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.