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Hardball humanism: A Houston Astros fan seeks redemption for his team

07 Feb 2020

by Paul Babb, guest contributor

This article is part of a series written by guest contributors exploring how to incorporate humanist values into their everyday lives. The opinions expressed in this article may not necessarily express those of Foundation Beyond Belief, its staff, or donors. 

Before the 2017 season, on my 65th birthday, I wrote a love letter to baseball. It was addressed to Jeff Luhnow, the general manager of the Houston Astros, my hometown team. I wanted someone associated with Major League Baseball to know what the game of baseball had meant to me for six decades.

My letter to Luhnow ended by saying:

“I know baseball is a business, a big business. But first, it was a game—for you, me, Jose Altuve, all of us. The business helps sustain the game, though, and I believe you and the Astros organization have been good stewards. That’s about all any fan can ask. Thank you for your contributions. I know it can’t be easy being in the public eye.”

Being in the public eye got a lot tougher for Luhnow and the Houston Astros on January 13, 2020. That’s the day the Major League Baseball released its report outlining a months-long, player-driven cheating scheme in 2017, the year the Astros won the World Series. MLB hit the Astros and its leadership with tough penalties. The same day the report was released, Luhnow and field manager AJ Hinch were fired by the Astros owner.

Say it ain’t so, Jose

There’s no crying in baseball, but I came close on January 13. After hearing the awful news on radio, I turned on the TV. A local station was interviewing fans to get their reaction. My heart sank as a fan said he was okay with the Astros cheating because “we” had won the World Series. I surmised he was also okay with none of the Astros players getting punished because that would hurt our chances in 2020.

2020-jan-world-series-shrine-resized

Meanwhile, Los Angeles Dodgers fans were livid. (New York Yankees fans weren’t too happy either.) The Dodgers lost the World Series to the Astros in 2017. For good reason, Dodgers fans will make the Astros their mortal enemy for several generations. Meanwhile, the players on my team are being compared to those on the Chicago White Sox who took a dive in the World Series in 1919. It doesn’t get any worse than that. Baseball never forgets.

To err is human, to forgive is also human

Even if you’re not a baseball fan, you may have read about how the Astros lifted Houston’s spirits following Hurricane Harvey. They absolutely did. You may have seen interviews with lovable, inspiring players like Jose Altuve and George Springer. They absolutely are. Houstonians were so proud of the players who brought the city a championship. We literally loved these guys. That’s why this cheating scandal is so hard to take.

When I was in first grade, I cheated on a spelling test. I remember the boy’s name I cheated off of. I can remember the word I couldn’t spell on my own. I remember the awful out-of-body sensation while it was happening and afterward. I remember the sick feeling when I won a spelling medal that year. I truly believe that at least some of the Astros players are tormented about what they did or let happen.

Spring training begins soon. Players will be working on their fitness, competing for positions, and writing their apologies to fans. More news reports about the cheating scandal will surface, making you angry or sad, or both. 

Expect some players to say they’re praying for forgiveness, searching their souls, and looking to God for answers. As an aspiring humanist, I’ll be listening for remorse and watching for meaningful actions by MLB and the players. “The responsibility for our lives and the kind of world in which we live is ours and ours alone,” says the Humanist Manifesto III.

But the kind of world I want to live in emphasizes personal responsibility and hope for redemption—for athletes and bad spellers. While the Astros players are getting ready for the 2020 season, I’ll be working on my forgiveness skills. I can’t wait to write another love letter to baseball.

2020-jan-paul-babbb-astros-resized

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baseball, houston astros, humanism, humanist values

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