The Astros fired assistant general manager Brandon Taubman on Thursday. This came several days after Sports Illustrated’s Stephanie Apstein reported that Taubman targeted a group of three female reporters, yelling, “Thank God we got [Roberto] Osuna!” following the Astros’ ALCS Game 6 victory over the Yankees. Osuna had blown the save in the top of the ninth inning only for the Astros to walk off on José Altuve’s two-run home run. Osuna, you may recall, was suspended 75 games last year after being arrested by Toronto police and charged with assault in a domestic violence incident involving the mother of his son.
As we later found out, Taubman did not like one of the reporters in particular. Last year, he had complained about her tweets in which she provided the phone number for domestic violence hotlines, NPR’s David Folkenflik reported.
Nevertheless, when Apstein’s report came out, the Astros very quickly refuted it. They called Apstein’s reporting “misleading and completely irresponsible” and accused SI of attempting to “fabricate a story where one does not exist.” At the same time, several other reporters vouched for the veracity of Apstein’s report.
The Astros also said in their initial statement that “an Astros player was being asked questions about a difficult outing,” and said that Taubman’s exclamation was in support of said player “during a difficult time.” That turned out to be a falsehood. The Houston Chronicle’s Chandler Rome reported that no interviews were taking place at the time. Taubman was smoking a cigar and standing with two or three other men at the time he uttered his pro-Osuna sentiment.
GM Jeff Luhnow spoke to the media on Thursday following Taubman’s dismissal. It did not go well. Luhnow admitted to seeing the Astros’ initial statement, which discredited Apstein, before it went public. He wouldn’t reveal who wrote the statement, though he did say a group of people were involved, according to the Houston Chronicle’s Chandler Rome. Luhnow said the statement “should have never been sent.”
Luhnow said that the issue “is not endemic” and “is not a cultural issue.” He added that the behavior was “out of character” for Taubman. Luhnow said the truth of the situation was “devastating” to learn, per Chelsea Janes of the Washington Post. Centering himself as the victim, Luhnow said, “I wouldn’t wish it on anyone in this room, just like I wouldn’t wish it on anyone in this room to sit up here and answer these questions, either.”
Luhnow was asked if he had reached out to Apstein to personally apologize. Per Janes, Luhnow said he hadn’t and blamed it on traveling and having a tough conversation with Taubman earlier. As Hazel Mae noted, Apstein was sitting in the room as Luhnow said those words.
It’s also worth noting in the Astros’ statement following the firing of Taubman, the club did apologize to Apstein and Sports Illustrated, but only for Taubman’s behavior. That part of the statement read, “We sincerely apologize to Stephanie Apstein, Sports Illustrated and to all individuals who witnessed this incident or were offended by the inappropriate conduct.” They never apologized or even mentioned their statement in which they discredited Apstein and SI.
This is not the first time Luhnow has bungled an Osuna-related situation. After the Astros acquired Osuna last summer, Luhnow released a statement in which he called the Astros’ due diligence on Osuna “unprecedented.” He said the Astros were confident that “Osuna is remorseful, has willfully complied with all consequences related to his past behavior, and has proactively engaged in counseling.” Luhnow also referenced the Astros’ “zero tolerance policy related to abuse of any kind.” It was quite the statement because there hadn’t been any examples — and there still aren’t any — of Osuna publicly showing remorse for the alleged incident. He couldn’t have “willfully complied with all consequences related to his past behavior” because he hadn’t been in court yet. And the Astros’ couldn’t have had a “zero tolerance policy related to abuse” if they’re acquiring Osuna in the first place.
Luhnow emphasized today that the Taubman saga “is not endemic” and “not a cultural issue.” But it is. Taubman, who was at his place of employment, wouldn’t have yelled, “Thank God we got Osuna!” unless he felt like it was a defensible thing to say to a group of women, at least one of whom he clearly did not like. He wouldn’t have yelled it at church or in front of a classroom full of kids on “Career Day.” But at his job, surrounded by colleagues, in front of reporters he doesn’t respect? Working for an organization that went to great lengths to acquire and then defend said acquisition of Osuna? Taubman must have felt like he was untouchable. Taubman is the symptom, not the disease. A healthy, prosocial organization wouldn’t have given him the confidence and entitlement to say what he said.