The Houston Astros have raised a lot of troubling questions in the wake of the sign-stealing scandal that shook the franchise and rocked the game of baseball this offseason.
Here's an especially sobering one: Should Houston forfeit its 2017 World Series title?
As MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred told reporters Sunday, that unprecedented penalty was seriously discussed.
"We thought about it," said Manfred, "If you talk about the minutes of discussion during the process, it was high in terms of the minutes that we spent talking about it."
In the end, the league opted to allow Houston to keep the Commissioner's Trophy it won in a hard-fought (and now undeniably tainted) seven-game series against the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Like it or not, that was the right call.
Baseball history is littered with tarnished titles and questionable records.
Barry Bonds broke the single-season and all-time home run marks with the alleged help of performance-enhancing drugs after Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa ripped through the long-ball record books with similar PED allegations.
In 1919, multiple members of the Chicago White Sox were accused of intentionally throwing the World Series to the Cincinnati Reds to earn money from a gambling syndicate.
Yet Bonds is the home run king and the Reds are the 1919 champs. Make note of the extenuating circumstances, but those are the facts.
Would Houston have defeated Los Angeles in 2017 (or even advanced to the Fall Classic) without the sign-stealing advantage that involved a camera, the video replay room and tricks including text messages and banging on a trash can to steal signs and relay the information to batters during home games?
That's an unanswerable question, though it's one worth posing. Dodgers outfielder and 2019 National League MVP Cody Bellinger made his feelings known.
"Everyone knows they stole the ring from us," Bellinger told reporters. "But it's over."
This dark cloud will follow the 'Stros through the 2020 campaign and beyond. They'll hear boos. They'll be shrouded in suspicion. They'll be reviled everywhere but Minute Maid Park.
Their pseudo-apologies and attempts to make amends have only made things worse, especially with owner Jim Crane denying any culpability.
But stripping the Astros of their 2017 title won't change the past.
It'd be a hollow victory for the Dodgers. Do they really want their first championship since 1988 to be won on an after-the-fact technicality?
The Astros bathed in champagne and confetti in 2017. They hoisted baseball's ultimate prize. No amount of revisionist history or make-it-OK league directives will alter that. And, setting aside Game 5, the Dodgers scored just 3.7 runs per game in the 2017 Series—and only one run in Game 7.
On top of that, should we vacate other titles? What about the Boston Red Sox in 2018 under erstwhile manager Alex Cora, who was one of the masterminds behind the Astros' sign-stealing?
As Manfred put it, "Whether or not you put an asterisk or ask for the trophy back, I don't think it makes that much difference."
There is no world in which we can replay that series or know how much the Astros' cheating affected the outcome. The same way we can't know how many fewer homers Bonds would have hit without the alleged aid of PEDs or whether the Reds might have won the 1919 World Series on their own merits.
A bit more from Manfred:
"I think if you look at the faces of the Houston players as they have been out there publicly addressing this issue, they have been hurt by this. They will live with questions about what went on in 2017 and 2018 for the rest of their lives. And frankly, it is rare for any offense that you will have a punishment that you will live with for the rest of your life."
Sometimes, the worst consequence is your own face in the mirror.
We can guess. We can extrapolate. We can assign blame and wag fingers. That's part of life, and certainly part of sports.
But amid all the questions, one thing is crystal clear: The Houston Astros are and forever will be the 2017 World Series champions, like it or not.