Columnists, Sports

7th Inning Stretch: The permanent stain on the Houston Astros organization just grew even bigger

With the 115th World Series beginning this week, the baseball world should be focused on the exciting matchup between the Houston Astros and the Washington Nationals. The Fall Classic is a reliable source of intriguing storylines, surprise stars and historic, emotional moments.

Instead, we are embroiled in yet another controversy surrounding domestic violence in sports. This isn’t quite how we should be spending National Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

According to a Sports Illustrated piece by Stephanie Apstein, during the Astros’ clubhouse celebration after advancing to the World Series on Saturday, Astros assistant general manager Brandon Taubman “turned to a group of three female reporters, including one wearing a purple domestic-violence awareness bracelet, and yelled, half a dozen times, ‘Thank God we got Osuna! I’m so f—–ing glad we got Osuna!’”

The crucial context here is that “Osuna” is closer Roberto Osuna, whom the Astros acquired last season in the midst of his 75-game suspension for violating the league’s domestic violence policy. Despite enduring harsh criticism for trading for a suspended player who had been (initially) charged with domestic violence, the Astros defended their decision. More than a year later, that defense has continued.

Following Apstein’s report, the Astros declined to comment. Taubman did not speak to any media. Then came the despicable part: the team released a statement denying that the incident took place, defending both Taubman and Osuna.

The statement read: “The story posted by Sports Illustrated is misleading and completely irresponsible. An Astros player was being asked questions about a difficult outing. Our executive was supporting the player during a difficult time. His comments had everything to do about the game situation that just occurred and nothing else — they were also not directed toward any specific reporters. We are extremely disappointed in Sports Illustrated’s attempt to fabricate a story where one does not exist.”

There is so much wrong with this statement, both factually and morally.

First, multiple reporters have corroborated the incident, including Hannah Keyser of Yahoo! Sports and Hunter Atkins from the Houston Chronicle. To blatantly deny the occurrence of the episode is craven.
Next, “the game situation” included Osuna surrendering a game-tying two-run homer that could have cost the Astros the game. That would seem a questionable time to brag about your closer, no?

Finally, Houston is the latest example of a tone deaf organization or individual in a position of power hiding behind the claim of “fake news” when an unflattering report surfaces. It may be easier to deny the claim than to face it. But it’s also reprehensible and spineless.

The fact is, trading for Osuna in the first place showed Houston’s true colors. There is no question that Osuna is an elite closer; he has 50 saves since his trade last July. But by acquiring him, the Astros made it crystal clear that wins are more important than ethics. So it should come as no surprise that the team chose to back its assistant GM rather than stand up for civility. Not only did Taubman verbally accost reporters, but he did so with the clear intent of bragging and intimidating female journalists about a player who has a documented history of violence against women.

On Tuesday afternoon, Taubman finally spoke. In his statement he said, “This past Saturday, during our clubhouse celebration, I used inappropriate language for which I am deeply sorry and embarrassed. In retrospect, I realize that my comments were unprofessional and inappropriate. My overexuberance in support of a player has been misrepresented as a demonstration of a regressive attitude about an important social issue.”

“Those that know me know that I am a progressive member of the community, and a loving and committed husband and father,” Taubman said in the statement. “I hope that those who do know me understand that the Sports Illustrated article does not reflect who I am or my values. I am sorry if anyone was offended by my actions.”

No, Taubman, I’m sorry. I’m sorry to report that it’s too late for your half-hearted apology. Osuna almost lost you the game, so forgive us if we cannot help but conflate your “overexuberance in support” of him with “a regressive attitude about an important social issue.” It’s not your job to scream at female reporters about a domestic abuser. It’s your job to not hire one in the first place.

Major League Baseball has come down on the right side of many domestic violence related issues since its policy was instituted in 2015. How the league responds to this latest installment will be telling. An important executive for the American League Champions publicly acted inappropriately and crassly about an incredibly difficult topic and the league needs to make it clear that such behavior is unacceptable. As ESPN’s Jeff Passan writes, “This is who Major League Baseball is implicitly endorsing every minute it does not discipline him.”

The Nationals and Astros’ battle for the Commissioner’s Trophy has commenced. The series will no doubt be entertaining, especially given the eye-popping litany of aces between the two teams, plus deep lineups and excellent bullpens and defense.

But every time Osuna enters the game, a spotlight will be shone on the permanent stain that Houston brought upon itself by cowardly and repeatedly condoning the disgusting behavior of some of its players and employees.

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