Around the Horn

Lesser evils

The 2021 World Series begins in a few hours, and for the first time in a long time, the rooting interest is vague at best.

This year pits the American League champion Houston Astros against the National League champion Atlanta Braves, two clubs that historically have been ones to root against. But they both can't lose, so what's a fan to do?

Personally, my animosity toward the Astros extends well beyond their cheating scandal of recent years and the fact that they've made Your Seattle Mariners one of their most favored punching bags. Decades ago, I was growing up in Tucson, Arizona, at the time the home of the Triple-A affiliate of the Houston Astros. I had a friend that I attended a fair number of games with, and he and I would spend a good chunk of the time at these games buying and trading baseball cards. He was a Los Angeles Dodgers fan (we got Dodger games on the radio locally) and I was, oddly, a St. Louis Cardinals fan, and neither of us cared for the Astros. It became a contrarian bit of fun to root against the home team and by extension the Astros. We often left Astro cards from the packs we bought at games sitting on the bleachers for others to claim, we made fun of their name (we were preteen boys, what would you expect, especially when one of their better players was named Enos), we generally disdained anything related to the Houston National League Baseball Club (as they were at the time). It wasn't based in anything remotely approaching logic, it just was what it was.

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Some of that persists today, though not a lot. I became neutral to the Astros after a while. I appreciated the tenacity of the 1986 team that battled the Mets in the NLCS, the all-Houston career of Hall of Famer Craig Biggio, even their successes in the early 2000s. I overlooked the fact that George H.W. Bush could often be seen in the front row of their games cheering them on. But since they moved to the American League in 2013, I've re-learned to dislike them. The Astros adopted a new uniform that leaned in to their Texas/old West identity, which made them aesthetically less appealing, then proceeded to become the Mariners' biggest divisional obstacle, then became a postseason staple, then got busted for cheating, then almost to a man gave press interviews that denied any wrongdoing while kinda-sorta admitting it all, then got away with said cheating pretty much scot free (which is, admittedly, more a knock on the Commissioner and his office than on the Astros themselves). They traded for a domestic abuser (pitcher Roberto Osuna) and boasted about it. They exude an arrogance formerly restricted to the entitled ravings of the New York Yankees. They really have become an easy team to hate.

On the other hand, there's the Atlanta Braves.

No longer the why-is-it-always-the-Braves team that was constantly in our faces in every National League postseason from 1991-2005, they are, from a purely egalitarian point of view, more deserving of our support than are the Astros. They don't have any of the kind of tainted history the Astros do but they do have a storied past going all the way back to the initial formation of the National League in the 19th century. Warren Spahn. Greg Maddux. Eddie Mathews. Chipper Jones. Hank Aaron. Johnny Sain. Dale Murphy. Fred McGriff. No, the Braves' problem is simpler than baseball: it's that they're the Braves.

In a time when other sports franchises are realizing the error of their ways in naming their clubs after Native American iconography and parodies, the Atlanta brass insist that their club "will always be the Atlanta Braves." And it isn't just the name, it's how the team leans so heavily into it. The tomahawk logo, the "tomahawk chop" chant and cheering motion encouraged by the stadium PA, the faux-war whoops and drumming, the (Caucasian) fans wearing feathered headdresses and war paint. Whatever their baseball pedigree and skills, their corporate and public identity is wrapped up in the reduction, stereotyping, and belittling of an ethnic population that, let's face it, has already endured quite enough at the hands of the dominant subculture. As a matter of degree, sure, they never called themselves a derogatory slur like the Washington, DC, football team did or use a cartoonified image of a human mascot like the Cleveland baseball franchise did. Being better than that is a low bar, though.

I find that my dislike of the Astros on both baseball-relevant and historically personal grounds (not to mention the geography—the cockroach-infested mosquito swamp of Houston is not exactly a selling point) is outweighing my non-baseball-relevant dislike of the Atlanta team's chosen offensiveness. I can't really defend that, but I will own up to it.

So I'm rooting for the Atlanta Braves in this World Series. For the first and hopefully only time in history. And it feels oogy.

World Series preference

Who are you rooting for in the World Series?

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