For a very long time now, dating at least back to the original Spygate, the New England Patriots have set the standard for comprehensive repulsiveness. They cheat, they sign legitimately terrible people, they're secretive and defensive, their entire fan base thinks the world is out to get them, they double down when they've been caught red-handed, and, of course, they win. There's a reason that when Antonio Brown revealed himself as a human cretin and clubhouse cancer earlier this season, it was a given that he'd be signed by the Patriots. And if it wasn't for the domestic violence story coming out—something that forced even the Patriots to back off—he would probably have been very good for them. One of the perks of being the universe's darkest sports franchise is that you subsume the sins of individual players and direct them, as if by black magic, into the evil power of the whole.
If you had asked me a year ago when another team, in any sport, would emerge to challenge the Patriots' hegemony as the world's most-hated athletic organization, I'd have said, "not in my lifetime."
But folks...damned if the Houston Astros aren't giving it the old college try.
The latest breaking news is that an Astros executive actually asked his scouts to spy on opposing dugouts, using cameras, in an effort to steal signs. And some of them were into it! This, of course, follows hot on the heels of a similar scandal revealing that the Astros used cameras to steal catchers' signs during their 2017 World Series run and relayed the information to batters by means of banging a trash can. Which follows a staffer being kicked out of an area near the opposition's dugout in the 2018 playoffs because he was pointing a cellphone at them, and more accusations by the Oakland A's that the Astros cheated in games against them.
The best breakdown of the recent accusations comes from Jomboy, who is, not coincidentally, also the best baseball follow on Twitter:
The Yankees accused the Astros of whistling during this year's ALCS, and were mocked by Astros manager A.J. Hinch for being sore losers, but guess what? That's probably true too, per MLB, and Jomboy has more video evidence:
So, the Astros are all-but-confirmed cheaters. And on top of that, there's the whole Brandon Taubman fiasco, when he screamed unprompted at three female reporters about the merits of Roberto Osuna, the reliever accused of domestic violence who the Astros signed in a calculated decision that they knew would invoke bad PR. After Taubman's outburst, the Astros' first instinct was to double down and accuse the reporters of lying, which is really all you need to know about the club mentality. (Reality and public outcry eventually forced them to admit they were wrong and fire Taubman.)
The one shortcoming for the Astros, vis-a-vis the Patriots, is that they actually lost this year in dramatic fashion, and came just short of the infuriating levels to which the Pats rise every time they win another Super Bowl. Still, to emerge as this rotten in a short three-year span is a true accomplishment, and it's possible now to see a future where the Astros knock the Patriots off their podium of hate.
The Depressing Injury of the Week: Tua Tagovailoa
Tagovailoa, the Alabama QB and national title winner as a freshman, sustained a dislocated hip that will likely end his college career and could impact his prospects as a pro. You can't see much from the actual play...
...but he was screaming in pain and had to be transported by helicopter to the hospital. Some, including the New York Times, are asking whether Tagovailoa, who had ankle surgery last month, should even have bothered playing knowing that he had millions waiting in his future. Here's Billy Witz:
"If Tagovailoa, a junior who could choose to return next year, had been playing in the N.F.L., he would at least have been compensated for the games he was playing. And he also would have an agent, who might have ensured that Tagovailoa received an independent opinion from doctors about his ankle injury, and an evaluation of his recovery from the related surgery from trainers who weren’t on a team’s payroll."
Great points all, and it's what makes this so sad—it's not just about one person being hurt. It's about an injury that could impact a person's entire future, and which didn't have to happen. He was already limping at the time he got hurt, and it bears repeating that he'll get no money for his performance, while (as Witz points out), there's $800,000 in bonus money for Saban, along with his already exorbitant contract, if he wins a national championship.
Best Very Literal Trash Talk: Paul George, Clippers
Paul George made his home debut Saturday night, and he was excellent, finishing with 37 points on 9-16 from the field. But it was his exclamation that delighted me the most:
Yes you are, Paul. I hope he gets more and more literal as time goes by, shouting things like, "I JUST MADE A BASKET!" and "TWO MORE POINTS FOR MY TEAM, THE CLIPPERS!"
The No. 1 College Basketball Team of the Week: The Duke Blue Devils
You know what? This Duke team doesn't strike me as a no. 1-type team, even though I love their defensive play early on, and even though Tre Jones might be the best player in the NCAA when all is said and done. Still, they are going to lose games, perhaps lots of them, and no part of me believes this ranking will last.
So with that being said, I'm going to go full homer before reality sets in: AS OF THIS MORNING, THE DUKE BLUE DEVILS ARE THE NO. 1 TEAM IN THE WHOLE DAMN COUNTRY. SUCK IT, HATERS!!!
And yes, I just realized I am helping them compete with the Patriots and Astros in pure hatability. I accept this. But watch this grainy highlight video of Tre Jones and tell me you're not feeling it, just a little: