Our Darth Vaders

Commentary is not an expert on the local criminal justice system. Here is this from the Chron:

For a second time, a Harris County judge has declared a mistrial in the deaths of Dawn and Antonio Armstrong Sr., a killing in 2016 that led to the arrest of their 16-year-old son on a capital murder charge. 

Judge Kelli Johnson warned the indecisive jurors Wednesday that they were on the verge of a mistrial and to get back to work on reaching a verdict. But after about 18 hours of deliberating and two nights of being sequestered at a Houston hotel with television-less rooms, no conclusion could be made if Antonio Armstrong Jr., now 22, was responsible for killing his parents as they slept. 

Four jurors believed Armstrong Jr. guilty, while eight believed him by no means innocent but they were unable to shake the doubt incited by the defense — a deadlock that led to tension in the jury room and a flurry of questions to the court.

It seems like the Harris County DA would just move on. Twice they couldn’t get a conviction. Just saying.


In this divided time, here is a Chron E-Board take today that we can all get behind. I will show it all. Heck, the Chron just increased my subscription by 25 cents per hard copy. Here it is:

“Start spreading the news!” Astros’ radio play-by-play man Robert Ford cleverly roared into the mic, as the American League Championship Series finale concluded with a 6-5 score. “The Houston Astros break out the brooms in the Bronx and they’re headed back to the World Series for the fourth time in six years!”

It made sense, Sunday night, that Ford, a native New Yorker-turned beloved voice of Houston sports summed up the elation so many felt as the Astros finished off a four-game sweep of the New York Yankees.

There was a time not too long ago when the Yankees were baseball’s Evil Empire, the epitome of all that was wrong with professional sports: Huge payroll, obnoxious fanbase, constant winning, players perceived as arrogant. Everywhere the Yankees went, huge crowds followed, unleashing vociferous boos and vicious epithets.

Now, as the Astros get set to host the Philadelphia Phillies in Game 1 of the World Series Friday night at Minute Maid Park, it’s the Astros who are baseball’s Darth Vaders. But they’re our Darth Vaders.

We see what other fanbases only grudgingly admit after having been vanquished by the team’s relentlessly strong pitching and clutch if not quite overwhelming offense. We see a team of diverse, fun-loving players who play for each other and easy to root for. Rookie Jeremy Peña, who won ALCS MVP Sunday night after delivering a towering three-run homer to tie Game 4, holds up his hands in the shape of a heart after a big play. Fans and players alike rev up the “Chas Chomp” for center fielder Chas McCormick in anticipation of a clutch hit.

If one could go back in time and tell Astros fans in the early 1980s or mid-2000s that the Yankees would one day fear Houston’s baseball team, there’d be confusion — the Astros didn’t move to the American League until 2013 — and disbelief. Chronicle columnist Brian T. Smith called the most recent beatdown of the Yankees “modern destruction on the diamond.”

In advance of the most recent series, Yankees fans filled the Bronx streets and boisterously chanted “We want Houston.” This would be the year they vanquished their bully, the cheating Houston Astros. (The Astros also knocked the Yankees out of the postseason in 2015, 2017 and 2019.) ‘Stros fans on Twitter expressed an initial amusement that turned to derision as Houston kept winning in the series. “ Y’all wanted us, y’all got us,” teased the team’s official Twitter account.

Three years ago, right after the World Series in which Houston lost a heartbreaking Game 7 to Washington, The Athletic broke the story that the Astros used an advanced electronic sign-stealing system throughout the 2017 season. The vast majority of baseball-loving Houstonians are beyond tired of talking about it, and fans elsewhere, it seems, will never let it go, lobbing continued and unfounded cheating accusations.

So let’s look at the villainy straight on. It’s true that sign-stealing and cheating has been a part of baseball for more than a century, from the 1919 Black Sox throwing the World Series, to hulked-up home run hitters using illegal steroids 20-25 years ago. Indeed, the Yankees themselves, and the Boston Red Sox, were found to have used less advanced sign-stealing schemes around the same time frame as the Astros.

What the Astros did, nevertheless, tainted the game and dimmed the majestic feeling of the 2017 title, one that galvanized the city and genuinely helped people as we continued the healing and recovery process from Hurricane Harvey. The cheating hurt all the more because the championship represented more than athletic accomplishment. It represented our city’s ability to get back up.

In the wake of the scandal, the team lost draft picks and fired general manager Jeff Luhnow. It also fired manager A.J. Hinch and brought in Dusty Baker, who in three seasons leading the squad has now brought them to two Fall Classics. The revered, music-loving, 73-year-old Baker is effortlessly cool. According to a recent profile in Rolling Stone by Houston-based writer Sama’an Ashraw, Baker is widely credited with co-inventing the high five and once smoked a joint with Jimi Hendrix. His players talk at great length about his efforts to get to know them and their families, and how badly they want to win a title for him. He is four wins away from his first world championship as a manager.

“There’s a ton of positive thoughts and spiritual togetherness in the city of Houston,” Baker said Sunday night following the win. “It’s galvanized our team. I’ve never seen a city so close to the players and always behind their players.”

Only a handful of players remain from that 2017 team — Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, Yuli Gurriel, Justin Verlander and Lance McCullers — all of whom are still playing at a high level. The team has been to the ALCS six years in a row and won the AL West five times in six years. Carlos Correa, George Springer and other All-Stars are long gone, replaced by the prodigious talents of Peña, Yordan Alvarez and Framber Valdez, among others. That is a testament to the organization’s model player development and wise management.

“They’ve had a lot to say about us,” McCullers, of the boos and vitriol that surrounds the squad. “I think it’s going to have to stop pretty soon.”

Unlikely, to be sure, as long as those core 2017 players remain. The Astros, to the larger baseball ecosystem, remain villains. As the “H-Town vs. Everybody” shirts suggest, though, they’re our villains. Come Friday, Minute Maid Park — “The Juicebox” will be loud and ready for the Phillies, whose fans, it also must be noted, chanted “We want Houston” after their team clinched a World Series date with ours.

Y’all wanted us, y’all got us.

The Astros’ run of excellence — and the connectedness of the team to one another and their community — ought to represent the spirit of this city. Another World Series win, one that’s beyond reproach or criticism, would do just that. We can’t wait for Friday night.

Folks keep asking me for my prediction on the election and the World Series.

On the election, I must see more data and talk to some folks.

On the World Series, we are the better team. We should win, but things happen all the time during the playoffs.


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