Sports News Without Access, Favor, Or Discretion

Astros Drop Failed Smear Campaign Against Sports Illustrated, MLB Picks It Up

Houston Astros assistant general manager Brandon Taubman.
Screenshot: YouTube

Less than 24 hours after the Astros issued a statement accusing Sports Illustrated of “fabricating” a story about assistant general manager Brandon Taubman gloating to a group of female reporters about having signed accused domestic abuser Roberto Osuna, the team has changed their tune to something resembling contrition. But while the Astros are now offering a non-apologetic apology, MLB is insisting that the truth of the incident is still up for debate.

Last night, SI published a report by Stephanie Apstein that recounted a clubhouse incident after the Astros clinched the ALCS title on Saturday night. The report said Taubman yelled, “Thank God we got Osuna! I’m so fucking glad we got Osuna!” at three female reporters “half a dozen times.” Osuna was charged in May 2018 with assaulting the mother of his young child. The charges were eventually dropped after Osuna, then with the Toronto Blue Jays, struck a deal with prosecutors, but he still served a 75-game suspension for a violation of MLB’s domestic violence policy.

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Of the ALCS post-game incident, Apstein wrote:

And in the center of the room, assistant general manager Brandon Taubman turned to a group of three female reporters, including one wearing a purple domestic-violence awareness bracelet, and yelled, half a dozen times, “Thank God we got Osuna! I’m so f——— glad we got Osuna!”

The outburst was offensive and frightening enough that another Houston staffer apologized. The Astros declined to comment. They also declined to make Taubman available for an interview.

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After SI published its story, the Astros released a statement attacking the report and attempting to discredit the reporter. Though the statement didn’t actually refute anything in Apstein’s story, it called the report “misleading and completely irresponsible” and suggested that Taubman was merely trying to support Osuna in a “difficult time” during an interview:

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Almost immediately, the Astros’ weak attempt at a smear campaign began to fall apart. Various outlets, including the Houston Chronicle and the Athletic, corroborated SI’s reporting. The Houston Chronicle added its own reporting, disputing the team’s assertion that there were any interviews going on when Taubman yelled at the female reporters. The Chronicle wrote:

Taubman was holding a cigar and standing with two or three other men when he yelled his comments, two eyewitnesses said.

The three female reporters were approximately eight feet away and one was visibly shaken by the comment, the eyewitnesses said. There were no players in the area and no interviews were being conducted at the time. The Astros statement said “an Astros player was being asked questions about a difficult outing.”

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Despite the fact that multiple other journalists corroborated this story, the Astros’ aggressive statement aimed at discrediting SI’s reporting had the desired effect. Several news organizations framed their story on the topic around the Astros’ denial, rather than around what Taubman did. CNN initially went with, “Houston Astros deny exec taunted female reporters following World Series berth.” ESPN’s headline said, “Astros deny intent of assistant GM’s support of Roberto Osuna.” The Washington Post headline read, “Astros rip Sports Illustrated’s story on executive’s alleged “frightening” outburst at female reporters.”

This afternoon, Sports Illustrated released a statement saying it “unequivocally” stands behind Apstein’s reporting.

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Then, the Astros released a second set of statements, from Taubman and owner Jim Crane, walking back their attempt to discredit Apstein and Sports Illustrated.

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Taubman said:

“This past Saturday, during our clubhouse celebration, I 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.”

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Crane said:

“The Astros continue to be committed to using our voice to create awareness and support on the issue of domestic violence. We not only ensure mandatory training annually for all of our employees. we have also created an important partnership with the Texas Council on Family Violence, and have raised over $300K through our initiatives to help various agencies providing important support for this cause. We fully support MLB and baseball’s stance and values regarding domestic violence.”

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Notably, neither statement addressed the Astros’ original assertion that Apstein “fabricated” a story, nor did they apologize to Apstein. Taubman apologized only for using inappropriate language. Crane deflected to talk about the charity work he does. (I asked Astros vice president for media relations Gene Dias if Taubman would face any consequences; who was responsible for the Astros’ initial statement; and if the organization regretted the unsuccessful hit job. I will update if I hear back.)

Meanwhile, MLB released a statement this afternoon saying it has to investigate the matter before commenting, implying it still doesn’t believe the reporters’ accounts of what happened.

“We became aware of the 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.”

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Apstein and most of the other reporters who corroborated her story have already said everything they need to say on the topic. MLB can believe them, or pick up where the Astros’ ratfucking efforts left off.

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