The incident occurred after Game 6 of the American League Championship Series. Sports Illustrated reporter Stephanie Apstein had filed a story on the end of the New York Yankees’ season, so she made her way to the victorious Astros clubhouse, where she thought she might report material for a future World Series piece. Instead, as she stood with two other female reporters, she said she heard a chant that at first she couldn’t make out but then became all too clear. “Thank God we got Osuna! I’m so f------ glad we got Osuna!”
“At first I didn't know who he was, who was yelling, but then it was shocking,” Apstein said in a phone interview Tuesday. “We were shaken."
Yelling at the group of reporters was Astros assistant general manager Brandon Taubman, and to Apstein, the intent was obvious. The Astros traded for Roberto Osuna in 2018 while he was serving a 75-game suspension under Major League Baseball’s domestic violence policy. The Astros faced criticism from fans, media and women’s groups in the wake of the move.
On Monday, Apstein returned to Minute Maid Park to cover the team workouts before the start of the World Series, which pits the Astros against the Washington Nationals. She sought out an Astros public relations staffer and relayed her version of Saturday night’s events.
She said the staffer discouraged her from writing anything because she couldn’t truly know Taubman’s intent.
“That’s why I was asking to speak with him,” Apstein said. “Exactly because I wanted to find out.”
The Astros did not make Taubman available and declined to comment further. Apstein decided to write a story.
“Frankly, we thought given 36 hours that someone would have apologized and then we probably wouldn’t have written the story,” she said. “Obviously, they didn’t.”
She continued: “The choices were to write or not to write it. And the truth is we just want to work; as reporters, we just want to do our jobs. We don’t want this to be the story. But I wrote it because it’s not right and it’s true, and that’s our obligation to say things that are true and then peel back the curtain on attitudes that I think are pervasive in the game."
Houston Manager A.J. Hinch addressed the incident at his regular pregame news conference Tuesday afternoon, several hours before Game 1 of the World Series, calling himself “very disappointed” while acknowledging that he didn’t see the incident himself.
“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,” he said.
Taubman and Astros owner Jim Crane issued statements earlier Tuesday, with Taubman saying he “used inappropriate language for which I am deeply sorry and embarrassed. In retrospect, I realize that my comments were unprofessional and inappropriate. My overexuberance 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. I hope that those who do not know me understand that the Sports Illustrated article does not reflect who I am or my values. I am sorry if anyone was offended by my actions.”
Crane, in his statement, said the Astros are “committed to using our voice to create awareness and support on the issue of domestic violence.” He went on to mention the team’s employee training program and efforts to help fund groups that work to combat domestic violence.
Apstein’s story, which posted late Monday night on Sports Illustrated’s website, highlighted Osuna’s situation with the Astros as well as Aroldis Chapman, the closer the Yankees traded for after he was suspended by MLB after allegedly choking his girlfriend and firing a gun eight times into the wall of his garage.
“This is the miscalculation that teams make over and over again,” Apstein wrote. “They acquire players with reprehensible pasts for less than market rate and concede that they will have to pay a price in public trust. But when the bill comes due, teams act like they, not the people their actions wounded, are the aggrieved party. How dare you keep reminding us of the past? Don’t you understand we have baseball games to play?”
Soon after Apstein’s story published, the Astros issued a statement suggesting Taubman was supporting Osuna while he was being asked questions during “a difficult time.” The statement went on to say, “His comments had everything to do with the game situation that just occurred and nothing else — they were also not directed toward any specific reporters. We are extremely disappointed in Sports Illustrated’s attempt to fabricate a story where one does not exist.”
After the Astros released their statement, the Houston Chronicle reported that two of its reporters were able to confirm the claims made by Sports Illustrated. A reporter for Yahoo Sports also said she could provide confirmation. Sports Illustrated issued a statement standing by the story.
The Chronicle cited two eyewitnesses in reporting that Taubman was “holding a cigar and standing with two or three other men when he yelled his comments,” and that the group of female reporters was “approximately eight feet away and one was visibly shaken by the comment.” The Chronicle also reported no players were in the area and no interviews were being conducted at the time, disputing the team’s claim.
Apstein also said one of the men who was standing with Taubman came over to the group of women to apologize after he screamed at them.
“It’s so easy to just be like, ‘This is the first we heard and we’re investigating,’ and then on November 1 you announce he’s going to be suspended for a week,” Apstein said. “But they want to be entitled to their version of events, what they want to have happened.”
Apstein, 31, has worked at Sports Illustrated since 2011 when she started as a fact-checker and has been covering the national baseball beat since the 2016 World Series.
“I think their refusal to talk about what happened and their response is why it’s a story,” she said of the Astros.
Major League Baseball issued the following statement Tuesday afternoon: “Domestic violence is extraordinarily serious and everyone in baseball must use care to not engage in any behavior — whether intentional or not — that could be construed as minimizing the egregiousness of an act of domestic violence. We became aware of this incident through the Sports Illustrated article. The Astros have disputed Sports Illustrated’s characterization of the incident. MLB will interview those involved before commenting further.”
Osuna, 24, was traded to the Astros from the Toronto Blue Jays in July 2018, as he was nearing the end of a suspension levied in May of that year. Houston was viewed at the time as having filled a need for a closer by acquiring the talented pitcher, a 2017 all-star, at a relative discount because of his notoriety.
Osuna was charged in May 2018 with assault in a case involving the mother of his young child. Prosecutors eventually dropped the charge when she communicated to them that she would not travel from Mexico to Canada to testify against him. The case ended with Osuna signing a peace bond, with no admission of guilt, plus an agreement by him to stay away from the woman and continue counseling.