Editor's note: Sports Illustrated has released a statement regarding the Astros' response to this story. The Astros initially declined to comment for this piece. After this story was published, the team released a statement in which they did not deny Brandon Taubman’s comments, and insisted he was ‘supporting the player during a difficult time.’ Multiple journalists have corroborated Sports Illustrated’s reporting.
HOUSTON — More than an hour after José Altuve won the Astros the pennant, the party in the Houston clubhouse still raged. Rightfielder Josh Reddick was crushing vodka Red Bulls. Starter Gerrit Cole smoked a cigar. Shortstop Carlos Correa gazed lovingly at the American League championship trophy.
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.
Taubman's timing was odd.
Closer Roberto Osuna had allowed a two-run home run to tie the game in the top of the ninth. He had been, by Baseball Reference’s calculations and any intelligent observer’s assessment, the least valuable Astro that night. So why would Taubman choose that moment, to taunt that demographic? It’s not hard to figure out.
Osuna likely only pitches for Houston because he allegedly assaulted Alejandra Román Cota, the mother of his then-three-year-old child, in May 2018, as a member of the Blue Jays. Prosecutors dropped the charges after Cota returned to Mexico and declined to testify; as part of the bargain, Osuna agreed not to have contact with her for one year. MLB suspended him 75 games, a stretch that did not include the postseason. Osuna was one of the best closers in the game, and his infraction made him, in the mind of the Astros’ front office, a distressed asset. They traded for him, and in terms of traditional organizational capital, the price was low: the Astros gave up their own struggling closer and two middling pitching prospects for him.
But the price was low for a reason: Many teams didn’t want to deal with the public backlash for acquiring Osuna. The Astros decided it was worth it. Since he got to Houston, Osuna has a 2.46 ERA and 50 saves. The Astros may win another World Series. But that doesn’t mean they get to decide when the backlash ends.
This is the miscalculation that teams make over and over again. They acquire players with reprehensible pasts for less than market rate and concede that they will have to pay a price in public trust. But when the bill comes due, teams act like they, not the people their actions wounded, are the aggrieved party. How dare you keep reminding us of the past? Don’t you understand we have baseball games to play?
And that’s the irony of that interaction with Taubman. None of those women were talking to him. They weren’t even talking about Osuna. Taubman brought him up.
After the trade, the Astros made some gestures to demonstrate how seriously they took domestic violence, referencing in a statement their “zero tolerance policy,” donating $214,000 to various shelters and hanging fliers with hotline numbers in every women’s restroom at Minute Maid Park. GM Jeff Luhnow went so far as to say that he thought the deal could “actually turn out to be a positive down the road” because it would “raise awareness.”
But in truth, the Astros' front office acts as if it is tired of being yelled at about this subject. They want to be allowed to play their baseball games and pop their champagne without being forced to think about anything that happened away from the ballpark. They want to be allowed to talk about Osuna the way third baseman Alex Bregman did before the series began, when he called him “a guy you want on the mound for you.”
Houston is not the only team that used assault as a market inefficiency. In October 2015, Aroldis Chapman allegedly choked his girlfriend, Cristina Barnea, then fired a gun eight times into the wall of his garage. Police said there was not enough evidence to charge him with a crime, but the league suspended him 30 games. The Reds had agreed to trade him to the Dodgers, but L.A. pulled out in wake of the allegations. Instead Cincinnati flipped him to the Yankees for four unremarkable prospects. When New York fell out of contention, it shipped Chapman to the Cubs, with whom he won the World Series. The Yankees received Gleyber Torres, the breakout star of the postseason, in return; that offseason, New York signed Chapman for five years and $86 million. After Osuna blew Game 6 on Saturday, Chapman blew it right back in the bottom of the ninth.
A year after the assault, Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner considered the fallout. “He admitted he messed up,” he told USA Today. “He paid the penalty. Sooner or later, we forget, right?”
No. Sooner or later, they forget. No matter what Taubman thinks about it, the rest of us can choose to remember for as long as we want.