The professional sports scene in Houston, TX, has had quite a year. Cheating scandals, atrocious trades, and demands for outs have become synonymous with H-Town. For some unknown reason, the Houston Astros, Rockets, and Texans have all had their worst year in the national media in the same year. In 2018, the Astros were handing out their World Series Rings, the Rockets were a hamstring away from an NBA Finals, and the Deshaun Watson to DeAndre Hopkins connection was good for 11 wins and a playoff birth.
Or is it an unknown reason?
Work with me here… but all sports fans know part of their teams’ collective fate falls to some combination of luck and destiny. But what if that ratio is more the latter than the former? What could have set the city of Houston towards this version of “destiny?”
Because there is an alternate universe where the Astros repeat in 2018 and ‘19 for a three-peat of World Series, without any scandal. There is an alternate universe where Chris Paul not only stays healthy, but they keep the band together and do it again. There is an alternate universe where Watson is throwing that hail mary pass to Hopkins, in a Super Bowl. But what could’ve set the timeline we live in this way?
Again, work with me. This is entirely conjecture, but what if this was all because of a decision made by a man? And what is that man was Carlos Beltran?
Carlos Beltran was a Houston Astro in 2004, and left the club in the off season- just missing Houston’s 2005 trip to the World Series. Beltran went on to be a Met, a Cardinal, and a Yankee before coming back to Houston, eager to win a World Series ring.
The 1999 AL Rookie of the Year knew his career was over, and he knew he didn’t have many chances to win a title. So, when given the chance, he passed his expertise on to the young, starpower in Houston’s lineup. His impact, at the time, was known and written about. In Ben Reiter’s Astroball, Beltran is credited with teaching the young stars how to prepare for pitchers and read when they were tipping their pitches. This worked well for the young Astros, who won the franchise’s first World Series. They went on to make three more American League Championship Series and another World Series, but their one ring was with Carlos Beltran. Beltran retired, his work was done and his award on his finger.
While Reiter’s story is a nice one, at the start of the worst year in Houston sports that it wasn’t a complete one. Beltran was explicitly named as one of the Astros at the forefront of the team’s sign stealing scandal. Stealing signs has been a part of baseball for centuries, and could even be written off as Beltran’s “tipped pitches.” But the Astros used technology -including cameras, television monitors, and trash cans. The technological advancements took the stealing from gamesmanship to dirty. And Beltran? He was so involved he was one of just four people punished by Major League Baseball.
What if Beltran, who the MLB said was at the forefront of the cheating, made the devilish deal that landed us here? Think about it:
The Houston Astros, per the MLB report, did not continue the systemic cheating in the years that followed. They still had great success, individually and as a team as mentioned above. In fact, they were ahead in the last third of Game 7. But they never got a second ring.
The 2020 was marred with injury. After the departure of Gerrit Cole, the other Houston Ace Justin Verlander missed the season with injury. Houston’s 2019 Rookie of the Year also was out. At one point, there were eight rookies in their bullpen. That they got to the ALCS was impressive in itself. That they were in that possession felt out of their control.
And now? Even a year without fans didn’t keep them from being the butt of the joke in baseball. If there are fans in the spring of 2021, the barrage of expletives may be so loud that the fans are muted on television anyways.
What if Beltran’s devilish deal impacted the entire city, not just his ballclub? The 2017-18 season was magical for the Houston Rockets. Including the playoffs, the trio of MVP James Harden, Chris Paul, and Clint Capela were 55-7. They were in control of the Western Conference Finals against a Golden State Warriors dynasty they had beaten more often than not. They looked like they were going to dethrone the champs.
Then Chris Paul got hurt. Then they missed 27 straight three pointers. The Rockets lost Game 7 by just nine points, and were so frustrated they filed an audit on referee Scott Foster to the NBA.
The next season, Chris Paul was never himself. He had a mediocre regular season, when he could play. He had one of his worst playoff series ever against the Golden State Warriors in the second round, and the Rockets were bounced early. Paul, appearing to be past his prime, was swapped for Russell Westbrook… Who injured his own quad heading into the 2020 Playoffs.
Now, it appears the cupboards are going to be bare in Houston. Coach of the Year Mike D’Antoni and Executive of the Year Daryl Morey left on their own accord. Stars Westbrook and Harden are trying to do the same. The divorce of all of these parts from relatively new owner Tilman Fertitta has proven painful for fans, but understandable. The team wasn’t going to stay under the luxury task and make it over the hump… and one of those things seemed destined to never change.
But alas! The curse continued. In 2018, a young Deshaun Watson seemed prime to make the leap. He had a healthy offensive line, but the story was his connection with DeAndre Hopkins. The Watson to Hopkins combination was good for 115 completions and zero dropped passes.
Yes, you read that correctly. Watson to Hopkins was as good a duo in the NFL. Additionally, the defense was fourth in points allowed. JJ Watt’s front seven was a menace. The relatively young squad looked promising.
Fast forward to the 2019 season. Specifically, the Houston Texans 2019 playoffs. Specifically, their January 12th Divisional game against the Kansas City Chiefs… in which the Houston became the first team to both lead by 20 and lose by 20 in the same game in NFL history. Houston jumped out 24-0 early in the second quarter before giving up an embarrassing 41-0 run, 28 of which came in the last 10-minutes of the first half.
Three months later, that team was also splintered. Intertim GM Bill O’Brien, who had bargained off the team’s draft picks the off-season before, inexplicably traded DeAndre Hopkins to Arizona for an older running-back and a pick swap. The running back is currently on the injured reserve. DeAndre Hopkins? Let’s just say he’s winning, literally.
While DeAndre Hopkins is doing very well, the Houston Texans are not. Houston is going to have the record to earn a top draft pick, but they’ve handed all of those over to Miami for the near future. The Texans are 2-7, have no “gimme” wins in their future, and no real assets to rebuild with. The future in Houston, who was up 24-0 on the future Super Bowl Champs earlier this calendar year, is bleak.
All of these nightmares began after Carlos Beltran led the Houston Astros down the dark path of using technology to cheat. It’s akin to science going too far in Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein. In the novel, after the creature terrorizes the nearby town until Victor Frankenstein himself is killed. The creature finds no solace then walks into the distance, promising to die himself.
Has Carlos Beltran not hit the point of “finding no solace” yet? What will it take for Houston’s creature, the curse of Carlos Beltran, to walk into the distance and leave the city be? He made an understandable mistake, and every city has a fallen angel.
But unlike Dr. Frankenstein, the “archangel who aspired to omnipotence” has “chained” an entire city to “eternal hell.” And all we ask, as fans of Houston sports: When does it end?