There’s no cheering — or jeering — in the press box.
Impartiality should be the guiding tenet of any journalist.
Yet, the Houston Astros are making it really, really tough to abide by that principle.
This is an organization that clearly has no respect for the media — female sports writers, in particular — or the least bit of tact when it comes to handling a public relations mess.
Having demonstrated their disdain for the free press during the regular season by barring a reporter from the clubhouse at the urging of star pitcher Justin Verlander, the Astros sank even lower during what should have been a feel-good moment: their clinching win over the New York Yankees in the AL Championship Series.
Assistant general manager Brandon Taubman decided the euphoric celebration would be a good time to unleash a defiant shriek of profanity in support of Houston closer Roberto Osuna with three female reporters standing within earshot. “Thank God we got Osuna! I’m so (expletive) glad we got Osuna!” Taubman screamed over and over.
Osuna, you might remember, was arrested in May 2018 on domestic violence charges while playing for the Toronto Blue Jays. The charges were dropped, but Major League Baseball suspended Osuna for 75 games for violating its domestic violence policy. Shortly before his suspension ended, the Astros acquired him in a trade — a move that was justifiably scrutinized for the message it sent.
Taubman’s disturbing rant seemed directed toward any female reporters who might’ve questioned the team for picking up Osuna. Yet, when SI posted its story about the incident on Monday, the Astros went into full denial mode, claiming their front-office executive was merely showing his support for Osuna after he gave up a tying homer to the Yankees in the top of the ninth inning.
“The story posted by Sports Illustrated is misleading and completely irresponsible,” the team said. “An Astros player was being asked questions about a difficult outing. Our executive was supporting the player during a difficult time.”
SI stood by its reporter, Stephanie Apstein. Other media outlets quickly stepped forward to corroborate what she wrote. Said Houston Chronicle reporter Hunter Atkins: “The Astros called this (Apstein) report misleading. It is not. I was there. Saw it. And I should’ve said something sooner.” Hannah Keyser of Yahoo! Sports wrote, “Can confirm.”
The Astros attempted to smooth things over by concocting two more statements, one from Taubman, the other by owner Jim Crane.
They only made things worse.
Taubman issued a supposed apology that was really more of a doubling down. He conceded to using “inappropriate language,” for which he is “deeply sorry and embarrassed.” But, he added: “My exuberance in support of a player has been misinterpreted as a demonstration of a regressive attitude about an important social issue. Those that know me know that I am a progressive and charitable member of the community, and a loving and committed husband and father.”
Ah, the ol’ husband/father card.
“I hope that those who do not know me understand that the Sports Illustrated article does not reflect who I am or my values,” Taubman went on, before concluding, “I am sorry if anyone was offended by my actions.”
Read that last part carefully.
Taubman is not sorry for what he did.
He’s sorry if his despicable tirade offended anyone.
Crane’s statement was the usual drivel about the Astros being “committed to using our voice to create awareness and support on the issue of domestic violence.” He didn’t mention Taubman’s name or indicate the team was even slightly disturbed by the actions of one of its employees.
Major League Baseball promised to “interview those involved,” but don’t hold your breath.
There’s no indication that any meaningful discipline was doled out after the Astros barred Detroit Free Press reporter Anthony Fenech from the clubhouse back in August until Verlander was done talking with the other accredited media.
Verlander, a 36-year-old who has pitched in the big leagues for 15 seasons, doesn’t like Fenech. No problem there. The ace could have simply refused to answer any questions from the reporter, which is well within his rights in such a group setting.
Instead, Verlander whined to the Astros’ media relations staff, which gladly did his dirty work — in direct violation of baseball’s collective bargaining agreement. Three guards were stationed at the clubhouse door, refusing to let Fenech enter until Verlander was done answering questions and made his escape.
The Baseball Writers’ Association of America objected to the treatment of Fenech. The group complained in even harsher terms Tuesday, saying it was “alarmed and dismayed by the actions of the Houston Astros and their public relations department in reaction to Sports Illustrated’s report.”
“The Astros’ initial denial of the incident reported by SI was an unethical and intentional fabrication, designed to discredit our members and all journalists,” the BBWAA said in a statement. “We expect that appropriate disciplinary measures will be handed out and made public.”
Indeed, this latest Astros incident is even more disturbing than the first, because it points again to the prejudice and discrimination that female reporters face every day in a male-dominated world.
Snide comments. Sexist banter. A persistent disdain from athletes, coaches and — yes — executives, who still cling to the outdated notion that women have no place in the clubhouse or press box.
It’s time for MLB to take firm action.
A suspension for Taubman would be a good start. Plus a hefty fine for the Astros, which can be divvied up among programs that address domestic violence and those that help attract more women into sports journalism.
Plus, this would be a good time to look in the mirror. Every male sports writer — this one included — should commit to standing up for his female colleagues in no uncertain terms. If we hear something inappropriate in the locker room, even if there are no women around, don’t let it slide.
For now, Houston manager AJ Hinch sounds like the only adult in the room.
“I’m very disappointed for a lot of reasons,” he said before Game 1 of the World Series. “No one, it doesn’t matter if it’s a player, a coach, a manager, any of you members of the media, should ever feel like when you come into our clubhouse that you’re going to be uncomfortable or disrespected.”
Being a journalist, I couldn’t care less who wins the World Series.
As tempting as it is to root against the Astros.