Astros’ fumbling apology tour was no accident

Alex Bregman and José Altuve
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A day after setting up a security presence and barring access from reporters at spring training on Wednesday, Astros owner Jim Crane, third baseman Alex Bregman, and second baseman José Altuve spoke publicly on Thursday to apologize for its illicit sign-stealing operation that resulted in a 2017 championship.

Crane, Altuve, and Bregman didn’t give what many would consider to be satisfactory apologies. Crane, unsurprisingly exonerated by MLB’s investigation, nullified any remorse he might have claimed to have shown by saying, “I don’t think I should be held accountable.” Altuve said the organization “feels bad” but did not use the word “sorry” or “apologize.” Bregman came the closest to an actual apology, but deferred to passive voice, saying, “I am really sorry about the choices that were made by my team, by the organization, and by me.”

This is not the first time the Astros have been monumentally terrible at apologizing. After defeating the Yankees in the ALCS, then-assistant GM Brandon Taubman taunted three female journalists, yelling, “Thank god we got [Roberto] Osuna! I’m so [expletive] glad we got Osuna!” Osuna, the team’s closer, was suspended in 2018 when he was with the Blue Jays after being arrested on a domestic violence charge. One of the reporters on the receiving end of Taubman’s rant, Stephanie Apstein, reported on the incident for Sports Illustrated. The Astros immediately responded by accusing Apstein’s report of being “misleading and completely irresponsible,” despite being backed up by other reporters. Taubman, who lost his job with the Astros, even admitted that the story was true.

Nearly an entire week passed until Crane retracted the Astros’ statement and publicly apologized to Apstein and Sports Illustrated. Crane said, “I assure you that the Houston Astros will learn from this experience.”

The Astros aren’t accidentally bad at apologizing. Rather, it’s quite intentional, and they’re not alone. Acting antisocially and showing no remorse for it is the American zeitgeist. Former Astros GM Jeff Luhnow used to work for McKinsey & Company, a management consulting firm that has been involved in a multitude of scandals, including Enron, supporting authoritarian regimes, insider trading, and racketeering. Luhnow brought in McKinsey consultants to work with the Astros’ front office. The culture Luhnow created was described in Major League Baseball’s investigation into their sign-stealing operation as “very problematic.” Commissioner Rob Manfred wrote, “At least in my view, the baseball operations department’s insular culture — one that valued and rewarded results over other considerations, combined with a staff of individuals who often lacked direction or sufficient oversight, led, at least in part, to the Brandon Taubman incident, the club’s admittedly inappropriate and inaccurate response to that incident, and finally, to an environment that allowed the conduct described in this report to have occurred.”

For as scathing as that may have read, the Astros got off easy. The league suspended Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch for one year, fined the organization $5 million (the maximum allowable fine), and rescinded the club’s top two draft picks in both 2020 and ’21. Notably, the club’s international spending was left untouched and Crane was exonerated in the report. That’s to be expected, of course, as Manfred works for the owners.

The Astros got to keep their 2017 championship. The players and staff got to keep their postseason shares — nearly $439,000 as opposed to roughly $260,000 for winning the pennant. The Astros got to keep all of the profits gained from increased advertising, ticket, merchandise, and concession sales, and from generally having an improved brand and reputation.

The Astros are a microcosm of our society. We do not create stiff enough penalties to discourage wrongdoing. The calculus always comes out in favor of acting immorally. If you don’t care about things like “healthy relationships” and “respect,” then you should always choose to cheat, to step on your opponents, to stab your allies in the back. The Astros are as cold and as calculating an organization as we have ever seen in the sport, perhaps in all of organized sports. Their fumbling apology tour today was no accident. They are not sorry, have never been sorry, and will never be sorry. If given the opportunity to redo how they handled things over the past few years, they would change nothing and act exactly the same all over again. But it’s not the Astros organization that needs to change. It’s us.

Biden praises Braves’ ‘unstoppable, joyful run’ to 2021 win

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
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WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden said the Atlanta Braves will be “forever known as the upset kings of October” for their improbable 2021 World Series win, as he welcomed the team to the White House for a victory celebration.

Biden called the Braves’ drive an “unstoppable, joyful run.” The team got its White House visit in with just over a week left before the 2022 regular season wraps up and the Major League Baseball playoffs begin again. The Braves trail the New York Mets by 1.5 games in the National League East but have clinched a wildcard spot for the MLB playoffs that begin Oct. 7. Chief Executive Officer Terry McGuirk said he hoped they’d be back to the White House again soon.

In August 2021, the Braves were a mess, playing barely at .500. But then they started winning. And they kept it up, taking the World Series in six games over the Houston Astros.

Biden called their performance of “history’s greatest turnarounds.”

“This team has literally been part of American history for over 150 years,” said Biden. “But none of it came easy … people counting you out. Heck, I know something about being counted out.”

Players lined up on risers behind Biden, grinning and waving to the crowd, but the player most discussed was one who hasn’t been on the team in nearly 50 years and who died last year: Hall of Famer Hank Aaron.

Hammerin’ Hank was the home run king for 33 years, dethroning Babe Ruth with a shot to left field on April 8, 1974. He was one of the most famous players for Atlanta and in baseball history, a clear-eyed chronicler of the hardships thrown his way – from the poverty and segregation of his Alabama youth to the racist threats he faced during his pursuit of one of America’s most hallowed records. He died in January at 86.

“This is team is defined by the courage of Hank Aaron,” Biden said.

McGuirk said Aaron, who held front office positions with the team and was one of Major League Baseball’s few Black executives, was watching over them.

“He’d have been there every step of the way with us if he was here,” McGuirk added.

The president often honors major league and some college sports champions with a White House ceremony, typically a nonpartisan affair in which the commander in chief pays tribute to the champs’ prowess, poses for photos and comes away with a team jersey.

Those visits were highly charged in the previous administration. Many athletes took issue with President Donald Trump’s policies and rhetoric on policing, immigration and more. Trump, for his part, didn’t take kindly to criticism from athletes or their on-field expressions of political opinions.

Under Biden, the tradition appears to be back. He’s hosted the NBA champion Milwaukee Bucks and Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers at the White House. On Monday he joked about first lady Jill Biden’s Philadelphia allegiances.

“Like every Philly fan, she’s convinced she knows more about everything in sports than anybody else,” he said. He added that he couldn’t be too nice to the Atlanta team because it had just beaten the Phillies the previous night in extra innings.

Press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre was later questioned about the team’s name, particularly as other professional sports teams have moved away from names – like the Cleveland Indians, now the Guardians, and the Washington Redskins, now the Commanders – following years of complaints from Native American groups over the images and symbols.

She said it was important for the country to have the conversation. “And Native American and Indigenous voices – they should be at the center of this conversation,” she said.

Biden supported MLB’s decision to pull the 2021 All-Star Game from Atlanta to protest Georgia’s sweeping new voting law, which critics contend is too restrictive.