Some of the perpetrators are gone. And yes, the circumstances surrounding the season have put the spotlight elsewhere. But the Houston Astros are still the villains of the 2020 Major League Baseball season.
Sure, Jeff Luhnow and Brandon Taubman -- the duo who ran the show that MLB commissioner Rob Manfred called a "very problematic" culture -- no longer have their jobs in Houston. Manager A.J. Hinch didn't do enough to stop sign-stealing and he's also been shown the door. Carlos Beltran was supposedly the mastermind player. He's long been retired and lost his new job in Queens. Alex Cora, the bench coach from the 2017, hasn't been with the Astros since they won their World Series title and also lost his job due to the scandal.
But many of the familiar on-field faces remain in Houston.
Potentially all of the 2020 MLB season could be played behind closed doors without fans. That means Dodgers, Yankees and other fans won't have their chance to get their chance to boo and heckle the Astros mercilessly in person.
The Astros scandal has rightfully taken a back seat. Even if fans are allowed at some point this season, we aren't talking full houses with loud boos raining upon the team.
A handful of opposing players have also been outspoken about the Astros cheating scandal and some on-field payback was expected. Due to the league's health and safety protocols, though, fighting will carry significant penalties in 2020 and the opposing players likely won't want to risk losing a large chunk of the small season to a suspension.
Say what you will about new manager Dusty Baker, but he's one of the most likable personalities in baseball. A baseball lifer, he's as good a guy as you'll come across. He wasn't involved the scandal, either, so that kind of takes some of the wind out of the sails of the Astros being a villainous team, no?
As you can see, there are many reasons to believe the Astros got out of being a villain in 2020.
You know what, though? We shouldn't let his happen. Villains are always a fun inclusion. What would superhero movies be without them? It works in sports, too. Whether it's opposing fan bases hating on the Patriots, Alabama or Duke, it's a healthy part of being a die-hard sports fan. The Yankees are the default villain in MLB, but they got cheated by the 2017 Astros, right? Another key element of being a villain is being successful. Yes, the Yankees have been a playoff team several years lately, but they haven't won a pennant since 2009. The Astros have won two of the last three AL pennants and took the title in 2017 when they were cheating.
The Astros are still our 2020 villain, even in the most unique baseball season we've ever seen.
They still have the entire offensive core that benefited from the sign-stealing scandal in 2017: Alex Bregman, Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, George Springer, Yuli Gurriel. Apologies have been vague and unconvincing for the most part.
As for Astros fans, embrace it. Surely you must realize how satisfying it is to watch your team win when everyone else is getting so angry about them winning. Reggie Miller's autobiography is titled "I love being the enemy." The majority of professional wrestlers prefer to be heels because it's more fun to be bad and elicit boos from hostile crowds. A smug smile or even a subtle chuckle oozing with condescension is the best move. Something that says "lol, you hate us for something that happened in the past? That's cute for you to think you even matter to us."
Try it. It's fun, isn't it?
As for everyone else, we've got a 2020 villain. It's the Astros, just as it was set to be back in spring training.
(Let's just agree to leave Dusty out of it.)