Shaikin: Forgive and forget? Astros should go into World Series embracing their villainy

The Houston Astros celebrate with the American League Championship trophy after defeating the New York Yankees in Game 4
The Houston Astros celebrate with the American League Championship trophy after defeating the New York Yankees in Game 4 on Sunday. (John Minchillo / Associated Press)

This is not just about the Dodgers. David Robertson never pitched for the Dodgers.

He pitched for the New York Yankees in 2017, the year the Houston Astros cheated. The Yankees lost the American League Championship Series, and the Astros recorded all four of their victories in Houston, amid the percussion of trash cans. Three years later, when Major League Baseball sanctioned the Astros for cheating, Robertson called their behavior a “disgrace.”

Robertson felt no differently Thursday, the day before he and the Philadelphia Phillies open the World Series against the Astros.

He pitched for the Yankees in the 2009 World Series. He made it back to the Series in 2022, so he could have said he finally returned to the Fall Classic, and all is forgiven.

He did not.

“I think that those people who were involved in that situation still, every day, at some point, have to realize what they did and live with the decisions they made,” Robertson said Thursday.

“I will never get 2017 back.”

Neither will the Dodgers, who lost to the Astros in the World Series. Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said this month the 2017 championship was “stolen from us.”

Before this year’s All-Star Game at Dodger Stadium, Astros manager Dusty Baker said he hoped fans would “forget the past.”

Said Baker: “I just wonder about the forgiveness of mankind.”

Forgive and forget is not possible without remorse and repentance. From the very top of their organization, the Astros made clear they had little interest in either. The buck did not stop there.

The owner, Jim Crane, after MLB sanctioned the Astros: “I don’t think I should be held accountable.”

The general manager, Jeff Luhnow, who was suspended by MLB and fired by Crane, now runs soccer teams in Mexico and Spain. As Stephanie Apstein of Sports Illustrated put it in a profile this month: “From Luhnow’s perspective … he won’t apologize because he has nothing to apologize for.”

Forgive and forget? When the Astros beat the Yankees in this year’s ALCS, this was the headline slapped across the back page of the New York Daily News: “NO CHEATING NECESSARY.”

“I don’t know if it’s just a thing where people get to feel a free pass to yell and to boo and to act like that,” said Astros pitcher Lance McCullers Jr., one of five players remaining from the 2017 team.

“It doesn’t matter to us, I don’t think. I think a lot of great teams over history, a lot of great players over history, get booed wherever they go, even if they don’t deserve it. Maybe it’s a weird form of admiration."

If the Astros win the World Series, that would mark the first untainted championship in their 61-year history, and validation of a run that includes four Series appearances in six years.

“Yes, but I don’t think the booing will stop,” McCullers said. “Like Reggie Jackson said, they don’t boo nobodies. It’s just a weird compliment.”

The Astros are good. They are very good. The Astros are who the Yankees think they are.

The New York media bleats endlessly about what makes for a “true Yankee.” A true Yankee ought to win, right? Since the Yankees last played in the World Series in 2009, 15 teams have advanced to the Fall Classic. The Cleveland Indians got there. The Kansas City Royals got there twice.

Houston Astros third baseman Alex Bregman and second baseman Jose Altuve speak during batting practice.
Houston Astros third baseman Alex Bregman, left, and second baseman Jose Altuve speak Thursday during batting practice ahead of the World Series between the Astros and the Philadelphia Phillies. The teams play Game 1 on Friday in Houston. (David J. Phillip / Associated Press)

The Astros? Four times, and all within six years. They lost All-Stars Gerrit Cole and Carlos Correa and Charlie Morton and George Springer in free agency, and they did not miss a beat.

They did not reload by spending wildly in free agency. They did so with shrewd trades (slugger Yordan Alvarez from the Dodgers for reliever Josh Fields, closer Ryan Pressly from the Minnesota Twins for two fringe youngsters) and draft picks (shortstop Jeremy Peña, outfielders Chas McCormick and Kyle Tucker) and Latin American signings (pitchers Cristian Javier, Luis Garcia, José Urquidy and Framber Valdez).

“We’ve had a really dominant stretch,” McCullers said. “I think a World Series title would help solidify us as a team, as an organization, that could go up against other great teams of other generations. I think it’s hard for people to compare that — it’s like MJ [Michael Jordan] and LeBron [James], they were the best of their era.

“I think we’ve had a great run, and I think we need to win this one.”

That may not shut up the fans, at least the ones in Los Angeles and New York.

“All we can do is just win,” McCullers said. “We can just keep winning, and maybe people will ease up. Maybe they won’t.”

With all due respect for Baker, the Astros do not get to decide when the fans stop booing. Ask A.J. Pierzynski.

He was the Chicago White Sox catcher who triggered a game-winning rally in the 2005 ALCS by running out what umpire Doug Eddings eventually ruled was a trapped third strike — after Eddings had indicated Pierzynski had struck out, and after Angels catcher Josh Paul had rolled the ball back to the pitcher, believing he had caught the pitch.

Pierzynski was booed at Angel Stadium for the remaining 11 years of his career.

“Fans never forget,” he said. “They might not remember it fully, but they never forget.”

Frankly, the Astros ought to have embraced their villainy. They had outfielder Josh Reddick, who once waved wrestling belts in the Dodgers clubhouse and since has suggested the Dodgers were cheating too and claimed the Astros are a dynasty.

They could have worn all black, just like the Raiders. They do embrace villainy, but their commitment to excellence is practically mythology at this point. The Raiders have not won their division in 20 years. Just win, baby? The Astros do.

The Astros unveiled their City Connect uniforms this year, and they missed a marketing opportunity staring them in the face. They could have acknowledged their sin, and profited from it too. They would not have needed to spell out “Astros” on the uniforms. They could have worn black jerseys, with a scarlet A.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.