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Astros still must offer retraction, apology to Stephanie Apstein


Late last night, Stephanie Apstein of Sports Illustrated reported that assistant GM Brandon Taubman targeted a group of female journalists, yelling, “I’m so glad we got [Roberto] Osuna!” — the Astros’ closer who was suspended by Major League Baseball last year after being arrested in an alleged domestic violence incident — after the club walked off in the bottom of the ninth inning of ALCS Game 6 against the Yankees to advance into the World Series. Apstein’s report was corroborated by several other journalists including Hunter Atkins of the Houston Chronicle, Hannah Keyser of Yahoo Sports, as well as two anonymous sources that spoke to The Athletic’s Jake Kaplan. Furthermore, dozens of journalists vouched for Apstein’s credibility and reporting skills.

Apstein offered the Astros the opportunity to comment before publishing her report, but the team declined. Once Sports Illustrated published the report, the Astros responded angrily, putting out a public statement in which they called Apstein’s reporting “misleading and completely irresponsible.” The Astros falsely claimed that “an Astros player was being asked questions about a difficult outing” and said that “our executive was supporting the player during a difficult time.” The statement ended with the organization expressing disappointment that SI would “attempt to fabricate a story where one does not exist.”

Chandler Rome of the Houston Chronicle reported that, according to two eyewitnesses who were present during the postgame celebration, Taubman was “holding a cigar and standing with two or three other men when he yelled his comments.” Furthermore, there were no players in the area and no interviews were being conducted, which directly contradicts the Astros’ claim.

NPR’s David Folkenflik reports that Taubman was indeed targeting the group of female journalists, one of whom was wearing a purple bracelet in support of domestic violence awareness. He was aware of her tweets about domestic violence and complained about them last year.

To further add to this background, before Taubman worked for the Astros, he worked for Ernst and Young, a multinational professional services firm. Ernst and Young was the subject of a Huffington Post report published yesterday in which it was revealed that women who worked for E&Y were instructed on how to dress and act nicely around men. The behavior of Taubman, having come from a sexist business culture, is even less surprising in that context.

Astros owner and chairman Jim Crane offered a statement on Tuesday which still did not offer an apology on behalf of the organization. Taubman did apologize, saying, “This past Saturday, during our clubhouse celebration, I used inappropriate language for which I am deeply sorry and embarrassed.” Sadly, Tabuman’s statement continued which only served to diminish said apology.

Manager A.J. Hinch, put in a nearly unwinnable position by his team’s bumbling front office and P.R. department, spoke to the press on Tuesday to address the issue. He said, “It’s unfortunate, it’s uncalled for. I take everything that happens in the clubhouse to heart. I think we all need to be better across the board, in the industry.”

Here’s where we’re at: Apstein’s report has not only been vouched for by other journalists who were there and eyewitnesses, but Taubman himself admitted to the reported behavior. Thus, it is absolutely true that the Astros lied. They smeared Apstein by calling her reporting “misleading and completely irresponsible” and accused her of trying to “fabricate a story.” They have not retracted their misleading statement nor publicly apologized to Apstein and Sports Illustrated. They must do so. That is the bare minimum requirement and they have yet to meet it.

The Baseball Writers Association of America issued a statement saying that the organization “is alarmed and dismayed by the actions of the Houston Astros and their public relations department in reaction to Sports Illustrated’s report.” The BBWAA insisted on “a public apology to the media outlets involved — particularly Stephanie Apstein, Sports Illustrated, and the BBWAA — should be forthcoming from the Astros, Jim Crane, Anita Sehgal, Gene Dias, and Brandon Taubman.” Sehgal is the Astros’ senior vice president of marketing and communications. Dias is the Astros’ vice president of media relations.

If the Astros aren’t held to account for their nefarious treatment of the press, it will only embolden other teams to act similarly to avoid accountability themselves. It will begin a breakdown of the relationship between teams and the media. That would be immeasurably bad for the sport, but it would be great for the Wall Street and Ivy League types multiplying in front offices across baseball to spread their “profit at all costs” gospel. A schism would justify, to them, their already-established mistrust of the media and a subsequent blacking out. The Astros already tried it this year. Let’s not give 29 other billion-dollar businesses under an antitrust exemption the power to do the same.

Rob Manfred explains reasoning behind proposal to cut 42 minor league teams

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As we learned earlier this week, Major League Baseball wants to contract 42 minor league teams, mostly in short-season and rookie ball. The proposal earned a lot of backlash, including from some of the teams on the chopping block and from Congress. MLB responded with its own letter to Congress, written by deputy commissioner Dan Halem, explaining the league’s reasoning.

In the letter, Halem complains about the lack of competition between minor league teams and independent teams. Halem wrote, “The lack of competition among operators of teams for an affiliation with a Major League Club has reduced the incentive for some affiliated Minor League teams to improve their facilities and player amenities.” It is an interesting thing to write as someone representing a $10 billion business that has benefited for a century from an antitrust exemption.

Halem also noted that MLB has several goals that are supposedly attained by cutting 26 percent of the minors: ensuring the quality of the facilities for the players, reducing the travel burden, improving the “compensation, accommodations, and amenities” for players, improving the affiliation process between minor league and major league teams.

Commissioner Rob Manfred essentially echoed that sentiment on Thursday, per Newsday’s Laura Albanese. He gave four reasons behind the proposal: inadequate facilities, travel, poor pay, drafting and signing players who don’t have a realistic shot to make it to the majors. The last reason is a new one, but let’s go over those four reasons in context.

It is true that some, perhaps even most, of the facilities of the 42 named teams are inadequate. It’s not all of them. As NECN’s Jack Thurston reports, the owner of the short-season Lowell Spinners, Dave Heller, said that his team’s stadium is “arguably the best facility in the New York-Penn League,” speaking highly of its lighting and field conditions. The Quad Cities River Bandits, the Astros’ Single-A affiliate and also on the chopping block, renovated their stadium a handful of times over the last 12 years. In fact, it earned an award from for “Best Ballpark Improvement” in both 2008 and ’09, and finished third in the 2018 running for “Best View in the Minors.” At any rate, if facility quality is such a big issue, why did the Athletics continue to play in a stadium that repeatedly had its sewage system overflow in 2013?

Travel is certainly a big issue for minor leaguers because they mostly travel by bus, not plane. Having teams located closer to each other would be more beneficial in this regard. Or — and hear me out, here — major league teams could take on the extra expenditure of paying for their minor leaguers’ airfare. Several years ago, the Phillies took on the extra expenditure of making sure their minor leaguers ate healthy food and that has worked out well. The Blue Jays took on the extra expenditure of giving their minor leaguers a pay raise and that has worked out well. The Red Sox took on the extra expenditure of installing a sleep room at Fenway Park to ensure their players were well-rested and that has worked out well. No one is suggesting that Single-A players have to fly first class on every flight, but the travel issue is an easy fix that doesn’t require contracting 42 teams. Teams have individually chosen to improve their players’ quality of life and it has yielded positive results. Imagine it on a league-wide scale for thousands of players in their formative years.

Manfred citing minor league pay as a basis for the proposal is laughable. His own league successfully lobbied Congress to amend language in the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, classifying minor league players as seasonal workers. That means they are not entitled to a minimum wage or overtime pay, among other worker protections. If the pay of minor league players was so important to Major League Baseball, it wouldn’t have pressured the government to legally ensure they didn’t have to pay them a living wage. Every baseball team is worth at least a billion dollars. The league has set year-over-year revenue records for 16 consecutive years, crossing $10 billion in 2018. Minor leaguers could be compensated well without robbing Peter to pay Paul.

Lastly, it is true that a majority of minor league players will never reach the major leagues. That doesn’t mean that their presence in the minor leagues or their effort to realize their dreams have zero value. Lopping off the bottom 26 percent of minor leaguers might nominally increase the level of skill on each roster, but it eliminates so many jobs — well over 1,000. Furthermore, there are few incentives for athletes to want to slog through several years of the minors as it is, as Kyler Murray recently showed, but there would be even fewer incentives by shrinking the minors (and, consequently, the draft). Shrinking the minors and the draft could lead to more minor league free agents, but if baseball is actually interested in a free market (it’s not) then it should abolish the draft entirely as well as the arbitration system.

These reasons, each uniquely fallacious, hide the real reason behind the proposal: shifting money around so Major League Baseball can say it will award pay raises to minor leaguers, ending a years-long stretch of bad P.R., without actually cutting into profits. MLB could have afforded to pay minor leaguers a living wage years ago and it chose not to. MLB could have chosen not to lobby Congress for the ability to continue underpaying minor leaguers years ago, but it chose to do so. Everything since has been the league trying to avoid lying in the bed it made for itself.