Evan Drellich and Ken Rosenthal published an article in 2019 that upended the professional baseball world. Titled “The Astros stole signs electronically in 2017 - part of a much broader issue for Major League Baseball,” the article on The Athletic outlined how the Astros cheated and why MLB had to worry about other teams as well.
The rabbit hole was a deep one, and in the process of reporting such an important story, Drellich and Rosenthal gathered enough material to write a book about it. So, Drellich did just that, in his recent book “Winning Fixes Everything: How Baseball’s Brightest Minds Created Sports’ Biggest Mess.”
“Winning Fixes Everything” is a must read for any modern baseball fan who is even remotely aware of the Astros’ sign stealing shenanigans. While the 2019 article is deep and includes many key quotes about the event, Drellich spares no expense at including a vast array of information and insider knowledge about the event in the book.
Drellich’s book also takes a different approach: it asks how and why such an extensive cheating scheme could be concocted and allowed to flourish. To answer this, Drellich focuses on the main players involved—namely, general manager Jeff Luhnow, who serves as the de facto main character of the events, as his leadership (or lack thereof) drove the culture of the Astros.
One takeway you’ll come away with from reading this book is just how toxic and awful the Astros culture was in those years. Luhnow was a brilliant front office mind, but he sounds like the worst boss you could ever have—egotistical, wildly insecure, self-serving, and a very poor communicator whose paranoia filtered throughout the organization. Luhnow alienated nearly everyone in St. Louis, where he was a primary architect of the Cardinals’ successful drafts from 2005 to 2011, and eventually drove away all of his inner circle, many of whom also displayed toxic traits and behaviors, before his time in Houston was up.
It turns out the answer to the question “how could this happen” was an easy one: the Astros culture was built around perpetual innovation and bottom line performance at all costs, human decency be damned. Drellich does a great job setting up the stakes and the context and explaining how the Astros winning machine continued to move forward.
Another takeaway specific to Royals fans is just thinking how far ahead the Astros and other teams were than the Royals themselves. Houston was years ahead of much of the rest of baseball, and during much of the 2010s teams that were on the cutting edge of baseball technology and statistical models had a big advantage over those that weren’t. When some teams are using Edgertronic and Trackman systems and others aren’t, well, the gaps are huge. Now, not so much. In hindsight, the Royals getting lapped and losing steam from 2016-2019 makes much more sense in the context of the gap between the first mover advantage the Astros, Dodgers, and other teams owned.
“Winning Fixes Everything” is a great baseball book and a great story about how toxic culture starts from the top and how it can make everyone miserable even as all their dreams are being fulfilled. Check it out at your local library or pick it up at your local bookstore if it sounds up your alley, as it’s out now.