Views from Sparrow’s Nest: Astros and Taubman

In the midst of a busy sports week, from the beginning of basketball season to the NFL trade deadline to most notably the World Series, one piece of news that flew under the radar was the Houston Astros firing their assistant general manager. What should’ve been a time for celebration— the team stands just one win away from their second title in three years— is now an opportunity to reflect on how the organization handled the situation and what MLB needs to do to change the culture.

In a story published by Sports Illustrated last Monday, the day before Game 1 of the World Series, reporter Stephanie Apstein alleged that Brandon Taubman, the Astros’ assistant general manager shouted “Thank God we got Osuna! I’m so f—ing glad we got Osuna!” in front of a group of three female reporters. The actions happened on Saturday night in a champagne-filled clubhouse after the Astros defeated the Yankees to clinch their spot in the World Series.

The significance of Taubman’s comments stems from the player that he’s referencing, Astros closer Roberto Osuna. Osuna, one of the best young relievers in the game, had established himself as an All-Star in 2017 with the Toronto Blue Jays. However, on June 22, 2018, he was suspended by MLB for 75 games retroactive to May 8 after he was found to have violated the league’s domestic violence policy when he assaulted the mother of his 3-year-old child.

The context is also important to fully grasp the gravity of the situation. Taubman was heaping praise on Osuna following his worst performance of the postseason. Put into the game with the Astros just three outs from the World Series, Osuna gave up a game-tying two-run homer to New York Yankees second baseman DJ LeMahieu. While the Astros would walk it off on a home run by Jose Altuve in the bottom of the ninth, there wasn’t any reason to be applauding Osuna — he had nearly cost the Astros the game, and their season.

There’s no questioning the intentions of Taubman. One of the female reporters to which he addressed the comments wears a purple bracelet to raise awareness about domestic violence and had criticized the Astros for rostering Osuna. He was attempting to intimidate a group of female reporters by “supporting” a player who has a very public past of beating women. As shocking as Taubman’s behavior was, the response of the team was almost as disappointing.

Soon after the report surfaced, the Astros released a statement refuting the story by calling it “completely irresponsible” and arguing that Taubman was “supporting the player during a difficult time.” It wasn’t long before a number of journalists came forward corroborating Apstein’s story, adding more fuel to the fire. MLB pledged to open an investigation into the matter, but the tone of some Astros employees raised further questions. Manager AJ Hinch struck a more sympathetic tone by saying

“No one — it doesn’t matter if it’s a player, a coach, a manager, any of you members of the media — should ever feel like when you come into our clubhouse that you’re going to be uncomfortable or disrespected.” Taubman’s boss, General Manager Jeff Luhnow, seemed to defend his employee. “He hasn’t had this type of incident before,” Luhnow said. “This is not a repeating pattern of anything, which is why it was so easy for — one reason why it was so easy — for us to believe that it was more innocent than it turned out to be.”

The ax finally fell on Thursday. The Astros announced that they had gathered more information by interviewing members of the club who had been present at the festivities. As such, they confirmed that Taubman’s comments were directed at the female reporters. They apologized to Apstein and Sports Illustrated for repudiating the content of the story and fired Taubman because his “conduct does not reflect the values of our organization and we believe this is the most appropriate course of action.”

In just three days, the Astros went from vehemently denying any wrongdoing to firing their assistant general manager. How can the system change so that men like Taubman are held accountable from the outset and reporters like Apstein can feel comfortable doing their job without someone telling them they’re lying?

First of all, I think that we have to be more critical of the players themselves. I believe that people deserve a second chance, but only if their behavior merits it. Should Osuna ever run into trouble again, he should be banned for life, no questions asked. And I would never spend a dime of my own money purchasing a shirt that bears Osuna’s name.

We also should believe more women when they are speaking out against someone and not immediately discredit their stories (not to mention making sure that members of the front office don’t drink too much in the clubhouse while celebrating). Finally, it’s important that we believe journalists when they release a report. Nowadays, we can be hesitant to trust a source because of “fake news” and other allegations of the sort. The Astros tried to chalk this up to a reporter wanting to make up a story where there wasn’t one. They were wrong.