HOUSTON — Before the World Series even started, the Washington Nationals were America’s team.
It’s got nothing to do with the fact that the Nats play in our nation’s capital. Or that they’ve never been to a World Series.
No, the Nats are the team to root for because the Houston Astros’ organization has framed itself as arrogant, shifty, tone-deaf, stubborn, and completely unaccountable. And that is why on the night of the first World Series opener ever hosted in Houston, the Astros were dodging arrows from across America as they attempted to defend the indefensible.
A little background: On Saturday night, after the dominant ’Stros defeated the Yankees in walkoff fashion to win the American League pennant, assistant GM Brandon Taubman decided to play muscle-flexing, tough guy with three female reporters who were in the clubhouse as the perfunctory champagne celebration was winding down. The 34-year-old Taubman, out of nowhere, turned on the female reporters and started shouting.
“Thank God we got Osuna! I’m so [expletive] glad we got Osuna” Over and over. And over.
It was Taubman’s way of reminding the reporters that the Astros were comfortable with their acquisition of the controversial reliever last season, after Roberto Osuna had served a 75-game suspension for assaulting the mother of his child. The ’Stros got Osuna at a bargain rate because of his baggage, and there was some blowback, but not enough to keep him off the team. The issue faded sufficiently for the Astros until Taubman decided to throw down the gauntlet in the post-victory haze.
Sports Illustrated’s Stephanie Apstein was one of the three reporters targeted in Taubman’s tirade and wrote a piece about the episode Monday. After initially not commenting, the Astros furnished a statement in the wake of Apstein’s story late Monday. The statement acknowledged Taubman’s clubhouse comments, but said the team was “extremely disappointed in Sports Illustrated’s attempt to fabricate a story where one does not exist.’’
This is right out of the Astros’ deny-deny-accuse playbook. They did it when they got caught blatantly cheating at Fenway in the playoffs against the Red Sox last year. They did it when they broke MLB rules and barred a credentialed reporter from their clubhouse (Justin Verlander had a beef with the reporter) last summer. Now this. MLB has sent investigators to get to the bottom of this incident.
In the wake of the ham-handed statement, the topic gathered steam throughout Tuesday. This resulted in more statements. At 1:45 p.m., MLB issued a short one, which included, “The Astros have disputed Sports Illustrated’s characterization of the incident.’’
Taubman and the Astros were next with new statements. Taubman’s missive was a classic non-apology, apology. He said he was sorry he used bad language (nobody cares). He said he is a husband and a father (nobody cares). And he finished with the time-tested, passive-aggressive, “I’m sorry if anyone was offended by my actions.’’
Houston owner Jim Crane chimed in with a brief ditty about how the ’Stros loathe domestic violence and have raised money for the cause. Crane said nothing about the team’s Monday statement that questioned the reporter’s credibility.
It was left to Houston manager AJ Hinch to do the right thing and he handled the opening question of his afternoon presser in dignified fashion, saying, “I’m very disappointed for a lot of reasons. It’s unfortunate, it’s uncalled for . . . I take everything that happens in that clubhouse to heart. No one, it doesn’t matter if it’s a player, a coach, a manager, any members of the media, should ever feel like when you come into our clubhouse that you’re going to be uncomfortable or disrespected.’’
There’s not much need for an investigation here. Multiple witnesses have corroborated Apstein’s account. It appears likely that Taubman was targeting a local female baseball writer who wears a purple bracelet supporting the cause vs. domestic violence. No one in an Astro uniform has rushed to defend the assistant GM. (Taubman’s name was briefly floated at least once as a Red Sox GM candidate, so we can rule him out for that now.)
So now we watch the World Series and wait for the Astros to apologize for an employee who trivialized domestic violence. We wait for them to apologize for attacking the credibility of the reporter.
No sense waiting for them to sanction their assistant GM. They will leave that up to Major League Baseball.
Dan Shaughnessy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.