What a difference seven weeks makes. Defying predictions that their season was effectively over and inane rumors that Roger Clemens would soon return to pinstripes, the Astros spent June and the first half of July clawing their way to a 44-43 record, second place in the Central Division and third place and just five games back for the wild card.
The Black Sox scandal didn’t occur in a vacuum. It was the culmination of more than a decade of league officials and club owners not dealing seriously enough with gambling influence in the game. While the brazenness of throwing the 1919 World Series may have been shocking, gamblers paying ballplayers to lay down should have surprised no one who’d been paying attention.
As the clock ticked toward 11 Saturday night, even the most jaded fan probably still held onto a glimmer of hope that Sunday morning would arrive with a belated $105-million present under the Astros’ collective Christmas tree. Not 15 minutes after that deadline passed, any such optimism lay shattered among the dead needles that have steadily dropped off that tree this off-season.
The season may have ended a week earlier than hoped, but Houston fans will remember 2004 as one of the finest years in franchise history. The campaign not only took the Astros and their followers on a thrilling ride. It also served as a reminder of a number of lessons that are easily forgotten in more mundane seasons.
Two events Sunday left a mark on my 25-year experience as a Houston Astros fan.
A Team Effort
Seven weeks ago, I wrote, “As the season unfolds, and if the Astros continue to prosper, it should not be surprising if most of the games they lose are tight — their pitching staff should ensure that — but that many of their wins will be by a wide margin — the offense will help out in that regard.”