In 2014, a writer predicted the woeful Houston Astros would win the World Series in 2017 — Here is the story behind that prediction

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Sports Illustrated

    In June 2014 the cover of Sports Illustrated boldly predicted that the lowly Houston Astros would be World Series champions in just three years. The author of the story, Ben Reiter, has been carrying the prediction for three years and has now finally been proven right. Business Insider contacted Reiter to discuss the origins of the piece, what the playoff run has been like, and his prediction for the 2020 World Series.

In June 2014 the prestigious spot on the cover of Sports Illustrated went to the Houston Astros, who were then coming off three consecutive seasons with at least 105 losses and had a 36-48 record that season.

The cover boldly predicted that the Astros would be World Series champions in 2017, and it was backed up by a story from Ben Reiter titled “Astro-Matic Baseball: Houston’s Grand Experiment,” which took readers through the Astros’ rebuilding process with an in-depth look at the team’s front office as it prepared for the draft and planned the team’s future.

With the Astros’ Game 7 win Wednesday night, Reiter’s bold prediction came to fruition.

Business Insider contacted Reiter after the Astros secured the AL pennant to discuss how the story originally came to be, how he decided on the year 2017, and his prediction for the 2020 World Series.

This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Tyler Lauletta: Have you been busy in the past few days since the Astros wrapped up the AL pennant?

Ben Reiter: Yeah. A lot of people seem to be remembering the cover all of a sudden.

Lauletta: Did the rush just start, or has it been happening all postseason?

Reiter: In all honesty, it’s kind of been happening for three years now. I’ve written 20 cover stories for SI, and none of them made a splash like this one, and it’s really followed me. First people hating on it, thinking it was a ridiculous prediction – that the Astros were kind of violating the social contract of sports by essentially tanking so blatantly. And then it started to turn in 2015 when it was like, “Oh man, this team might actually be on to something.”

Lauletta: “This George Springer guy–“

Reiter: Yeah! All of a sudden the worst team in the world is looking pretty good. But really since Saturday night it’s been blowing up.

Lauletta: How did this story initially come to be? Was this something you pitched? A story assigned to you?

Reiter: It was one of those slow-developing ideas. The Astros were so bad. Losing 105 games three seasons in a row, Alex Trebek is making fun of them on “Jeopardy,” they’re putting up 0.0 local television ratings – it just seemed from afar like a total disaster. So we were thinking, “What is going on down here? What’s the plan?” And this was before the Sixers started “The Process” – this hadn’t really happened in sports to this degree.

So for probably around a year we were talking about doing something on this, reaching out to the Astros – we knew we were only going to do it if we got some legitimately special access. And finally, ahead of the 2014 draft, they agreed they would give us that access, in terms of letting me sit in on some of those meetings, letting me talk with everyone I needed to, and that’s when we decided to pull the trigger.

As far as the cover – no, it wasn’t supposed to be the cover. It seemed ridiculous to me even. But it turned out that the story had such unusual access and seemed to be such a different thing that it was worth it to the editorial director of Sports Illustrated, Chris Stone, to not only put it on the cover but to make a pretty bold proclamation.

Lauletta: About that proclamation – how did you come to decide on the year 2017? Were there conversations around that?

Reiter: Well, you know, writers aren’t always consulted on covers and things like that – that’s really the editor’s call, but in this case I really was, because I wanted to nail the proper time frame for this turnaround.

First of all, the Astros never outright said it, but they kind of intimated that this would be a realistic point at which they would be competitive. In the story, [Astros general manager] Jeff Luhnow says, “When you’re in 2017, you don’t really care that much about whether you lost 98 or 107 in 2012. You care about how close we are to winning a championship in 2017.” So they were intimating that that might be a target for them. But that’s their opinion.

We looked at who the key pieces would be. Obviously we had no idea Justin Verlander would be coming, but you could see what the nucleus was. And I think that this was the sweet spot because Carlos Correa, who hadn’t even reached the majors at that point, was going to be 23, and a few of the other centerpieces would be hitting their prime – George Springer would be 28, Jose Altuve would be 27. It just seemed like if this plan was going to work, this would be the time they’d be ready to take the team to the next level.

Lauletta: Going into this season, how much were you thinking about this prediction?

Reiter: Well, I definitely picked them as my personal prediction! Look, I haven’t had any control over this, obviously. I’m probably getting too much credit for this prediction – all credit to the Astros front office and players. But I was certainly aware of it, and essentially any time I do TV or radio about baseball it’s kind of become my legacy.

Lauletta: How do you feel about that?

Reiter: Pretty good about it now! My big regret is that I didn’t go to Vegas at any point. What an idiot, right? The greatest prediction in sports history and I’m not gonna make a dime.

Lauletta: Sports Illustrated recently posted their World Series predictions. I noticed that you were the only writer to pick the Astros. You couldn’t get one guy to come over and back the Astros with you?

Reiter: I love it. I guess, while maintaining my journalistic neutrality, it’s me and the Astros versus the world.

Lauletta: Have you spoken with members of the Astros’ front office that you talked with for the original story about the cover? Has it come up this season?

Reiter: Yeah, I’ve done a few other stories on the team – I did a big thing in September, a minute-by-minute breakdown of how they got Justin Verlander. And look, one thing I’ll say is, they were OK with the cover, but it’s not something they necessarily wanted [laughs]. Some people were saying, “Oh you gave them this cover, such a great thing for them.” It actually wasn’t that great for them because it put this extremely public deadline on this unprecedented process they were trying to put in place.

But they were definitely aware and have said that the story had put a deadline for them on this year. They were very aware of the importance of this year.

Lauletta: Who’s your prediction for 2017 World Series MVP?

Reiter: I haven’t thought about that yet – you know, I’ll go with Jose Altuve. I can see him doing some damage against all those Dodgers’ lefties, as good as they are.

Lauletta: Do you have a prediction for the 2020 World Series you want to put on record?

Reiter: I do – unfortunately for fans around baseball, it’s the Yankees.