemed unthinkable just a couple years ago. But it’s here, and it’s glorious.
The Astros would not have won the World Series without tanking first