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Houston Astros infielder Jose Altuve (right) and Alex Bregman (center) look on as Astros owner and chairman Jim Crane address the media before the morning spring training workout. Jim Rassol / USA TODAY Sports

Finally, after days of hiding behind closed doors, cordoned away from reporters and a mountain of criticism, a group of Astros players and owner Jim Crane apologized for their role in the sign-stealing scheme, which helped Houston win the 2017 World Series.

It was a different tone from last month’s Fan Fest, where Alex Bregman and Jose Altuve offered no contrition and simply acknowledged the scandal that ran from 2016-18.

“I am really sorry about the choices that were made by my team, by the organization and by me,” Bregman said in a press conference outside the Astros spring training facility in West Palm Beach, Florida on Thursday. “I have learned from this and I hope to regain the trust of baseball fans.”

Altuve echoed Bregman and said the “whole Astros organization feels bad for what happened in 2017.”

“I especially feel remorse for the impact on our fans and the game of baseball,” he said.

But the heat had obviously (and rightfully) been dialed up over the last month as details about the report trickled out; like how players received total-immunity for cooperating with the investigation.

While Crane admitted the plot was wrong, he agreed with the MLB’s decision to not punish the players, placing all of the blame squarely on former manager AJ Hinch and GM Jeff Luhnow, whom Crane fired immediately after the MLB levied its decision. He called the players a “great group of guys” who just didn’t receive the proper guidance from leadership – as if they are still in junior high.

When asked whether the Astros should keep their World Series title from 2017, which many have been calling to be vacated, Crane responded by saying that in his opinion, “it didn’t impact the game. We won the World Series and we’ll leave it at that.”

No, Jim. You, and your merry bunch of “great-guys” cheated.

Let’s call it what it is. Your organization hatched an elaborate sign-stealing scheme; using the centerfield camera, a computer program and a team of players to interpret the catcher’s signs and relay them to the dugout, where they could be communicated to the hitter with the bang of a trash-can or whistle.

It clearly impacted the game, the players were the main cog of the operation and benefitted the most from it. Hinch, at two points during the 2017 season, broke the video monitor that was piped with the center field camera feed and spoke with members of the organization to offer his reservations about the operation. But he never directed the players to stop, so the fix continued.

While I understand the necessity – in the interest of getting things done quickly – why the MLB decided not to punish any player, I don’t agree with it. Pete Rose, probably the greatest hitter of all time, bet on games as a manager and got banned for life. These guys cheat, win a World Series and receive no punishment whatsoever. In what world does that make sense?

The MLB might be ready to forgive and forget, but that doesn’t mean the players should get off scot-free.

Like Barry Bonds, who was booed relentlessly in opposing stadiums for his alleged steroid use, every Astros player involved in the scandal needs to be ostracized this year and, in my opinion, the rest of their career.

Anything short of throwing a brat at Bregman, Altuve, George Springer or Carlos Correa while they’re in the on-deck circle should be acceptable.

They deserve every piece of ridicule they will get. For the better part of two seasons – and likely in 2019 as well with the buzzer ploy now coming into question – Houston cheated to the point where they had a significant competitive advantage.

I played baseball my entire life and understand the fine nuances of sign-stealing. It can be done legitimately, either picking up the third-base coaches’ signs to the runner/batter or deciphering the catchers’ signs while at second base. But that’s using only your eyes. Adding technology to the equation, which benefits only one team, spits on the game of baseball.

And then having the gall to say that it didn’t impact the game after getting caught is a slap in the face.

They are the Houston Cheaters. Boo them every chance you can – they deserve exile.