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Astros continue to trip over themselves justifying Roberto Osuna acquisition


Last Monday, the Astros sent reliever Ken Giles and minor leaguers David Paulino and Hector Perez to the Blue Jays in exchange for Roberto Osuna. Osuna was in the midst of serving a 75-game suspension for a domestic violence incident in May. Osuna was arrested by Toronto police and charged with assault against his girlfriend. His next court date is scheduled in September.

The Astros’ decision to acquire Osuna was controversial for obvious reasons. GM Jeff Luhnow made things worse by releasing a statement that was facile and, frankly, insulting to those who care about the issue of domestic violence. In a statement he released, he said the Astros have a “zero tolerance policy related to abuse of any kind.” Which, if it was actually zero tolerance, would have precluded the team from acquiring Osuna in the first place. Luhnow also mentioned that Osuna “has willfully complied with all consequences related to his past behavior” but that was before his court date last week. The case is still ongoing, so to say that Osuna has “complied with all consequences” is just not true.

The Astros continued to trip over themselves justifying the Osuna acquisition as the club issued another statement. Part of it read, “Our decision to acquire Roberto was based on the entirety of information that we gathered during our extensive evaluation. That included as much information as we could gather about the specific incident and the charges that were filed but it also included as much information as we could gather about his actions before and after the incident, as well as his personal reputation among his former teammates and coaches. The information regarding this specific incident weighted heavily on our decision but when evaluating the entirety of the information, we felt that Roberto deserved a second chance.”

Why is Osuna’s “personal reputation among his former teammates and coaches” relevant? Plenty of horrible people were considered nice and honorable by their friends, family, coworkers, neighbors, etc. How many people came out after the allegations against Bill Cosby to say something like, “He was always such a nice guy. He would never do anything like that.” People act differently around different people, especially when a power imbalance is involved. How Osuna’s former teammates and coaches view him has absolutely no bearing on whether or not he’s a domestic abuser.

Secondly, the statement uses the phrase “second chance.” That phrase implies guilt, that he did something wrong to blow his first chance. Even ignoring that, though, why is Osuna — or anyone for that matter — worthy of a second chance? Osuna has maintained his innocence the whole time, so it’s not like he has admitted fault and made great strides to make things right. He has complied with MLB’s domestic violence program which was not optional and has otherwise done nothing.

Later in the statement, the Astros say, “This was an extremely difficult decision for our organization. … We are strong believers in protecting the rights of victims and remain committed to having a positive impact on our community. We will use this decision to significantly increase our support, raise awareness, and influence change regarding the issues of domestic violence and abuse of any kind. We have engaged with Houston Area Women’s Center, Texas Council on Family Violence, and National Network to End Domestic Violence and look forward to working with them.”

If the Astros were truly “strong believers in protecting the rights of victims,” they would have, at minimum, waited for Osuna’s case to resolve in the Canadian court system. To go above and beyond, they could have tried to work with the alleged victim. (Oftentimes victims don’t want to cooperate because reliving the experience can be triggering and/or they fear more retribution from their abuser.) The Astros could have reached out to the aforementioned organizations before the public backlash to determine whether or not trading for an alleged domestic abuser sends a good or a bad message to victims. This comes off as, “We want to have our cake and eat it, too. We name-checked some DV organizations so it looks like we actually care about the issue of domestic violence within baseball. Osuna throw ball hard.”

The foot-in-mouth syndrome didn’t stop there, however. Per Chandler Rome of the Houston Chronicle, Luhnow said, “I think the conversation is incredibly important and valuable. There are a lot of components to the conversation — and we do need to have it. It’s a sticky conversation with any sort of alleged abuse, the topic of domestic violence. There’s also some related topics of condemning someone with no information, and I see a lot of that out there. There’s not a lot of people who have a lot of real information about what happened or who the person is and yet they’re pretty quick to judge and condemn. That’s something we need to be careful of.”

This is tremendously condescending. Luhnow certainly is privy to certain information that writers and fans are not. But Luhnow doesn’t have the most crucial piece of information: a verdict. That won’t come until at least next month. Luhnow hasn’t reviewed security footage, interviewed witnesses, talked with the victim. He has talked to Osuna and Osuna’s former colleagues.

Luhnow continued, saying, “I understand there’s people who don’t want this, don’t support this. We’ve done everything we can to gather the information and make the best decision for the organization. We feel comfortable giving Roberto a second chance. And, long term, we’re going to have to prove whether this works or not by what happens on the field and what happens off the field.”

There’s that “second chance” again. You don’t get a “second chance” if you’re innocent, right? You’re still on your first chance. The Astros’ messaging here is a little unclear due to their use of that phrase combined with their insistence that Osuna did nothing wrong. Luhnow also says the acquisition will have been proven to work, partially, “by what happens on the field.” No. Osuna posting a low ERA and nailing down some postseason saves won’t help justify the trade. It will be justified if he is deemed innocent by a judge. That’s about it.

Manager A.J. Hinch said, via ESPN’s Alden Gonzalez, “We really don’t know what to think or what to say or what to do and how to absorb all of this, but it’s right in front of us, and we will do our best as a team and as a family and as a group to help him navigate through this; to help ourselves navigate through this.” Hinch continued, “Make no bones about it — domestic violence allegations are bad. Domestic violence is bad. All of us as humans know that and believe that. And so we have to figure out a way to separate those feelings versus the additional opportunity he is getting on our club.”

Why do we have to “separate those feelings”? Baseball is not a separate reality from real life. Baseball intersects with so many aspects of our culture, including politics and interpersonal relationships. How we treat athletes accused of doing terrible things speaks to how we view that particular issue as a society. Do we value the dignity and safety of women more than a baseball player’s ability to throw baseballs well? Based on historical precedent, the answer is no, which is why “All of us as humans know [domestic violence is bad] and believe that” is untrue. If that were the case, we wouldn’t even be having this discussion.

The Astros should just drop the pretense and instead admit, “We honestly don’t care what Osuna did because he’s a good pitcher and he can help us win games.” They keep tripping over themselves trying to justify bringing Osuna into the fold. Save us all the trouble of having to respond to these disingenuous statements.

Whitewash: Rob Manfred says he doesn’t think sign stealing extends beyond the Astros

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Rob Manfred said today that he believes the sign-stealing scandal which has taken over the news in the past week does not extend beyond the Houston Astros. His exact words, via Jeff Passan of ESPN:

“Right now, we are focused on the information that we have with respect to the Astros. I’m not going to speculate on whether other people are going to be involved. We’ll deal with that if it happens, but I’m not going to speculate about that. I have no reason to believe it extends beyond the Astros at this point in time.”

This is simply incredible. As in literally not credible.

It’s not credible because, just last week, in the original story in The Athletic, it was reported that the Astros system was set up by two players, one of whom was “a hitter who was struggling at the plate and had benefited from sign stealing with a previous team, according to club sources . . . they were said to strongly believe that some opposing teams were already up to no good. They wanted to devise their own system in Houston. And they did.”

The very next day Passan reported that Major League Baseball would not limit its focus to the Astros. Rather, the league’s probe was also include members of the 2019 Astros and would extend to other teams as well. Passan specifically mentioned the 2018 Red Sox which, of course, were managed by Alex Cora one year after he left Houston, where he was A.J. Hinch’s bench coach.

Add into this the Red Sox’ pre-Cora sign-stealing with Apple Watches and widespread, informed speculation on the part of players and people around the game that many teams do this sort of thing, and one can’t reasonably suggest that only the Houston Astros are doing this.

Which, as I noted at the time, made perfect sense. These schemes cannot, logically, operate in isolation because players and coaches change teams constantly. In light of this, players have to know that their sign-stealing would be found out by other teams eventually. They continue to do it, however, because they know other teams do it too. As is the case with pitchers using pine tar or what have you, they don’t rat out the other team so they, themselves, will not be ratted out. It’s a mutually-assured destruction that only exists and only works if, in fact, other teams are also stealing signs.

So why is Major League Baseball content to only hang the Astros here? I can think of two reasons.

One is practical. They had the Astros fall in their lap via former Astro Mike Fiers — obviously not himself concerned with his current team being busted for whatever reason — going on the record with his accusation. That’s not likely to repeat itself across baseball and thus it’d be quite difficult for Major League Baseball to easily conduct a wide investigation. Who is going to talk? How can baseball make them talk? It’d be a pretty big undertaking.

But there’s also the optics. Major League Baseball has had a week to think about the report of the Astros sign-stealing and, I suspect, they’ve realized, like everyone else has realized, that this is a major scandal in the making. Do they really want to spend the entire offseason — and longer, I suspect, if they want a thorough investigation — digging up unflattering news about cheating in the sport? Do they really want to be in the bad news creation business? I doubt they do, so they decided to fence off the Astros, hit them hard with penalties, declare victory and move on.

Which is to say, it’s a whitewash.

It’s something the league has tried to do before. They did it with steroids and it didn’t work particularly well.

In 1998 Mark McGwire, that game’s biggest star at the time, was found to have the PED androstenedione in his locker. It was a big freakin’ deal. Except . . . nothing happened. Major League Baseball planned to “study” the drug but most of the fallout was visited upon the reporter who made it public. It was accompanied by some shameful conduct by both Major League Baseball and the baseball press corps who eagerly went after the messenger rather than cover the story properly.

Four years later Ken Caminiti and Jose Canseco went public with their PED use and said drug use was widespread. MLB’s response was slow and, again, sought to isolated the known offenders, singling out Caminiti as a troubled figure — which he was — and Canseco as a kook — which he kind of is — but doing them and the story a disservice all the same.

The league eventually created a rather toothless testing and penalty regime. Congress and outside investigative reporters filled the void created by the league’s inaction, calling hearings and publishing damning stories about how wide PED use was in the game. Eventually Bud Selig commissioned the Mitchell Report. Some ten years after the McGwire incident baseball had at least the beginnings of a sane approach to PEDs and a more effective testing plan, but it was pulled to it kicking and screaming, mostly because doing anything about it was too hard and not very appetizing from a business and P.R. perspective.

And so here we are again. Baseball has a major scandal on its hands. After some initially promising words about how serious it planned to take it, the league seems content to cordon off the known crime scene and refuses to canvass the neighborhood. Sure, if someone gratuitously hands them evidence they’ll look into it, but it sure sounds like Rob Manfred plans to react rather than act here.

That should work. At least until the next time evidence of cheating comes up and they have to start this all over again.