- Oops!Something went wrong.Please try again later.
HOUSTON - Jim Crane stood among scraps of confetti, joyous players and their children running amok on the Minute Maid Park grass late Friday night and pondered the meaning of a third World Series trip for his Houston Astros in five years.
Not quite two years ago, the Astros owner was in the center of a far different image, one that no amount of winning, it seemed, could erase: Crane at a podium in West Palm Beach, Florida, framed by two of his greatest stars, Alex Bregman and Jose Altuve, MVP-caliber talents who on this February 2020 morning apologized for their role in the Astros' elaborate and highly illicit electronic sign-stealing scandal.
Owner and players were not punished for the Astros' elaborate sign-stealing scandal: Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred went out of his way to say Crane knew nothing of it, opted to grant players immunity in exchange for cooperation and banned GM Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch for a year; Crane fired them.
Now, after vanquishing the Boston Red Sox in six games to claim the American League championship, Crane maintains the Astros have put the scandal behind them - and took the fall for an industry in which many teams were cheating in a similar fashion.
"We got it pinned on us, we owned it, we took the penalty and we’re past that now," Crane said.
Crane says the 2017 scandal - and the World Series title tainted by it "gets brought up every day," and so even a man as wealthy and insulated as he can't avoid it. Yet he also can't forget that between 2017 and 2019, MLB was roiled by rumblings and whispers and innuendos and even some hard evidence - such as the Boston Red Sox's dugout use of an Apple watch to pass along signs.
And so as the Astros prepared to win a pennant Friday, Crane's spirits were buoyed by recent remarks made by Oakland Athletics pitcher Chris Bassitt, who said in an interview that "Houston was not the only team doing stuff. Like there was a lot of people doing stuff... unfortunately only one team essentially got caught doing it or was the guinea pig of it to like clean the whole entire league up."
MLB has since installed hall monitors to avoid dugouts and video rooms interfacing in real-time; ostensibly, the past three postseasons have been free of such illicit acts after the Astros and 2018 Red Sox claimed consecutive World Series titles only to have their cheating uncovered later.
"He said," Crane said Friday of Bassitt, "we weren’t the only team doing it."
"I think we proved that tonight and we’re proud of the guys and they’re great players who win championships."
His potential World Series opponent might disagree. The Los Angeles Dodgers lost that 2017 Series to Houston in seven games, losing two of three games at Minute Maid Park. When the pandemic prevented fans in the stands in 2020, Dodgers fans came out merely to boo Houston's team bus entering Dodger Stadium.
When they were allowed in this year, they came out 53,000 strong to let the Astros have it. Should the Dodgers overcome a 3-2 NLCS deficit to Atlanta, Game 1 at Dodger Stadium on Tuesday would be part spectacle, to say the least.
Crane says he's not worried about the opponent. He says he anticipates engaging in further contract talks with impending free-agent shortstop Carlos Correa. And will discuss managing beyond 2021 with 72-year-old skipper Dusty Baker after the World Series.
And, regardless of whether Correa re-signs or the Astros win a second championship or fans from L.A. to the Bronx forgive or forget or keep up the pressure, Crane does not anticipate standing down.
"This team is here to last and will perform well from here on out," he says, "and we hope to put more flags on that pole out there."
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Astros owner Jim Crane on sign-stealing scandal: 'We're past that now'