MIKE BURKE

Allegany Communications Sports

The Houston Astros are world champions, having won an exciting six-game World Series over the Philadelphia Phillies, and there are a lot of baseball fans out there who are not happy about it.

I concur that penalties handed down to the Astros for the cheating scandal merely constituted a don’t-do-it-again slap on the wrist – for ownership, the organization and most of the players who were neck-deep in the cheating, though not the manager and the general manager, who should have been and were fired. Yet with a handful of exceptions, that team of wholesale cheaters was not the team that just won the World Series.

The roster turned over heavily in a relatively short period of time for a team that had just won the World Series and a string of league championships. That is because of the player development and game-approach system the Astros put into place a decade ago and continue to thrive on (and, yes, continue to pay attention and buckle up, Orioles fans).

On top of everything else, the manager of the current team is 73-year-old Dusty Baker, a great player through an 18-year Major League career and a great manager through his 30-year career, who has taken three teams to the World Series and, now, has finally won one. Next stop: Hall of Fame.

Dusty Baker never cheated at anything in his life, and he never expressed anger or bitterness in times of his being unjustly and absurdly fired from jobs (we see you there, Washington Nats). He was brought to Houston to lead the healing process because it was needed, and it is widely understood that everybody loves Dusty Baker because his integrity is beyond reproach.

He was the perfect man for the job. He is the perfect man for any job.

Thus, while I would have loved to see the Phillies win the World Series as one couldn’t help but really like this team, its spirit and its approach, not to mention the soft spot I carry in my heart for the City of Brotherly Love, how can anybody not be delighted for Dusty Baker finally having his moment this way as one of the most respected and beloved men in the history of professional baseball?

And by the way, how can anybody not freely admit that while the Phils put up a mighty game battle and made an extraordinary run, the Houston Astros are clearly, top to bottom, the best team in baseball and one of the best teams of recent MLB vintage. And yet, they’re still so very, very young. They may have only just begun.

One other thing that was very pleasing was to see former Oriole Trey Mancini win a World Series as well. Talk about a guy who everybody loves and respects, and talk about the courage, the fortitude, the love and the ethic it took for this good gentleman to even still be alive in coming back from Stage III colon cancer, much less be a leader and a contributor on, first, a young, upstart team in the Orioles, and then be able to contribute down the stretch and help celebrate a World Series title with the Astros.

Once his comeback was in full stride in Baltimore, it became clear that Mancini, who is now a free agent, was not of the age or the position to fit in with what the Orioles are now doing. And while it was painful for all of Baltimore to see him traded by the Orioles, how fitting and right was it that General Manager Mike Elias traded him to his former team and organization, which remains the finished, yet ongoing product of what the Orioles are themselves putting together.

It remains to be seen what kind of return the Orioles received for Mancini; only time will tell. Yet that is not what matters presently. What matters is the Orioles, whether they’ll admit it or not, gave Trey Mancini a big thank you for who he is and all he means to Baltimore and the young and coming Orioles.

Truthfully, it’s been the stuff that dreams are made of.

Only in baseball. And with that, with the season officially over until pitchers and catchers report to spring training in 97 days, our annual tribute to the joys, the heartache, the love and the truth about the greatest game ever created, courtesy of the late A. Bartlett Giamatti, author of “The Green Fields of the Mind”:

“It breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in the spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone. You count on it, rely on it to buffer the passage of time, to keep the memory of sunshine and high skies alive, and then just when the days are all twilight, when you need it most, it stops …”

Congratulations, Astros. Congratulations, Phillies. Thank you for the thrilling drama and a great World Series.

Good night, baseball. Rest easy. Thank you for our summer afternoons and evenings. We’ll miss you, but you’re always with us.

See you in the spring.

Mike Burke writes about sports and other stuff for Allegany Communications. He began covering sports for the Prince George’s Sentinel in 1981 and joined the Cumberland Times-News sports staff in 1984, serving as sports editor for over 30 years. Contact him at [email protected] and [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @MikeBurkeMDT