There are two issues in the wake of Sports Illustrated’s recounting of the actions of Brandon Taubman, Houston’s assistant general manager: The first has to do with the Astros’ handling of the matter, which is reprehensible. The second has to do with baseball’s culture, in the clubhouse and the dugout and beyond, which needs to evolve.
Start with what SI reported, and look at how the Astros responded. In celebrating his team’s victory over the New York Yankees in the American League Championship Series, Taubman looked at three female reporters and repeatedly yelled: “Thank God we got Osuna! I’m so [expletive] glad we got Osuna!” Stephanie Apstein of Sports Illustrated was one of the women, and she wrote SI’s account. One of the women was wearing a purple anti-domestic violence bracelet.
I was not there. The SI account called it “frightening.” It has since been verified by at least four people present, including a male reporter. I believe the SI account.
Who is Osuna? That would be Roberto, the pitcher who gave up the game-tying homer in the ninth inning, meaning the Astros needed José Altuve’s walk-off shot to win Game 6 and clinch the pennant. Roberto Osuna is also the closer who became available to Houston in a trade with Toronto because of the domestic violence charges against him. Those were eventually dropped when the alleged victim went back to her home country of Mexico and refused to testify. Osuna agreed not to contact her for a year.
This is the bargain the Astros made when they traded for him: Ignore the past because maybe he’ll help the team win. It did not sit well with everyone in the organization. And the explanations at the time ignored the means to the Astros’ end.
“Quite frankly, I believe that you can have a zero-tolerance policy and also have an opportunity to give people second chances when they have made mistakes in the past in other organizations,” Astros General Manager Jeff Luhnow told reporters at the time. “That’s kind of how we put those two things together.”
Except those two things don’t go together.
But back to Saturday night: SI asked the Astros to comment on Taubman’s rant. Initially, the club declined. When the story was published, the Astros lashed out, essentially calling it Fake News while simultaneously corroborating what Taubman said.
“An Astros player was being asked questions about a difficult outing,” the club’s statement said. “His comments had everything to do about the game situation that just occurred and nothing else — they were also not directed toward any specific reporters.”
Here’s how a correct response would read: “The Houston Astros value a civil and safe working environment for their employees and others invited into their clubhouse. We are aware of the incident and are looking into it.”
If Taubman believes his words were misconstrued, he should have said so when offered the chance. He declined, or the Astros declined for him — and then went into attack mode. That seems inconceivable, until you remember this is the club that pursued Osuna in the first place.
Which gets us to the clubhouse and baseball’s working environment. The Astros list 63 positions in their executive offices and baseball operations departments, not counting administrative assistants. Eleven of those are women. It says something about baseball that I counted that number up and thought, “Wow, that’s more women than I thought.”
Walk through the clubhouse doors, and you kind of suspend what you think of as a normal working environment. Most colleagues don’t dress in front of one another. That they do so with outsiders present adds another wrinkle.
Over the years, I have worked closely with, and been friends with, female reporters who cover baseball. (Full disclosure: I am friends with Stephanie Apstein of Sports Illustrated.) What’s striking about the issues women deal with in clubhouses is not how much they talk about it. It’s how little they talk about it.
They hear raunchy jokes that would be taboo in a cubicle-filled law office. They hear comments on their appearances. They are offered phone numbers they don’t want. And, for the most part, they just take it, because the job involves building trust with players, and maybe laughing at an inappropriate joke shows they’re tough enough to take it. They keep those things in-house because doing so allows them to do their job. Don’t complain. Just internalize.
They shouldn’t have to. The vast majority of major league players and executives are accommodating and respectful and don’t think twice about whether a reporter is male or female. Are they fair? Do they know the game? Are they trying to learn about it? Those are the only questions that matter.
But because it’s a sport played by men and, largely, run by men, there’s an imbalance that not only emboldens Taubman to shout what he shouted but discourages anyone else from objecting to him. It’s infuriating that he could be so offensive. It’s infuriating that the Astros didn’t see how the women could feel threatened by it. It’s infuriating that it’s 2019, and it’s the World Series, and we even need to be having this conversation. But clearly we do.
For more by Barry Svrluga, visit washingtonpost.com/svrluga.
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