Some time during the 1980s, I remember picking up a magazine story and seeing a university president quoted from a board of trustees meeting. Exactly how it came up escapes my memory, but his remark doesn’t. He told his board that, dammit, he wanted a school his football team could be proud of.
It’s not unreasonable now to think it’s possible that those who play baseball in Astro uniforms might like a front office their players can be proud of. One that knows better than to shoot the messenger who exposed an assistant general manager as clueless about domestic violence.
Astro fans are in the discomfiting position of rooting for their team while clutching their stomachs over the Brandon Taubman affair. Much the way they were when the Astros acquired relief pitcher Roberto Osuna while he was still under suspension for a domestic violence incident that was yet to be resolved legally at the time of the deal.
They don’t have Taubman to trouble their stomachs any longer, at least. Perhaps getting ahead of baseball government’s investigative curve, the Astros fired Taubman on Thursday.
All that remains of the affair now, seemingly, is for the Astros’ administration to fire those in the team’s public relations department who decided upon initial exposure of Taubman’s brain damage that it was all the fault of the Sports Illustrated reporter who exposed it in the first place. And, for that administration to learn at last that winning doesn’t sweep some things under the proverbial rug.
In a near-empty Astro clubhouse, following their surrealistic pennant clinch last Saturday night, and with no Astro players known to have remained at the moment, three female reporters including SI‘s Stephanie Apstein stood adjacent to Taubman when he let fly with, “Thank God we got Osuna! I’m so [fornicating] glad we got Osuna!”
Osuna was rocked in the top of the ninth of American League Championship Series Game Six when Yankee first baseman D.J. LeMahieu hit a two-run homer off him to tie the game at four. Astro second baseman Jose Altuve won the pennant in the bottom of the ninth with a more electrifying two-run homer—ironically enough, off Aroldis Chapman, the Yankee closer with his own domestic violence history.
A team executive looking to console or brace up a pitcher humiliated in a moment like Osuna’s on the mound wouldn’t necessarily thunder like that but, rather, take the pitcher aside privately to reassure him how glad the team was to have him. Or, say it while his teammates were still in the clubhouse celebrating the pennant win.
Such an executive wouldn’t wait, as Taubman did, until he was almost alone with three women doing their jobs, one of whom (who insists her name be kept out of coverage of the affair) wore a purple domestic violence awareness bracelets worn by lots of people to whom domestic violence is a grotesque crime, to holler that kind of remark about a player who was guilty of it at the time the Astros acquired him.
Apstein was one of the women on the job. And to her credit, she first sought comment from others in the Astros’ front office apparatus before writing her original story about it. Only after getting none did she publish her story early this past Monday, the day before the World Series began.
A formal team statement played the fake-news card at once, calling her story “misleading,” “completely irresponsible,” and written by someone trying to “fabricate” it. But as radio host Larry Elder would say, the fit hit the shan not just from the moment Apstein’s story hit the Internet running but from when it transpired that others aside from the three women reporters happened to be there, happened to see, and happened to hear.
Including two Houston Chronicle reporters, Chandler Rome and Hunter Atkins. “The three female reporters were approximately eight feet away and one was visibly shaken by the comment . . . eyewitnesses said,” wrote Rome. “There were no players in the area and no interviews were being conducted at the time.” Atkins pounced on the original Astro denunciation after the “fabricate” accusation emerged. “I was there,” he tweeted. “Saw it. And I should’ve said something sooner.”
The Astros hit the damage control button faster than Altuve’s pennant-winning homer flew off the barrel of his bat. The office of commissioner Rob Manfred jumped immediately into investigating the Taubman incident, as well it should have considering the game’s domestic violence policy in place since 2015 and the controversy when the Astros dealt for Osuna in the first place at the July 2018 trade deadline.
While the statement offers a meager apology to Apstein, and acknowledges that the organization was wrong with its initial response, noticeably absent is any explanation for why Houston released a strongly worded comment decrying the legitimacy of the Sports Illustrated report, allowed an employee to pull the “as a father of daughters” card while offering a non-apology of his own, and based these decisions on an investigation whose conclusion proved to be far from reality. Who were those “witnesses” who lied to smear Apstein and the other reporters present as fabulists? Who crafted that first statement? What consequences will they face?
Osuna was available in the first place because the Blue Jays couldn’t wait to be rid of him when he was hit with his domestic violence suspension, involving an assault on the woman with whom he has a now four-year-old son. Astro players, particularly ace pitcher Justin Verlander, were not exactly comfortable with the acquisition when it happened.
What a surprise. Verlander himself thundered on Twitter after Astro minor leaguer Danrys Vasquez was shown on video attacking his girl friend on a staircase, for which the Astros released him post haste. And now the Astros dealt their own beleaguered closer Ken Giles to acquire Osuna?
And, yes, Chapman caused a few temperatures to run the scales when the Yankees first acquired him, then dealt him to the Cubs in 2016 (for Gleyber Torres), then re-signed him as a free agent, all after Chapman’s incident with his lady that prompted the Dodgers to back away from a deal acquiring him during winter 2015-16.
Before you suggest that the Astros simply had no choice considering Giles’s ongoing troubles with the team creating the immediate need for an available reliever who could close, be reminded that they actually had a choice if they wanted it, at or just before the 2018 non-waiver trade deadline. (The deadline is now a single one, waiver and non-waiver alike, for all season.)
Giles’s frustrations in the 2017 World Series carried over into the 2018 season and the Astros needed to move him for his own and the club’s sake. At the same time, the Orioles going into rebuild mode were shopping Zack Britton, rehorsing after forearm issues bothered him in 2017.
The same Zack Britton who pitched to a 1.91 regular-season ERA this year and performed respectably in five ALCS appearances against the Astros, surrendering no runs to them despite walking five batters while still striking five out. Compare that to Osuna’s 2.63 ERA this season, his 3.60 ALCS ERA, and getting credit for the Game Six win as a gift from Altuve despite surrendering the game-tying bomb.
The Yankees would acquire Britton instead. Osuna’s ERA was 2.63 when the Astros traded Giles to get him from the Jays. Britton’s was 3.45 when the Yankees dealt for him, but he actually looked closer to his old self in his final eight gigs as an Oriole—his ERA in those eight single-inning gigs was 0.00. And he’d had only two appearances thus far in which he surrendered any runs all season until the trade.
The Astros could have dealt for Britton easily enough without any baggage, domestic violence or otherwise, instead of Osuna whose domestic violence case was far enough from being resolved in the Canadian courts when he finally signed a legal document in which he agreed to have no contact with his victim for a full year to follow.
But they went for Osuna. He was a “depressed asset,” as so many stories about l’affaire Taubman have described. Making the Astros look to too many people as though they, too, put baseball ahead of moral and ethical considerations. Verlander was put in the discomfiting position of straining to be diplomatic about the deal, and it was also known that the Astro front office wasn’t exactly unified about the deal, either.
There were Cub fans uncomfortable with the idea of Chapman having a role in their staggering World Series run. There remain Yankee fans uncomfortable with his presence now. But no Cub or Yankee executive was ever heard, so far as is known for certain, to have thanked his Maker for acquiring a woman beater, in listening range of any reporters.
And the Cubs were caught completely flatfoot after shortstop Addison Russell’s wife, with Russell’s domestic violence suspension carrying from the end of the 2018 season into the beginning of the 2019 season, gave a December 2018 interview in which she described the gory details of what she’d suffered at his hands.
They stood by their man regardless, though with a few qualifiers, and looked just as ridiculous. And Russell’s 2019 season, identifiable by injuries and less than stellar performances when he did play, may end up making him an ex-Cub after all. Not exactly the same thing as sending a powerful message against wife beating.
Remember: there’s no inherent, God-given right to play professional baseball. And there’s no concurrent obligation for any baseball team to tolerate crimes like domestic violence for the sake of winning, whether committed by a player or appearing to matter little to those who hire him.
Firing Taubman only begins resolving the Astro dilemna. The front office isn’t anywhere near off the hook yet. And with the Astros about to face World Series Game Three in Washington and in the hole 2-0 to the Nationals, the absolute last thing the organisation needs is a front office that looked for too long this week as though domestic violence was just a nuisance instead of a very real issue.
And, like it or not, Osuna is still an Astro. Even though the way the Series has transpired so far he hasn’t poked his nose out of his bullpen hole once yet. It’s still possible that the Astros won’t go down to the Nats without a battle, and that Osuna will yet be seen loosening up in the pen for a late-game entry.
And, that Astro fans will be torn as they didn’t have to be between rooting for their team with Osuna on the mound and wishing the front office didn’t lack the common sense God gave a turnip when dealing for a woman abuser when they could have had a late-game reliever who wasn’t one.
“It would be great if this was a case of the Astros committing to an organizational overhaul in response to not just what Taubman did, but also what others around the ballclub did to protect this employee,” Fernandez observes of the Taubman firing. “But considering how much blowback had to occur before anything of substance happened, the Astros’ delay in acting responsibly should be remembered at least as much as the fact that they eventually did.”
Should be? It probably will be. Especially by Astro fans who wish with all their hearts that they had a front office their team can be proud of.