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The Taubman Controversy is a PR Disaster of the Astros’ Own Making

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I love this team but how could they have gotten it so wrong?

Milwaukee Brewers v Houston Astros Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images

I can’t believe this is what we’re doing now.

After working so hard all year to make it to the World Series, the Astros organization is currently dealing with a swirling windstorm of chaos thanks to one front office exec’s outburst. I’m sure that most everyone here has seen the reports, but for those who haven’t I’ll give a brief recap. Buckle up, because it’s about to get stupid.

The Background

The night of the Astros’ big win over the Yankees, the clubhouse was a scene of celebration. Players and execs milled about enjoying the festivities when, at some point, three female reporters found themselves in the clubhouse. At the same time, Astros front office exec Brandon Taubman was there smoking a cigar and celebrating the big win.

At some point Taubman turned towards the three women and began to shout his love for Astros closer Roberto Osuna, who is a controversial figure due to his domestic violence past and the Astros’ subsequent trade for him. It was not meant to be a gentle declaration, as apparently he used profanity and made clear that he was celebrating the acquisition of the tarnished Osuna.

There has also been subsequent reporting that one of the women this outburst was focused on is someone who is known for trying to raise domestic violence awareness in response to Osuna. People believe that this was meant to taunt her specifically in defense of the player.

Now there’s a lot of speculation about intent and what Taubman meant and whether there’s some kind of mystery video, but none of that matters. The facts are that some version of this event happened and the main component of the story is true.

I know that there’s a lot of emotion regarding this issue, but I really want to try and take an objective view of just how terribly this whole situation was handled.

The Response

So a couple of days go by and everyone is getting ready for the World Series. I myself was writing the series preview for this site when the first tweet about the incident popped into my twitter feed.

Now as a fan my initial response was skepticism, because of course I want to believe the team is better than that. But as the facts came out and witnesses corroborated some version of the events, it became clear that something had happened. Then came the team’s response:

This isn’t really a denial of the story that a lot of people are making it out to be. What the team is saying is basically that Taubman was just fired up and supporting the team and that Sports Illustrated is inventing an angle that’s not there. However, they use this aggressive language to basically try and discredit Sports Illustrated.

Here’s where I see things as really starting to go off the rails.

This statement came fast and furious on the heels of the SI report, and was most likely assembled once they saw that it was going to print. But it came so fast that it feels like they called Taubman into the office, who then said “I didn’t do that,” so they decided to attack the press instead.

But why not stall for time here? “We’re investigating the incident because we want to be sure of the facts” sounds a hell of a lot better than “They’re fabricating stuff!” And you totally had an out for saying you needed more time to figure out what had happened because of how seriously you take this. No one would have thought that was out of the ordinary!

But, whoever gets paid a jillion times more than I do apparently didn’t see it that way. It took a full night and most of the next day for someone to point out that the Astros were getting killed in the press. So here was the next feeble attempt:

When I started reading this, I thought it started out well with Taubman noting that he was being inappropriate and had embarrassed himself. Both true. I could have done without the patting himself on the back for charity work and the wife and kids, but that’s pretty boiler plate. Then I get to this part: “I am sorry if anyone was offended by my actions.”

...ok.

So let me start this by telling you that I’m some fat schlub who likes to watch baseball so his wife won’t make him watch Sherlock over and over again, and I can tell you that this is not the way to go. This is a non-apology. You can’t say you’re sorry for other people’s feelings because that’s not how any of that works. I mean, that just feels like PR 101 to me but, again, fat schlub.

Now we’re closing in on Game 1 and, of course, A.J. Hinch is forced to answer questions about this, meaning that this is now officially a distraction for the team. But apparently Hinch was the only one who knew how to put together a coherent response with the following words to the press:

He spoke on respect for anyone who comes in the clubhouse. Made it clear that that sort of behavior is unacceptable. He didn’t even have to say anything about Taubman directly, just that the act itself should not be tolerated.

And honestly, if you weren’t going to stall for time, this should have been the response from the beginning. Showing a bit of humanity for this reporter who felt attacked by one of your employees. Maybe you say something like what A.J. did and people will at least feel like you’re trying to address the problem.

Anyways, at the time it felt like those comments may have helped a little to calm the storm and maybe get back to a place where we could focus on the baseball. Indeed, Game 1 went by and I barely thought about Taubman.

And then this:

AW C’MON!

Ok, first I will acknowledge that Luhnow did apologize and echo A.J.’s comments on the need to be better. But this mealy mouthed “We may never know” like it’s some kind of mystery for the ages is so ridiculous. It’s not even the fact that you can just, you know, actually investigate the incident to try and find out, it’s that, ultimately, it doesn’t matter.

Intention Doesn’t Matter

People don’t care what Taubman intended to say. Maybe while walking down the street he just randomly blurts his love for Osuna at strangers. Maybe he’s got a pin collection that all say “I heart Roberto” and he picks a new one every day based on his suit. Maybe the dude is innocent and pure as the driven snow. That doesn’t matter.

The Astros’ front office is supposed to be the business side of things and, in business, the image matters. Someone, anyone, in the front office even remotely responsible for this should have seen this coming at multiple points. You knew SI was looking into it as a story, you had a chance to investigate instead of deny, or you could have at least stopped this whole wishy-washy “Well, but what did he really mean?” narrative back when it was clear that it wasn’t working.

How do you not have one professional on staff that could see your strategy wasn’t working within the first hour?

Instead, the inept bungling of the response by the front office has not only allowed the media to remind everyone of the last time you attacked the press, which was just earlier this season, but has also given people a chance to re-litigate the Osuna trade itself. On top of that, every response by someone who’s not A.J. has been a disaster that only served to make the whole thing worse.

What’s even worse is that, as an organization, you should have known how sensitive this subject was and the need to tread carefully because it’s an echo of what you had to deal with when you traded for Osuna in the first place. It’s all about optics when it comes to this. You can’t just circle the wagons in today’s modern information age and hope people will stop talking about uncomfortable things.

The Astros’ front office had several chances to get out in front of this story and maybe display that they were an organization aware of the seriousness of the issue. Instead they were unnecessarily reactionary and aggressive, placing themselves and the team firmly in a spot they did not need to be in. As a fan of this team, I cannot see any way that this process could have played out worse, especially on the eve of the biggest series the Astros have played in since 2017.

Please, do what you say Astros, and be better.