At some point during the World Series this week against the Nationals, Houston Astros pitcher Roberto Osuna will step out of the bullpen and take the mound in a big situation.
A top-flight closer with 38 saves and an 2.43 ERA, Osuna is only in Houston because the Astros were willing to deal with the optics of acquiring an accused domestic abuser while he was suspended 75 games by Major League Baseball in 2018 for violating the league’s Joint Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault and Child Abuse policy.
They traded a struggling relief pitcher and two minor-league pitchers to the Toronto Blue Jays and got an elite talent in return. Now, the butcher’s bill has come due and the organization is refusing to pay the price.
Sports Illustrated reporter Stephanie Apstein reported Monday night that during the locker room celebration after Houston clinched the American League pennant on Saturday, assistant general manager Brandon Taubman repeatedly yelled in the direction of three reporters, all women, his profane support of Osuna.
What an odd thing to do. Taubman knows Osuna’s history, he knows how controversial that trade was at the time. To the reporters who witnessed the outburst it seemed “shocking” Apstein told the Washington Post in a phone interview.
Osuna had almost just blown Houston’s season when he allowed a two-run home run in the top of the ninth inning against the Yankees in Game 6. If New York rallied to win, there was to be a winner-take-all Game 7 on Sunday. That didn’t happen thanks to Jose Altuve’s game-ending two-run homer in the bottom of the ninth.
“Thank God we got Osuna! I’m so [expletive] glad we got Osuna,” Apstein quoted Taubman shouting in her story. She was one of the three reporters he was allegedly talking to.
That’s where the story really goes off the rails. Apstein was going to write about the incident and said she wanted to talk to Taubman. An Astros media relations staffer denied the request, Apstein said. She wrote it anyway.
Late Monday, Houston put out a statement calling the story “misleading and completely irresponsible” and chastising Apstein for an “attempt to fabricate a story where one does not exist.”
In the Astros’ version, Taubman was simply voicing his support for Osuna as he answered questions after a rough game and not directing his comments at any reporters.
Except reporters from other outlets disputed that version immediately. Houston Chronicle reporter Hunter Atkins tweeted that he witnessed the exchange. So did Yahoo baseball writer Hannah Keyser. Osuna wasn’t answering questions in the immediate area, according to a witness quoted by the Chronicle. And Taubman did seem to be making a point yelling at the reporters, one of whom wore a bracelet in support of domestic violence awareness, according to the Sports Illustrated story.
So the team would not make Taubman available to clarify any misunderstanding and then called the reporter a liar. The organization went radio silent until Tuesday afternoon. On a day the Astros should have been focused on Game 1 of the World Series against the Nats, they spent the morning trying to put out a fire they ignited. It did not go well.
Official statements released by the organization were a cliché of the genre. Taubman was “deeply sorry and embarrassed” but still claims it was all misinterpreted. He is “a loving husband and father.” He is a “progressive and charitable member of the community.” And yet…”I am sorry if anyone was offended by my actions.”
Demi Lovato thinks that was a good statement. Sorry. Not sorry. Have we checked all the boxes? Refuse to clarify on the record when given the chance. Call the reporter a liar. Wait until the story creates an uproar and then hide like a coward behind a non-statement that clings to your self-appointed status as a good person and a dad. And at this point any media relations executive who puts “I am sorry if anyone was offended by my actions” into a statement should be fired on the spot. You are not helping.
It is all so very arrogant. Lots of nominally good people do and say stupid things they should apologize for. Lots of dads and husbands are terrible people. Lots of abusers are enabled by organizations – sports teams, businesses, political administrations – who care more about winning than about what is right.
Does everyone deserve a second chance? Sure. Osuna’s accuser, the mother of his then three-year-old son, left for her native Mexico and refused to testify against him in court in Canada. Charges were dropped there when Osuna paid a $500 peace bond. His lawyer insisted that his client was not admitting guilt.
But that’s exactly how domestic violence works. Victims often refuse to testify in court. They are the ones being abused, after all. There had been enough evidence for MLB to give that 75-game suspension. Domestic violence isn’t a mistake or a misunderstanding and it is not something a person or a team gets to push aside because it’s inconvenient or they don’t want to talk about it. And they sure as hell don’t get to gloat about how smart they are at recognizing it as a market inefficiency.
At least Astros manager A.J. Hinch had the ability and the sense to put the issue perspective during his pre-game press conference Tuesday.
“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,” Hinch said. “So I wasn't there. I don't know to the extent of what happened. I read, like everybody. I haven't talked to every single person in the organization, as you would expect. I've been knee-deep in the Washington Nationals. But I think we all need to be better across the board, in the industry. I understand why it's a question today, and I appreciate it. But I was disappointed.”
If that had been Houston’s initial response, maybe this firestorm of criticism is contained.
It is no small irony that the man who ultimately did blow Game 6 of the American League Championship Series was Yankees reliever Aroldis Chapman, a player with his own history of domestic violence. That caused heartburn when New York traded him to the Chicago Cubs in 2016 – less than a year after he was accused of choking his girlfriend and firing a gun into his garage wall eight times.
Chapman helped the Cubs win a World Series for the first time since 1908. The Yankees were so bothered by this that they signed him to a five-year, $86 million contract that offseason. They needed a closer, you see. Too often that is all that matters.
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