Roberto Osuna joined the Houston Astros at the 2018 trade deadline. He did so under what might be euphemistically called a cloud. Osuna, widely (and to most people irrelevantly) considered one of the top relief options in baseball, was at the time serving a 75-game suspension for assaulting the mother of his young child*, and the decision to acquire him was met with a combination of bafflement and scorn. How could this happen? Why did Houston, possessors of a “no-tolerance” domestic violence policy, decide to make the trade and then twist themselves in knots to justify it?
*The alleged victim refused to return to Canada to testify, and charges were subsequently dropped.
With the Astros back in the World Series 14 months after that trade, assistant general manager Brandon Taubman took it upon himself to answer that question. Jose Altuve had just walked Houston off to clinch the ALCS, and, according to reporting from Sports Illustrated’s Stephanie Apstein, Taubman celebrated by taunting a group of female reporters. “Thank God we got Osuna! I’m so fucking glad we got Osuna!”
The most toxic level — sexual harassment, domestic violence, rape — is brutal and easy to condemn. But Taubman exposed something perhaps more insidious: the structure that surface-level misogyny stands on. Taubman, as a senior member of Houston’s baseball operations staff, was one of those whose judgement was implicitly questioned in the wake of the Osuna trade; his response, evidenced by his outburst, seems to have been a mixture of resentment and seething contempt.
Where Osuna and the Astros are concerned, domestic violence is a sideshow, subsumed in the need to win as many championships as possible. At its most important, it’s a PR game, one to which a front office might sacrifice a Double-A prospect but never anyone more valuable. When there’s a tradeoff between condemning domestic violence and actually winning, however, it’s an arbitrage opportunity. Osuna was a good player, he came cheap, and the Astros didn’t give a damn about why.
This might seem like a criticism of Taubman and the Astros. It is, but it also isn’t. Sports teams exist as an expression of local and national culture, and while the Astros are a particularly stark example, they’re still mostly an expression of the way sports works.
It’s tempting to suggest that a winning-at-all-costs mentality is to blame, but with half of MLB in tear-it-down-who-gives-a-shit mode these days, such an assertion would strain credulity. Rather, there’s an expectation that sports exist in its own world, untroubled by the buffeting and blowing that might exist elsewhere. “Stick to sports,” or so goes the refrain. As we’ve seen with Colin Kaepernick and the NFL, intruding into that bubble is a sin.
Thanks to the scrutiny around the Osuna trade, Taubman felt sinned against, and he punished that sin with a tirade against a group of women merely doing their jobs. That Taubman’s rant was the sort normally reserved for Twitter or Facebook comments is a reminder of the obstacles women in sports journalism face: not only are women massively underrepresented in the industry (SB Nation, to my horror, is part of the problem here), but they also face abuse at frankly obscene levels. The contempt for women which boils through sports manifests itself differently in different situations, but it manifests without fail.
“Stick to sports” misses the fundamental point: putting misogyny and baseball (or racism and soccer, or etc.) on the same moral plane is absurd. There is no cost-benefit analysis for teams to fiddle with here; the evil of domestic violence isn’t mitigated by how tightly the perpetrator can spin a slider. While teams can make decisions purely in a sporting sense, they don’t have to. The Astros’ path to the World Series would have been more difficult without trading for Osuna last year, but they’re a smart team. They could have figured out how to make that tradeoff.
Taubman’s comments suggest he both feels the trade was worth it and he feels aggrieved that anyone might have the temerity to suggest otherwise. Will he face any consequences? That seems unlikely at the moment. The Astros have already released a statement, contradicted by other journalists present in the clubhouse, claiming that Apstein’s story is fabricated (they didn’t bother giving her a comment pre-publication, of course). But even if Taubman was removed from his front office position, it’s hard to see anything changing.
Taubman isn’t a bad actor in a virtuous world. Without letting him or the Astros off the hook, we need to recognize Taubman is an expression of the system working like it wants to, supporting awful behavior and being supported in turn until any outrage disperses into confusion.
No matter what happens next, the truth is impossible to escape: it’s misogyny all the way down.