Alex Bregman and José Altuve
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Astros’ fumbling apology tour was no accident

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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.

Astros owner Jim Crane says MLB ‘explicitly exonerated’ him

Jim Crane
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Even during a pandemic, the Astros can’t seem to avoid putting their foot in their mouth. Per The Athletic’s Daniel Kaplan, Astros owner Jim Crane claimed in a legal filing on Monday that Major League Baseball “explicitly exonerated” him in the club’s 2017 sign-stealing scandal that resulted in a now-tainted championship.

Crane is named as a defendant in a lawsuit filed by former pitcher Mike Bolsinger, whose last appearance in the majors was on August 4, 2017 against the Astros. He faced eight batters, allowing four runs on four hits and three walks in one-third of an inning. Bolsinger accused the Astros of unfair business practices, negligence, and intentional interference with contractual and economic relations arising out of the sign-stealing scandal. Bolsinger is seeking damages for himself as well as for the Astros to forfeit the nearly $31 million in bonuses earned from winning the championship in 2017, asking for the money to be reallocated to children’s charities and retired players in need of financial assistance.

Commissioner Rob Manfred did not use the word “exonerated” in his report on the league’s investigation into the Astros’ cheating scheme. Manfred did, however, write, “At the outset, I also can say our investigation revealed absolutely no evidence that Jim Crane, the owner of the Astros, was aware of any of the conduct described in this report. Crane is extraordinarily troubled and upset by the conduct of members of his organization, fully supported my investigation, and provided unfettered access to any and all information requested.”

Saying that the league found “no evidence” that Crane was involved and patting Crane on the back for not obstructing the investigation is not the same was “explicitly exonerating” him. The Athletic asked MLB if it agreed with Crane’s characterization of the report. Rather than agreeing with Crane, the league simply said, “All of our comments about the investigation are included in the report.”

This isn’t the first legal filing in which the Astros made a questionable claim. Recently, Astros lawyers claimed the organization expressed “sincere apologies and remorse for the events described in the report by the Commissioner of Major League Baseball.”

In Monday’s filing, Astros lawyers swung at Bolsinger, citing his poor pitching performance overall in 2017. They wrote, “Plaintiff wants to have a California judge and jury literally call ball and strikes, and award him money damages based on rank conjecture about what might have happened to him in Houston on August 4, 2017 due to alleged rules violations he speculates may have occurred that day.”

Astros lawyers also questioned the frequency of the club’s cheating and its impact, writing, “Major League Baseball (‘MLB’) investigated alleged rule violations by the Astros related to sign-stealing, resulting in a January 13, 2020 report in which the Commissioner of Baseball expressly found that ‘it is impossible to determine whether the (Astros’) conduct actually impacted the results on the field. The MLB did not conclude that sign-stealing violations occurred in every game or even most at-bats in the 2017 season.”

Astros fan Tony Adams, who analyzed every home game during the 2017 regular season and posted the results on SignStealingScandal.com, found that there were 54 “bangs” on August 4 when Bolsinger pitched against the Astros. That was the highest total among all Astros home games that season. Bolsinger entered in the middle of the fourth inning, first facing Yuli Gurriel. Adams found three bangs — all on curve balls — in a plate appearance that ended in a walk. Adams found four more bangs — all on breaking balls — in a Brian McCann at-bat later that inning that also ended in a walk. Bolsinger then gave up a single to Tyler White, with trash can banging on a cut fastball and a curve. The next batter, Jake Marisnick, singled as well, hearing bangs on a cutter and a curve. Bolsinger finally got out of the inning when Bregman swung at a first-pitch curve (yes, there was a trash can bang for that) and flied out.

Importantly, Bolsinger’s lawyer notes that Crane’s motion makes MLB eligible for discovery. It is already eligible for discovery in New York federal court where the league is a defendant in a lawsuit brought by daily fantasy sports contestants. Bolsinger’s lawsuit is brought out of California state court. The Astros want Bolsinger’s lawsuit dismissed or at least moved to Texas.

Because the Astros can’t seem to stop making headlines for all the wrong reasons, this whole situation figures to get even more wild as time goes on. Due to discovery, we may end up learning even more about the Astros’ cheating ways than the league may have let on in their report on their investigation.