Opinion: MLB needs to address Houston Astros’ troubling history of toxic behavior

The Houston Astros are Major League Baseball’s worst nightmare.

Already reprimanded once this season by the league for fundamental immaturity, the Astros created another headache on the eve of the World Series by lying about the Neanderthal-like behavior of one of their assistant general managers. Instead of promoting the Jose Altuve fan club or musing about the impact such a long layoff will have on the Washington Nationals, the focus in the hours before Game 1 is now squarely on the Astros and why they continue to exhibit such toxic behavior.

Sports Illustrated reported Monday night that Astros assistant general manager Brandon Taubman shouted “Thank God we got (Roberto) Osuna! I’m so (expletive) glad we got Osuna!” in the direction of three female reporters after Houston beat the New York Yankees on Saturday night to reach the World Series.

Osuna was suspended for 75 games in 2018 for violating MLB’s domestic violence policy. SI reported that one of the journalists Taubman yelled at was wearing a purple bracelet for domestic violence awareness.

Rather than apologizing, or even trying to spin the incident as an unfortunate misunderstanding, the Astros doubled down on their boorishness.

“The story posted by Sports Illustrated is misleading and completely irresponsible,” the Astros said in a statement. “We are extremely disappointed in Sports Illustrated’s attempt to fabricate a story where one does not exist.”

Except it wasn’t fabricated.

Hunter Atkins, a reporter for the Houston Chronicle, quickly refuted the Astros’ statement, saying on Twitter, “I was there. Saw it. And I should’ve said something sooner.” The Chronicle later published a story saying three eyewitnesses, two of whom were its own reporters, had confirmed SI’s account.

Unsurprisingly, the Astros had no response. Disappointingly, neither did MLB.

Astros relief pitcher Roberto Osuna was suspended 75 games in 2018 for violating MLB's domestic violence policy. (Photo: Troy Taormina, USA TODAY Sports)

Teams are given wide latitude in their operations, and rightly so. But when they traffic in misinformation and misogyny, or create a hostile environment for reporters, it is incumbent upon the league to step in. The Astros have shown repeatedly that crassness is a core value, and that is something that should be of great concern to MLB.

When a petulant Justin Verlander demanded in August that a reporter he didn’t like be barred from the clubhouse until he was done talking, the Astros should have patiently explained the role of the media and why MLB has deemed it important enough to include in the collective bargaining agreement. Instead, the Astros kowtowed to their star pitcher and, without any evidence, disparaged the reporter Verlander found so bothersome.

MLB let the Astros know they were in the wrong. But Taubman’s behavior, and the team’s defiant absolution of it, shows Houston is going to operate under its own rules and it doesn’t much care what anyone thinks of that.

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Taubman’s vulgarity and Verlander’s immaturity is galling enough. What is unacceptable, and what MLB must address, is that the Astros are willing to create false narratives to defend those behaviors.

It wasn’t long ago that we all operated with the same set of facts. We might have disagreed with the interpretation of those facts, or had different opinions about what they meant. But the underlying truth of them, the fundamental who, what, why, when and how, were not open for debate.

As President Donald Trump lies with abandon, however, the regard for truth has eroded everywhere. Truth has become what you want to make of it rather than what it actually is, and it’s no longer an embarrassment to spout bald-faced lies if it benefits you.

And if your misdeeds and lies are exposed, just dig in and shout louder rather than acknowledge you were wrong.

There is a conversation to be had about MLB's continued disregard for domestic violence, and why Taubman directing his defense of Osuna at female reporters is particularly troubling. But the more problematic issue for the league right now is that the Astros are operating under their own set of rules, and claiming their own set of facts.

Punishing the Astros as the World Series begins is less than ideal. But if MLB doesn't act now, the headaches caused by the Astros will only get worse. 

Follow USA TODAY Sports columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour. 

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