“If I’m obsessed, I figured maybe other people are, too,” Donley said in a phone interview Thursday night after watching a mostly uneventful spring training game between the Astros and Nationals, in part out of a sense of obligation to his more than 100,000 new Twitter followers.
Donley, a writer and Chicago Cubs fan living in Michigan, launched the 2020 Astros Shame Tour (@AsteriskTour) two weeks ago, with a “Houston Asterisks” logo as the avatar and the much-analyzed photo of Astros second baseman José Altuve telling his teammates not to rip off his jersey after his pennant-clinching walk-off home run — lest they reveal an unfortunate tattoo or worse — as the header image. “One year to shame them all, one year to jeer them, one year to boo them all and from your seat deride them,” the bio reads.
On the morning of Feb. 15, Donley sent his first tweet from the account, a 34-second video he produced with QuickTime. It featured Timbaland and OneRepublic’s “Apologize” playing over clips of Astros personnel expressing shame for their roles in the sign-stealing operation, which cost manager A.J. Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow their jobs.
Donley wasn’t moved by the team’s remarks.
“That’s not how you apologize,” he said. “For some people, there’s nothing they could say that could return them to good graces, but for a lot of us, if you just said, ‘I’m really sorry, I know I did something wrong, I’ll never do it again and we feel ashamed for what we’ve done,’ I feel like people would accept that.”
When Donley created @AsteriskTour, he envisioned it as a place to document scenes of fans heckling the Astros with boos, trash can lids and homemade signs, and to share other interesting and intelligent content related to the scandal. After spring training games began, he started a daily hit-by-pitch tracker, though he said he doesn’t wish any physical harm on Astros hitters. After five days, the account had roughly 1,000 followers.
On Monday, after binge-watching YouTube content related to the scandal, Donley tweeted a clip of Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci discussing Game 5 of the 2017 World Series during a recent appearance on MLB Network. Verducci noted that Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw generated zero swings and misses on 51 sliders and curveballs in that game, a damning indication that Houston’s hitters knew what was coming. The clip went viral, thanks in part to NBC Sports football columnist Peter King sharing it with his nearly 2 million followers.
The next day, within minutes of Alex Bregman becoming the seventh Astros hitter to be hit by a pitch in the team’s first five spring training games, Donley tweeted the video and received yet another social media bump. His account grew from roughly 70,000 to 110,000 followers Thursday. Donley’s hunch was correct: Other people were fascinated by the scandal, too, and it no doubt helped that the two most aggrieved fan bases were in Los Angeles and New York.
“At this point, I have to keep doing it,” said Donley, whose room is covered with scraps of paper on which he has written ideas for future videos and tweets. “I feel obligated to give people a reason to stay following. I feel like I should drop other stuff I’m doing and just see where this can go.”
For Donley, the author of a book on the 1968 World Series and creator of a pair of baseball and soccer sites, that could mean putting off law school applications or the research he has started on his second book. He’s planning to make the trip to Oakland for Houston’s first regular season road game March 30 and is committed to curating Astros-shaming content for as long as people remain interested.
“In April it will certainly be pretty big,” he said. “Maybe it will be the whole year. . . . I didn’t envision this, but it’s a total blessing, and it’s great. I’ll try to work really hard and do the best I can with it. I feel like it’s a group thing. A collective has been formed, and there’s this camaraderie among fan bases. It’s fun to have this community, to make people laugh and make people informed.”