It takes a lot to get me to write about Major League Baseball’s yearly exercise in no one giving a damn, otherwise known as Spring Training. I’ve never understood the fascination with it or the war cries of “baseball is back” when the first day of Spring Training rolls around. Spring Training games are meaningless, every player and coach knows this, and deep down every fan knows this as well. For a lot of baseball fans, myself included, Spring Training consists of a two-month stretch where we can continue to ignore MLB and wait for the actual season to start.
Yet, here I am, about to write about Spring Training. The Houston Astros are to thank for making me care about Spring Training for longer than my usual one second. Spring Training games just started, and though the Astros’ first game was rained out after a few innings it still grabbed plenty of attention. That’s because this is the Astros we’re talking about, the team that continues to refuse to take any accountability whatsoever for the cheating that helped them become an MLB powerhouse.
The Astros taking the field for the first time since it was reported that they had been electronically stealing signs didn’t warrant attention on its own. When everybody started paying attention was as soon as they saw the lineup the Astros were sending out for their first Spring Training game against the Washington Nationals. There were no big-league regulars found in the starting lineup. The nine starters have, as of this writing, only played in 323 MLB regular-season games and not one of them saw MLB action in 2017.
On its own, the Astros approach to the start of their Grapefruit League season isn’t eye-opening. Minor leaguers and non-roster invitees see plenty of playing time during Spring Training. They need to because the top twenty or so players know they are making the big-league club. The minor leaguers and non-roster invitees are fighting for the few remaining roster spots or a job in general. For that reason, they should, and do, see more action than returning regulars throughout Spring Training.
Except, this is the Astros we are talking about and every action they take these days can rightfully be scrutinized and judged more harshly. If only for one day the Astros regulars, including the holdouts from the 2017 squad, were able to avoid the boos of the Florida crowd. These Astros have done everything in their power to avoid responsibility and deny culpability for the cheating they undertook. Once more they managed to do as such. Instead of facing the consequences of their actions the regulars got to sit in the dugout, shielded from public scrutiny while minor leaguers and non-roster invitees who had nothing to do with the cheating scandal were roundly booed.
Before the rain struck the Astros also benefited from security confiscating signs alluding to their cheating. Then the next day the Astros sent their regulars to play at a smaller league game. They weren’t expected to be there and as a result for yet one more day they avoided the vitriol of angry fans. I fully expect this pattern to continue and for the Astros to shield the organization and the players at every opportunity. Some may view this as smart, but it is, in reality, cowardly and points to the rot that has overtaken the organization as a whole.
Spring Training still doesn’t matter, but the actions the Astros have taken do matter. If nothing else baseball fans want to hear them take actual responsibility for their actions and to face the payback they justly deserve from the court of public opinion. The Astros want to avoid this as much as possible. Astros players have proven themselves to be rather fragile and easily broken, but mostly the organization from the top to the very bottom has shown that they are allergic to taking responsibility. The court of public opinion remains in session, but expect plenty of more instances of the Astros doing everything they can to avoid any sort of judgment.