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Astros fire Brandon Taubman

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The Houston Astros announced late this afternoon that they have fired Assistant General Manager Brandon Taubman.

In the statement announcing Taubman’s termination the team admitted that their initial denial of Taubman’s acts — an aggressive denial which cast Sports Illustrated reporter Stephanie Apstein’s report as “misleading and completely irresponsible” — was wrong, and offered a specific apology to Apstein. “We were wrong,” the team said, and confirmed that Taubman’s comments following last Saturday night’s ALCS victory were aimed at “one or more reporters.” Notably, they did not specifically say why they were apologizing to Apstein (i.e. that they accused her of fabricating the story). I guess they’re still trying to figure this out.

Those comments, you’ll recall, were “Thank god we got Osuna! I’m so [expletive] glad we got Osuna!” Referring to Astros reliever Roberto Osuna. They came after Taubman had reportedly made multiple complaints about the reporter taking issue with the Astros’ acquisition of Osuna in the wake of his domestic violence suspension last year. The Astros said “[Taubman’s] conduct does not reflect the values of our organization and we believe this is the most appropriate course of action.”

The fact that it took this long to get here — and, really, that even got this far at all — is quite remarkable.

If, in the wake of the incident being reported on Monday night, the Astros had simply said that they, as an organization, do not endorse the values reflected in the report and that they intended to investigate the matter, there’s a pretty good chance it dies down and Taubman keeps his job with, perhaps, a suspension or a fine.

The fact that the team, instead, lashed out at Apstein as it did placed a gigantic magnifying glass on the matter and made a heck of a lot more people pay attention to it than otherwise might have. When they did, it caused many to relitigate the acquisition of Osuna and the Astros’ comments around that time and to the present day. As late as today there even were articles being written scrutinizing the team’s owner, Jim Crane, and his past as well, casting a harsh light on virtually all aspects of the organization. Such a thing never would’ve happened if this had been merely about Taubman rather than the Astros and their bizarrely aggressive response on Monday.

And, to be sure, I don’t think this settles the matter completely. Who was behind that response on Monday night anyway? Who approved going after a reporter in an effort to ruin her career by accusing her of fabricating a story. I’ve read a lot of team statements in my time and I can tell you that that was not the sort of thing that would be casually issued by a mid-level media relations employee. Someone high up no doubt decided that the aggressive tack — and now, confirmed, false tack — was the best move. If it was someone other than Taubman, they too should be accountable. If it was Taubman, the question remains why the subject of a controversy was allowed to author the team’s response to the controversy.

But we are here and, thankfully, the Astros have finally done at least part of what they needed to do a couple of days ago: hold Taubman accountable for his conduct and apologize for the team’s conduct in falsely accusing a reporter of fabricating a story. However broadly and vaguely they did it.

Here is the team’s statement:

Scott Boras: Astros players don’t need to apologize

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Ken Rosenthal spoke to Scott Boras about the Astros’ sign-stealing scandal. Boras’ take: the Astros need not apologize for what they did. They were mere babes in the woods who were ignorant of everything. I wish I was making this up. Scotty Baby:

“I’m doing what my organization is telling me to do,” Boras said on Wednesday, describing the hypothetical mindset of a player. “You installed this. You put this in front of us. Coaches and managers encourage you to use the information. It is not coming from the player individually. It is coming from the team. In my stadium. Installed. With authority.”

The analogy Boras used was the speed limit.

A man driving 55 mph in a 35-mph zone only believes he is speeding if the limit is clearly posted. Likewise, Boras said Astros’ players who committed infractions only should apologize if they were properly informed of their boundaries.

It’s worth noting two things at this juncture: (1) Scott Boras represents José Altuve and Lance McCullers; and (2) He’s 100% full of crap here. Indeed, the contortions Astros players and their surrogates are putting themselves through to avoid accountability is embarrassing.

The players knew what they were doing.  Please do not insult me by saying they didn’t. Boras is doing what he thinks he needs to do to protect his guys. I get it, that’s his job. His client Altuve in particular stepped on it last weekend when he and other Astros players tried to play the “we’re going to overcome this adversity/no one believed in us” card which played terribly, and the super agent is trying to clean up the mess as best he can. Hat tip to him for his hustle, which he has never not shown. Guy’s a pro.

But he can only do so much because this all remains on the Astros’ players. Yes, the formal punishment is on the manager, the general manager and the club, and I agree that it had to be given all of the complications of the situation, but now that that’s over, it’s time for some honest accountability. And we’re getting zero of it.

Which is insane because the players were given immunity. They’re 100% in the clear. That they cheated has angered a lot of people, but it does not make them irredeemable. As I have noted here many times, lots of others did too. But their lack of accountability over the past couple of weeks speaks very, very poorly of them.

“We crossed a line. No question. We’re sorry. We don’t think it caused us to win anything we didn’t earn, but we see how we created that perception ourselves through our own actions. We shouldn’t have done that. Going forward we’re going to be better. Again, we’re sorry.”

That’s about all it’d take and it’d be done. It’d be pretty easy to say, if for no other reason than because that’s probably what’s gone through their minds anyway. They’re not bad people.

But they’re also observers of America in 2020 and, I suspect, everything they’ve seen, consciously or unconsciously, has counseled against them saying those very simple words or something like them.

Everything that’s going on in America right now — politics especially — tells people that the path to success is to cheat, steal and lie in order to benefit themselves and themselves only. It’s also telling them that, if they get caught, they should lie and deny too. It works. The media, for the most part, will not call anyone of status out on a lie, even if the lie is ridiculous. At most it will repeat the denial like a stenographer reading back from a transcript fearing that to do any more would be to — gasp! — reveal an opinion. “Shlabotnik says that he was cloned by Tralfamadorians and it was his clone, not him, who stole the signs.” Heaven forbid someone add the word “falsely” in there. They won’t because if they do they’re going to be accused of being “biased” or “political” or whatever.

If you see that — and we all see it — why wouldn’t you be predisposed to avoid apologizing for anything? Why wouldn’t you try to offer some canned, facially neutral talking points and hope that everyone is satisfied that you’ve spoken? Why wouldn’t you, having done that for a few weeks, begin to believe that, actually, you’re right not do say anything more. And  that, maybe, you were never in the wrong at all? That’s were we are as a country now, that’s for sure. And given that sports reflects society, it should not be at all surprising that that attitude has infected sports as well.

Astros owner Jim Crane tells Rosenthal that there could be an apology in spring training. “Quite frankly, we’ll apologize for what happened, ask forgiveness and move forward,” Crane said.

One thing I’ve learned in life is that when someone says “quite frankly,” what follows is going to be insincere most of the time. Another thing I’ve learned is that, in comments such as Crane’s, the emphasis is strongly on the “move forward” part of things. He wants an apology to put an end to a bad news cycle. When it comes, it will be P.R.-vetted and couched in the most sterile and corporate language imaginable. It will be anything but sincere.

In the meantime, the rest of the Astros don’t seem to want to offer an apology at all. Why should they? What’s making them?