As February advances, the Houston Astros look to defend their well-earned World Series championship. They have as good a chance as any, as they are returning most of the roster that dominated the league last season and while they lost some key pieces (Verlander, Click), they did gain some new weapons (Abreu, Brown). The team will get at least until the start of October to be referred to as “defending World Series Champions”.
For the Houston fan, this is a great way to look at the year 2023, and think so fondly of 2022. Yet, there is still that cloud of trepidation about the Astros. It is not the fact that the team will be just one of many contenders across both leagues. It is not the worry about injury or slump concerns for the team. No, the irrational fear for the Astros is the same as any Houston championship fear: Some outside force that will diminish the “value” of that title.
In a brief survey of the Houston sports championship list, there aren’t a lot of entries. The Rockets have the back-to-back titles of the mid-1990s. The Comets had a rare 4-peat from 1997-2000. The Houston Dynamo took back-to-back championships in 2006-7, Then we have the Astros, with their 2017 and 2022 titles. That’s about it. Maybe a few more than others, but certainly not as many as their could or should be.
However, consider how those particular titles have aged:
- The Houston Comets (WNBA), never got back to the Finals after 2000 and due to poor financial mismanagement, disbanded in 2008. While the WNBA looks to grow its game, the Comets barely elicit a mention in the historical litany of players and teams.
- The Houston Dynamo (MLS) primarily won with players from San Jose before the team moved. They did get back to two more MLS Cup finals (2011, 2012), but that is as close as they’ve been to championship glory since. Also, MLS has yet to evolve into the stature of the Big 4, thus looking back on the 2006-7 squads doesn’t quite hold the gravitas it does for other titles.
- The Houston Rockets found their back-to-back mid-1990s titles sandwiched between two Chicago Bulls 3-peats. Given that the Rocket titles came in the season when Michael Jordan was either completely out of, or playing part of an NBA season, the narrative grew that Houston only won their titles because Jordan wasn’t there. Never mind that the Rockets were 5-1 against the 1st Bulls 3-peat squads and that even figures like Jordan himself noted that they would have had a nightmare time in a playoff series against Houston. No, because the Rockets didn’t get back to face off against the Bulls or make it to another title in the 2nd Jordan Bulls era, the Rockets' NBA titles remain undervalued in the minds of most.
Then we come to the Astros and their 2017 title. When they first won it, it was one of the better baseball stories in recent memory. A young team, emerging from the ashes of a massive rebuild and years of historic ineptitude, winning a title for a city blasted by the brutality of Hurricane Harvey. Saturday Night Live appearances and so much acclaim followed. That the Astros slew the “iconic” Yankees and Dodgers didn’t hurt. Yet, to Google the 2017 Astros now is the find references to “cheating”, “sign-stealing”, “trashcans”, “stolen”…you get the picture.
Almost every time the Astros are mentioned outside of Houston or in a non-game recap, 2017 is brought up, but in a diminished light. Suffice it to say that none outside of Houston really give the 2017 title any respect. Self-inflicted or mainstream media bias, it is the reality of the situation.
As for the 2022 title, as different an overall narrative as it is from 2017, it can’t escape 2017’s shadow. No sooner had Tucker caught the foul territory out in Game 6 than the Onion busted out an article whereby Altuve and the Astros apologized in advance for a some-as-yet-unnamed method of circumventing the rules to win this one. Yes, a satirical article, but also goes to the point about something to diminish a Houston sports title. Personally, I doubt the 2022 Astros engaged in any nefarious methods not used by the other 29 teams. Still, the old Houston fear remains about some internal or external force emerging in the future that will somehow shadow the 2022 World Series.
This is not to say that I don’t hold those titles in the highest regards. I still sport the 2017 championship gear and figure to do the same with the 2022 gear. Still have fond memories of the 1990s Rockets and Comets, and I do look forward to a time when the Dyanmo can win one for the Bayou City when MLS takes its place among the Big 5. Even the 2017 narrative is being somewhat subsumed into the fact that the Astros are just a great squad in a stretch of success unknown except to an elite few franchises: Playoffs seven of the eight years, five of the last six AL West titles, six straight ALCS appearances, four AL pennants and TWO titles). If the Astros can snag another World Series in the next couple of seasons, that would just add to that narrative and further strengthen the other wins of 2022 and even 2017.
Still, it would be nice for the 2022 title not to fall victim to the “yeah, buts” which bedevil the other titles. Irrational? Yes. Then again, what is rational about being a sports fan? All the same, another title or two in this stretch of greatness would go a long way to diminish those irrational fears.