This is not a Houston Astros site, but the actions of Astros management now prompt me to write about the American League champions for a third time this week.
First, I wrote about the PR crisis they themselves created by accusing Sports Illustrated writer Stephanie Apstein of “fabricating” a story that turned out to be true about their assistant general manager Brandon Taubman.
Later in the week, they fired Taubman due to his actions, but even after that, they issued a half-hearted apology to Apstein and Astros GM Jeff Luhnow said at a news conference that he “hadn’t had time” to reach out to Apstein personally.
There was a problem with that:
Astros GM Jeff Luhnow was asked whether he had personally reached out to @stephapstein to apologize.— Hazel Mae (@thehazelmae) October 24, 2019
Luhnow said he’s been busy and hasn’t had the time.
Stephanie was sitting in the room.
Luhnow might have guessed that Apstein, a credentialed reporter, was at the news conference. He might have asked if she were there. She likely then would have identified herself, he could have personally apologized and this story would have been over.
But he didn’t.
Apstein and Luhnow did wind up speaking in person Friday before Game 3 of the World Series. This would have been another chance for Luhnow to apologize and retract the statement accusing Apstein of fabricating the story. Easy, right?
Stephanie Apstein met with Jeff Luhnow in the dugout just now. She asked for a retraction to the team’s first statement suggesting she fabricated her story. He didn’t commit to issuing one.— Ben Strauss (@benjstrauss) October 25, 2019
I mean, seriously, how hard is this? People can be very forgiving if apologies are given early and are heartfelt. The Astros have given lessons all week in how not to do this, and at this point, any apology given would likely be viewed as insincere.
I would commend everyone here to read this article by Jeff Passan at ESPN. It is a damning indictment of what appears to be a toxic management culture in Houston. First, the article details the sequence of events and the poor handling of four different statements issued by the Astros, none of which did what Joe Posnanski of The Athletic wrote in this tweet:
The Astros could have released this statement, you know. pic.twitter.com/R7wrusLyxV— Joe Posnanski (@JPosnanski) October 24, 2019
Now THAT is a good apology. Succinct, to the point, apologizes unconditionally, and if the Astros had done this within the first day or two after their self-caused crisis, you wouldn’t be reading this article. But they didn’t, and the reason is summed up in these two paragraphs from Passan:
When asked by the Astros about his behavior, Taubman had vociferously denied targeting the women. Another Astros employee backed his version of the story, sources say. The organization found the information compelling enough to forgo any further examination of the comments and their context, even though Taubman’s story contained clear logic gaps. It was, as one league source says, “the Astros being the Astros. They trust their people.”
For nearly eight years, Luhnow had fomented a culture that pitted the Astros against the baseball world. This cocoon protected Taubman, even if it meant ignoring the tenet of information that stabilized the operation. They believed him, with no proof beyond his word.
We likely have not heard the last of this, either, because the Astros still have not truly owned up to their behavior. From this vantage point, it really doesn’t appear that the Astros really understand how much wrong they’ve done here. Further, Passan writes:
Other consequences are coming. Taubman is likely to receive a suspension from MLB, sources say, which would go into effect if he ever gets another job in baseball. The organization could be handed a fine too, according to sources -- for Taubman’s behavior, for the first statement, or both.
A fine isn’t enough, really — the Astros can handle a fine. The league ought to penalize a draft pick or two, really make the organization hurt and understand how much shame they have brought upon the game at the exact time MLB ought to be celebrating its premier event, the World Series. It should be a penalty strong enough to discourage the Astros, or any other MLB team, from ever doing this sort of thing again.
I was rooting for the Nationals to win the World Series anyway, given that this is their first time there, plus the Cubs connection in their manager Dave Martinez. You’ll forgive me if I now hope the Astros get taken care of before the series goes back to Houston.