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The Houston Astros spent the offseason reeling from a sign-stealing scandal that cost manager AJ Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow their jobs.
Veteran Dusty Baker took over as the manager of the American League champions just before spring training. It was a choice owner Jim Crane made in large part because he wanted an old-school disciplinarian to try and distance the Astros from the damage the previous regime did to the team and its image.
The change didn’t stop the Astros from being the villains of baseball this spring. The players, none of whom were punished for their roles in the scandal, were heckled and booed at workouts, and during the few games they played before baseball was shut down because of the pandemic.
They were sure to face hostile crowds on every road trip. But the team got a respite: The season was delayed for months and now the 60-game sprint will be played in empty stadiums.
Baker, the 71-year-old manager who may be looking at his last bid for a World Series title, hopes the scandal doesn’t hang over the team when the season finally begins July 24 at home against Seattle.
“It’s over now,” he said. “I hope we don’t have to keep rehashing that over and over throughout the course of the year. It’s behind us. I’d like to leave it behind us.”
Commissioner Rob Manfred concluded in January the Astros violated rules by using a television camera to steal catchers’ signs during their run to the 2017 World Series title and again during the 2018 season. Hinch and Luhnow were suspended for one season before being fired by Crane.
Crane and many of the players still on the team who were involved in the scandal, including third baseman Alex Bregman and second baseman Jose Altuve, spent the early part of spring training apologizing for what happened, but it did little to quell the anger toward the Astros.
“We’ve asked for forgiveness,” Baker said. “We’ve expressed sorrow, some guilt, some sadness which I’ve seen earlier before the layoff here. So, I’m just hoping we can get back to business and put this all behind us.”
Altuve wouldn’t answer when asked if he thought the time off would make it easier from the team to move on or if it had given people time to forgive the Astros.
Instead, he talked about the challenges of the 60-game season and said he’s excited to get back on the field.
“We now have to adjust ourselves to a shorter season, so it might play a little different, but I have the same thinking about my team,” he said. “I like the team we have.”