It seemed like an outlandish claim at the time. On the cover of a June 2014 issue, Sports Illustrated predicted that the lowly Houston Astros would win the World Series in 2017. That just happened, with the team beating the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 7, winning the championship for the first time in franchise history.
The magazine headlined the 2014 piece “Astro-Matic Baseball: Can Houston’s radical rebuilding project—featuring a Nerd Cave led by a blackjack dealer turned rocket scientist—actually work? Maybe sooner than you think.” On the cover of that issue was a photo of the Astros—a laughingstock at the time—with the cover line “Your 2017 World Series Champs.”
The reporter who penned the long feature, Ben Reiter, wrote a blog post on the magazine’s website late last month, recalling researching the story. He described walking into the Astros offices and meeting executives who were “openly violating the baseball compact by which rebuilding teams were supposed to obscure their long-term plan by maintaining the illusion that they were genuinely trying to win each and every year, even if it meant losing just a little less.”
Reiter also notes that many people, and even some working at the magazine itself, hated the cover, and that a local paper in Houston described it as ”more of an attention-grabbing, perhaps even tongue-in-cheek projection than a prediction.”
In the blog post, Reiter notes of the team’s executives:
“Their goal was to make marginally more correct decisions than their competitors, in the long haul, and to do so they implemented an analytically rigorous system that not only processed all of the bleeding edge metrics they could find or create, but also heavily incorporated data from old fashioned sources: scouts, who could see things about a player’s potential and character that numbers couldn’t… it’s now impossible to doubt that they’ve been on to something all along.”