October 25, 2019

Astros' Default Mode Of Operation: Defiantly Clueless, Proudly Ignorant, And Lacking All Sincerity

The Astros fired Assistant General Manager Brandon Taubman for his unprofessional clubhouse outburst last Sunday night, his blatant lies to his employer about what had transpired, and the embarrassment he brought upon the Astros organization.

After that proper response, however, President of Baseball Operations and General Manager Jeff Luhnow rapidly retreated to the tone-deaf, irresponsible, and offensive stance the Astros organization had inexplicably maintained for several days. Defiantly clueless, proudly ignorant, and believing a sincere apology is a sign of weakness has become the Astros' front office's default mode of operation.

Luhnow gave an 18-minute interview on Thursday afternoon which showed, if anyone was still harbouring doubts, that the Astros truly do not understand anything about this situation. When Luhnow was asked if the people responsible for the false accusations against Sports Illustrated's Stephanie Apstein in Monday's press release (the team's first public statement) would face disciplinary action, he said: "I don't know what's going to happen in the future."

As Deadspin's Ray Rotto wrote, Ludnow's comments "lacked only sincerity, thoroughness, and coherence".

Luhnow refused to identify the writers of that initial press release, which called Apstein "completely irresponsible" and accused her of fabricating an entire story "where one does not exist". Luhnow did say, however, that "many people" (including himself) reviewed and approved that statement before it was released.
I'm not defending that first statement and I don't want to parse the words in that first statement. It was incorrect, it was wrong. And we stand by it as an organization that it was incorrect, it was wrong, and that's all we can really say at this point.
That is mind-boggling. ... Yeah, yeah, yeah, it was wrong. Whatever. Don't read too much into the actual words. And stop asking me about it.

Sports Illustrated contacted the Astros in advance of publishing Apstein's story, so the team knew exactly what was coming. The Astros interviewed a grand total of two people: Taubman and (presumably) another Astros employee. Based on that, the team decided its best course of conduct—even in light of the more progressive attitudes towards domestic violence and sexual harassment in the zeitgeist for the past few years - would be to deny everything and call Apstein a liar (in other words, to try to end her career as a journalist).

Chris Thompson (Deadspin) writes that Luhnow is still denying the basic facts of the incident:
For as clear as Luhnow was that the statement was wrong, he also endeavored to make clear that it wasn't wrong wrong—unbelievably, it is still Lunhow's position that the facts of the event are meaningfully in dispute, and "it's not 100 percent clear what the truth is." So Taubman's behavior was wrong (and out of character), and the team's response was wrong (and out of character), but also all those reporters who individually corroborated Apstein's reporting apparently cannot be trusted.
The Athletic's Jake Kaplan reports, even four days after Taubman's outburst, after all the information that has come out, the Astros still can't keep their story straight. In a Thursday press release, the team described the process behind its first statement as an "investigation". A mere two hours later, Luhnow flip-flopped, indicating there was no investigation.
The [team's] belief was that it was one colleague talking to another colleague and having been overheard and it was not intended to be overheard. We discovered later that that was indeed not the case.
The Astros allegedly held this belief despite being told about Apstein's upcoming story, which stated unequivocably that Taubman was not talking to another colleague and had clearly intended to be overheard, yelling loudly and directly at the three women about Osuna—not once, not twice, not three times, not four times, not five times, but six times:
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 fucking glad we got Osuna!"

The outburst was offensive and frightening enough that another Houston staffer apologized.
The timeline ran something like this:
Taubman commits his "career-defining act of bellowing dipshittery".

Apstein writes her report.

SI calls the Astros, giving them a head's up and asking for a comment.

The Astros offer no comment and refuse to let SI talk to Taubman.

SI publishes Apstein's story.

The Astros talk to Taubman (who knows his job is likely on the line) and someone else.

The Astros publicly state Apstein's story is fake news ("misleading and completely irresponsible") and call her a liar ("fabricat[ing] a story where one does not exist").

Apstein's reporting is confirmed by four other reporters who were in the clubhouse.

The Astros continue insisting it's all a huge lie—until they really can't lie anymore.

They keep lying anyway, claiming they conducted an investigation and "pro-actively assisted" MLB's investigation (while simultaneously denying the entirety of the story for 72 hours).

But that lie is contradicted two hours later by Luhnow, who admits he was heavily involved in the first lie and who still refuses to apologize for calling Apstien a liar—a charge he now admits was "incorrect".
David Roth, Deadspin:
For an organization built on the promise that every moment of every baseball game can be fully understood, the Astros sure pivoted to radical subjectivity notably quickly when Taubman's behavior became public. ...

At every turn, the Astros have been almost poignantly incapable of accepting the possibility that outsiders had any sort of standing that they were bound to respect.
Deadspin's reporting has been exemplary. It even includes Esquire's wonderfully eloquent Charles P. Pierce (author of Idiot America, the paperback cover of which features a wonderful historically-accurate illustration of George Washington riding a dinosaur into battle):
I am never going to forgive the Houston Astros. Not because they've dropped two straight at home to the Washington Nationals in this year's World Series, although that was pretty grotesque. (They gave up a crucial home run to Kurt Suzuki, who is 129 years old.) No, it's because their idiot assistant GM belched some Neanderthal jabber about domestic violence, and because, on Thursday, having fired the dope, their general manager Jeff Luhnow called a press conference in which he said he hadn't apologized personally to the female reporter whose justifiable outrage had touched off the controversy. That reporter—Stephanie Apstein of Sports Illustrated—was in the room when Luhnow said this. The Houston Astros could screw up a two-car funeral if you spotted them the hearse.

No, it was none of that, although all of that is pretty goddamn awful. What I find unforgivable is that the Astros have left me no team in the World Series for which to cheer. I cannot now support the Astros and I will not support the Washington Nationals because I loathe the fandom of everyone who will be sitting in the high-priced seats ... Look, I'm from Boston and, that being the case, I know from front-running dilettante nuisances. ... I am speaking from long experience when I say that the Washington bandwagon is very likely to be the most insufferable one ever to come rolling down the pike. ...

There's a reason why Washington didn't have a baseball team for 33 years—it's because Washington sucks gallons of pondwater as a sports town ... Its football team plays under a racial slur for a nickname and it is owned by one of the world's most embarrassing humans. ... Washington had two tries as a baseball town and it punked out both times. ...

So now we will have a stadium swollen with people who, three years ago, were studying law in Bug Tussle or working on the staff of some county commissioner who ran for Congress and won. ... By the fifth inning of Friday night's game, you will be slavering for just a glimpse of the star of the new upcoming FOX sitcom as opposed to another shot of the Undersecretary of the Interior For Selling Off Yellowstone For Scrap. ...

Right now, Washington's primary industry is occupied with the fact that the entire democratic republic is on fire, and that it has been ever since the country determined that it would like to be ruled by a vulgar talking yam. Sooner or later, and I suspect sooner, we will be reading more than a few columns from the folks in the good seats about how the Nationals have brought our divided nation together. Who knew that all that it took was shuffling off Bryce Harper to Philadelphia? ...

And then there's the president himself. As if to place a cow chip atop a manure sundae, he let it be known that he will be in attendance at Sunday's game. He will not throw out the first pitch because, it was reported, that he thought he would look too fat.
Perhaps. I suspect the real reason is Trump fears being booed off the field (and being unable to spin the acute humiliation as unprecedented adoration) or maybe it's because he doesn't exactly look like a tough-talking, wall-building, pussy-grabbing, he-man when he tosses a ball ...

But this series may not even get to Game 5.

Anyway ... back to Luhnow ... who (as noted above) told reporters yesterday he has yet to contact any of the three women who were the target of Taubman's outburst. Why not? Well, he had been travelling from Houston to Washington and then he had "a pretty tough conversation" on Thursday morning with Taubman. ... With such a busy schedule, how was he supposed to fit in a two-minute phone call?

Hazel Mae, MLB Network:
Astros GM Jeff Luhnow was asked whether he had personally reached out to @stephapstein to apologize.
Luhnow said he's been busy and hasn't had the time. Stephanie was sitting in the room.
As someone commented re Mae's tweet: "Jesus, it takes effort to be that horrible."

Luhnow bared his soul, saying it was "devastating" to learn what really happened on Sunday night.
I wouldn't wish it on anyone in this room, just like I wouldn't wish it on anyone in this room to sit up here and answer these questions either.
Luhnow was "devastated" by learning the truth AND he wants us to also feel sorry for him, because he has to answer all these annoying questions about himself and his organization's behaviour and actions ... i.e., his job. I can well imagine Luhnow muttering, under his breath, like some Scooby Doo villain: "And we would have gotten away with it, too, if it wasn't for those meddling broads in the locker room—and the fact that men can't do and say whatever the hell they want at all times".

Chris Thompson sums everything up perfectly (and includes a link to Luhnow's entire press conference):
When public figures so unabashedly follow a PR checklist, regular people can be seduced into judging mainly the quality of the checklist, and viewing these things purely as PR successes or failures. Let's dispense with that, quickly: Luhnow's PR advisors should be fired. They're real bad at their jobs.

But as a series of human actions, this is all hideous. The Astros have a culture where a person could even develop the specific anger behind Taubman's taunts, to say nothing of shouting those taunts at someone in public; where the kind of person who would both feel that specific shit-hearted triumph and then weaponize it is otherwise considered a good guy with high character; where the organization's inclination is to take the word of internal "witnesses" who would have obvious professional incentives for obscuring the truth over a first-person report from a journalist; where the action that flows from that misguided trust involves publicly accusing the journalist of fabrication; where a group of adults would need whole days in order to determine that even a general apology is appropriate; where orchestrating a happy ending to this disastrous sequence in a press conference is more urgent than personally apologizing to the only person who was actually wronged; and where you'd even need a PR playbook to sort this out in the first place.

So, uhh, yes, this very much is a cultural issue, and no, the Astros very much do not have a lot of really good people in their front office.

1 comment:

laura k said...

Thanks for the great reporting on this.

I suspect the real reason is Trump fears being booed off the field

Definitely this.