WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — They narrowly lost a World Series they were favored to win, but that wasn’t the Houston Astros’ greatest failing last October.
Sure, their seven-game loss to the Washington Nationals stung, but the worst wounds are always self-inflicted. And so the Astros’ organizational failing in the handling of a misogynistic rant by assistant general manager Brandon Taubman ultimately reflected far worse on the franchise than falling eight outs short of a championship.
And little did they know then that they were headed for a public relations iceberg.
The ongoing sign-stealing scandal, revealed by The Athletic two weeks after the Astros lost the World Series, not only tainted the 2017 title they did win, but established the Astros as international villains, their nefarious ways serving as a lesson in how to lose your moral compass.
Now, the time has come to make amends. And this time, the Astros can’t afford to screw it up.
Thursday, Astros pitchers and catchers will gather for their first workout, and the beginning of the club’s act of contrition. Position players are trickling in, too, and presumably will take their medicine by the time the full squad works out Monday.
Ballplayers in general are a stubborn lot, but this is no time to close ranks. If the Astros and their players want to ever be known as anything but one of the most toxic franchises in major North American sports, they need to get this right.
Here’s a few ways they can pull that off:
Among the most unseemly elements of the Taubman flap was the initial statement, where the assistant GM apologized for “inappropriate language” but a heartbeat later went to the “husband and father” card.
The run for cover was sniffed out by media and fans alike, and in this age of the mega-scandal, the average viewer is not so easily duped.
“I’m sorry if I offended you” doesn’t fly any more. Neither does minimizing the alleged acts, nor throwing under the trash can any players no longer with the squad.
Fans of almost every franchise are disgusted and even the Astros’ professional peers have broke ranks and condemned them.
Read the room. Know that right now, you are reviled. Wear it and own it.
Let’s get this out of the way: Every franchise in baseball cheats, one way or another. In regard to electronic sign-stealing, the period from 2014-2017 was indeed the Wild Wild West, to the point that, as The Athletic reported, when Carlos Beltran moved from the Yankees to the Astros, he basically told them to step up their cheating game.
Does it suck that you’re essentially the only group that got caught? Of course.
Maybe we’ll learn more about the ongoing dark arts of sign-stealing that still permeates the league. Maybe some of the fan bases going Full Sanctimony will have to eat some crow when their beloved boys are revealed as cheats, too.
And maybe the general public doesn’t care as much that a St. Louis Cardinals scouting director got banned for life for hacking your data base. Or that an Atlanta Braves GM got similarly barred for screwing around with signing bonuses in the Dominican Republic, a space rife with corruption, be it skimming money from teenagers or skirting alleged signing regulations.
The general public probably should care more about all this. But right now, it’s all about you.
Sometime in the future, the heat will shift elsewhere. (And if you’d care to direct a media member in a certain direction for the next scandal, a couple hundred of them em will be at your disposal Thursday. Just sayin’).
But for now, nobody cares about anyone else. There may come a time for schadenfreude, but in the absence of specific allegations or proof, that time has not yet arrived.
Heads down, back to work
Here’s another trope that’s best avoided: “It’s us against the world.”
It’s one thing for the “haters to doubt us” because you’re short a fifth starter or only won 75 games last year.
Yet if you insist on using this scandal as a rallying cry, that’s a move best kept in-house.
Because these wounds were entirely self-inflicted. This was baseball’s version of insider trading, not “adversity” that came about due to an outside force.
While much of the baseball world came to dislike the Astros on a visceral level, the players themselves are a charismatic and talented bunch. Trust, however, has been broken.
That stain may fade in time. Fans may come to once again fully appreciate the glorious edge with which Alex Bregman plays. The odds that Jose Altuve defeated. The inspiring and athletic manner with which George Springer plays the game and carries himself.
It may seem like a long road. It will only get longer in the absence of proper contrition and humility.
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