We talk about work as a cohesive, coherent thing — I am a writer, your dad is a plumber, these are our jobs — but it isn’t really. Jobs are a bunch of tasks and to-do lists and calendar reminders, wholes made up of discrete parts that add up to our work. Part of the work of covering the Astros involves an honest accounting of Roberto Osuna: The pitches he throws and how they play, and also how he came to be in Houston. It means considering the cost of his acquisition, not just in so many Gileses, and Paulinos, and Perezes, but also in the bits of humanity it denied and disregarded. It involves recognizing that the Astros got to the World Series in part by commodifying one of the worst moments of a human being’s life, and putting that chilly awfulness into the context of a game somehow.
That was and is the work of the three female sportswriters who were in the Astros’ locker room on the evening of Houston’s pennant-winning triumph. Only that night, a new task emerged. Part of their work became now-former assistant general manager Brandon Taubman and his venom, the drumbeat of “Thank God we got Osuna! I’m so f—— glad we got Osuna!” delivered with cigar in hand. It became locating that venom alongside the purple domestic violence awareness bracelet one of the reporters was wearing, and Taubman’s prior frustration at her practice of tweeting out resources for victims and survivors when Osuna would pitch. These new bits of work added to the queue, one of those reporters, Stephanie Apstein, went about her business, detailing the incident and its context for Sports Illustrated.
And that’s where the trouble started, in this moment when Apstein’s work butted up against Taubman’s notion of his, with his understanding so clearly marking those bits of humanity disregarded as of a different category than Osuna’s fastball. The latter was baseball and the former something else, both not-work for Apstein and the anonymous reporter in the purple bracelet, and a cudgel to wield against these three women. Taubman clearly thought he had gotten the better of a couple of pests, but by denying the validity of these women’s work, women just there to do their jobs, what he revealed was just how much more work the Astros have left to do themselves.
I keep coming back to work because at some point, we have to be counted on to be reliable narrators of our own lives, describers of baseball players and petty men. To faithfully and accurately render a scene; to, in light of the imperfections of human expression, help our readers understand what is meant by something. To report, To know what it is we saw, because that is our work. In turn, we have to be able to count on the harmful actions of others carrying consequences. For the harm to matter more than the intent, even as the contours of that intent necessarily shape the particulars of those consequences. For those who remain after those consequences are rendered to do not just their best, but what is required.
And so, I would have liked nothing more than to have just watched baseball this week, but I couldn’t. I wanted to appreciate José Altuve, enjoy Gerrit Cole; to not wonder if Howie Kendrick’s home run last night wasn’t some divine hand meting out justice. To not want it to be. Baseball is my work, but now this is, too. And of course, it has been my work, and the work of others, for years, to tell this part of baseball’s story. But it feels like a betrayal of all that for someone to be so casually cruel; for Taubman to have deputized another man’s cruelty in service of his own. For his bosses to smear and stumble. To turn this moment, which ought to have been about grit and joy and pushing through into something sour, and marked by malice. To disrespect all this work.
On Saturday, in a letter to Apstein finally retracting the club’s false initial denial of the incident, one that claimed she attempted “to fabricate a story,” Astros owner Jim Crane said, “I assure you that the Houston Astros will learn from this experience.” I hope they do, though I’ll admit to an exhausted skepticism. After all, to demonstrate growth requires a willingness to submit oneself to examination, not only to tell but to show, and to be willing to do so not in the moments that prove convenient, but awkwardly, in-process. Mid-work.
That sort of openness, to expose the squishiness of a lesson not yet fully learned, is the exact sort the Astros have revealed themselves resistant to. They seem, in moments as extreme as Taubman’s outburst but also at times less volcanic but no less loud, to misunderstand this work, theirs and others. They miscategorized the Osuna acquisition, indexing it away from baseball to distance themselves from its more human consequences, and thus displace it from the purview of someone like Apstein as well. They’ll probably want to displace this, too, all this other business, and mark it as un-baseball, but we shouldn’t let them.
Yesterday the World Series ended; the Astros lost. The season is done, and the brass will want to move on. To set about fixing what ailed this team in the end, even as they side-step this other, bigger project. To reinforce the rotation, and find a catcher, and prepare to try again. And that’s fine, but they have to do this hard bit, also. There may be those among you who think it uncharitable to take this moment, when their fans are low, and their players packing up, to ask that we remember Taubman, but this is precisely when we must resist forgetting, in the moments when we and they are vulnerable to all the other things on the to-do list. Before other, potentially flawed men arrive, and have to be properly sized up.
These women were just trying to do their work, after the ALCS was decided and in the days since, and for the Astros to do theirs will require them to look their baseball full in the face, embracing the smarts and spin and data, but also the humanity and failing of those who wear their uniform. It will mean creating an environment of real respect, for those who work for and around them, and building an organization that properly appreciates that to acquire an Osuna is to acquire all of him, perhaps inspiring them to resist acquiring another like him at all. That remembers that discounts come at a cost, and that the accounting of those costs isn’t a task set on the buyer’s timetable. It means being a club that isn’t marked by the mean fuss of the insecure or the petty. That is less enamored with being clever and more concerned with being decent. That takes responsibility and sees itself as responsible for this project, not just yesterday or last Saturday, but tomorrow and next spring. That understands its work.
It starts today, before they forget. Before we do.
Meg is the managing editor of FanGraphs, the host of FanGraphs Audio, and the co-co-host of Effectively Wild. Her work has previously appeared at Baseball Prospectus, Lookout Landing, and Just A Bit Outside.