After last month’s pre-World Series public relations fiasco involving their then-Assistant GM, the last thing the Houston Astros needed was one of their former players outing them as shameless rule-breakers. But to paraphrase the principle of karma, what goes around comes around.
The latest Astros scandal to be brought to light—accusations of using technology to steal the opposing team’s signs—goes back to the 2017 season. Given that they were World Champs that year, they likely wouldn’t opt to go back in time to rectify that matter even if they could, but they undoubtedly would love to have a do-over for how they have publicly handled the last four weeks.
The Astros month of PR follies began on October 19
As is now well documented,after closing out the American League Championship Series, then-Astros Assistant General Manager Brandon Taubman yelled the following, several times, in the direction of three female reporters in the clubhouse: “Thank God we got Osuna! I’m so [expletive] glad we got Osuna!” The Astros acquired pitcher Roberto Osuna in 2018 while he was serving a 75-game suspension for violating MLB’s domestic-violence policy, and it was pretty obvious to all who were present what the intention was of Taubman’s thinly veiled comment.
One of the reporters who was the target of Taubman’s vitriol, Sports Illustrated’s Stephanie Apstein, wrote an article about the incident. The Astros refused the opportunity to provide a comment for the article and instead issued their own ill-advised statement staunchly supporting Taubman, claiming that Sports Illustrated’s article was “misleading and completely irresponsible” and accused Apstein of attempting to “fabricate a story.” Three days and two Worlds Series game losses later, Astros General Manager Jeff Luhnow acknowledged what was already painfully obvious—the team responded with a classic knee-jerk reaction and had not conducted a proper investigation.
Instead of a “no comment,” the Astros would have been better served by saying to SI, words to the effect of, “We take accusations like this very seriously and are currently looking further into the matter.” Then they should have done just that, conducted an expedited but thorough investigation before making an uninformed and embarrassingly incorrect public statement.
Lesson learned, claimed Luhnow, and it wouldn’t be long, less than three weeks in fact, before another self-inflicted error would put that statement to the test.
On November 12, pitcher Mike Fiers claimed that when he was with the team in 2017, the Astros used an outfield camera in their home park to pick up the signs of the other team’s catcher. Stealing signs in baseball is as old as the game itself but only becomes against the rules if technology is used in the process.
This time it was Ken Rosenthal and Evan Drellich from The Athletic who broke the story. As was the case with the Taubman incident, the Astros were given the opportunity to provide a comment for the story, and once again, they declined.
Instead of providing the reporters with a polished and sincere response to represent their side of the story, they again opted to issue their own separate statement. While their response was certainly better than it was after the Taubman incident, it was clichéd and was not expounded upon when Luhnow addressed reporters later in the day.
Neither of these stories figure to go away anytime soon
As the respective investigations by the MLB Commissioner’s Office begin to divulge more facts about each indiscretion, the Astros brass will have more occasions to address the media. In order to attempt to restore their image and assuage the uneasiness felt by fans, they need to continue to work on their public-facing strategy before “Strike 3!” is called.