Two truisms: There is no shortage of jerks in professional sports, and no shortage of teams willing to tolerate their behavior to win.
Lately, though, Major League Baseball added a disturbing corollary to this: Acquiring a player with a domestic violence history as a cost-saving strategy. That’s why the American League champion Houston Astros — currently contesting the World Series with the Washington Nationals — traded for closer Roberto Osuna, a 2017 All-Star whom the Toronto Blue Jays wisely chose to unload last season when MLB suspended him 75 games for violating baseball’s domestic violence policy.
Osuna was arrested in Toronto in May 2018 for allegedly assaulting the mother of his 3-year-old child. When she decided against returning to Toronto from Mexico to testify, prosecutors withdrew the assault charge in exchange for Osuna agreeing to the Canadian equivalent of a restraining order, avoiding contact with the woman for a year and continuing counseling. By then, the Astros had acquired Osuna for three players, none a star — a bargain for an established young closer who can’t be a free agent until after the 2021 season.
When people in Houston criticized the deal, Astros officials said the right things about second chances and pledged more than $300,000 to domestic violence causes. Still, it’s an awful look for a club whose fan base includes, ahem, women. That look worsened in the ninth inning of Game 6 of the American League Championship Series with the Yankees, when both teams brought in relievers with domestic violence histories — Osuna and Yanks lefty Aroldis Chapman, who served a 30-game MLB suspension in 2016 for allegedly choking his girlfriend and firing a handgun eight times into a garage wall at a party at his home in Florida.
Neither was particularly effective, Osuna allowing a game-tying two-run homer to DJ LeMahieu, and Chapman giving up the series-clinching home run to Jose Altuve. Karma, right? Then in Houston’s postgame clubhouse celebration, assistant general manager Brandon Taubman taunted three woman reporters, one wearing a purple rubber domestic violence awareness bracelet, repeatedly saying, “Thank God we got Osuna! I’m so f—— glad we got Osuna!” Multiple witnesses corroborated the account by Stephanie Apstein of Sports illustrated after the Astros accused Apstein of making it up. It took four days for the Astros to finally fire Taubman, a period when the organization embarrassed itself with each passing day.
Here’s the thing with truly despicable people: They can’t admit when they’re wrong, and never know when to shut up.
According to National Public Radio, Taubman previously complained about the reporter with the bracelet tweeting phone numbers for domestic violence hotlines when Osuna pitched. (Bully for her. Any club that honestly supports victims of domestic violence shouldn’t object to this.)
And when the Astros finally released an apology of sorts from Taubman, who worked in finance before joining the Astros in 2013 as an operations analyst, it should have ended after the first two sentences: “This past Saturday, during our clubhouse celebration, I used inappropriate language for which I am deeply sorry and embarrassed. In retrospect, I realized that my comments were unprofessional and inappropriate.” Instead, Taubman went on to claim his words were “misinterpreted” (how?), lauded himself as a husband and father, and finished off with the textbook non-apology apology: “I am sorry IF anyone was offended by my actions.” (Emphasis mine.)
Absent from the statements by Taubman and owner Jim Crane: Any acknowledgment that the club’s initial claim of SI fabricating the story was false, and an apology to Apstein and SI. The apology finally came Thursday in the statement announcing Taubman’s firing, but the Astros somehow botched that too. At a press briefing in Washington, Houston general manager Jeff Luhnow wouldn’t say who was responsible for the statement attacking Apstein and SI. Asked if he personally contacted any of the women Taubman taunted, Luhnow said he hadn’t had time. Apstein was sitting in the room when Luhnow spoke.
Oh, and here’s the kicker to top it all: This is National Domestic Violence Awareness month.
If you’re wondering how a club could employ an executive with so little common sense, and how its media relations team could mangle crisis management so badly, it’s because…well, they’re the Astros, one of baseball’s most arrogant and tone-deaf organizations. Scouts and executives from other clubs begrudgingly respect the Astros for their analytics-based success, but privately gripe about their smarmy, we’re-smarter-than-you attitude. Paranoia over the Astros stealing signs and deducing how pitchers tip off pitches — both time-honored MLB practices — add to the dislike.
This is a club that in last year’s World Series had a player, Yuri Gurriel, stretch his eyes and mouth an Asian slur in Spanish after homering off Japanese pitcher Yu Darvish of the Dodgers. (Gurriel apologized, Darvish forgave him, but MLB still suspended him five games.) This is a club that allegedly tried to get then-Houston Chronicle writer Evan Drellich taken off the beat a few years ago, and temporarily blocked Detroit Free Press writer Anthony Fenech from entering the clubhouse in August to interview Justin Verlander, a former Detroit Tiger who had a longstanding beef with Fenech. In the latter case, MLB said the Astros violated club/media regulations but never announced any discipline.
Thankfully, none of the Twin Cities pro teams behave like this. The Astros get away with it because Houston is the southern tier of flyover country and usually draws scant national attention. Until now.
So if you’re looking for a team to root for as the World Series continues this weekend, here’s a tip: Take the one with the three former Twins and the four Racing Presidents. Not the Astros. Rest assured, you won’t be alone.