Just like the story of the ball overshadowed the story of player performance throughout the postseason, a worse and darker story has overtaken the ball as the main narrative heading into the World Series.
When the Astros were clinching their pennant against the Yankees, it was reported by Sports Illustrated, and corroborated by two other Houston Chronicle reporters present, that assistant general manager Brandon Taubman turned to three female reporters, one wearing a bracelet about domestic violence awareness, and yelled, “Thank God we got Osuna! I’m so f------ glad we got Osuna!” referring to the formerly suspended closer Roberto Osuna.
The Astros could have apologized, or even made no comment, but instead went as far to refute the statement and cry Fake News:
The Astros just released the following statement. pic.twitter.com/KnA6kQt0hq— Chandler Rome (@Chandler_Rome) October 22, 2019
This isn’t the Astros’ first brush with controversy, as we all know. In acquiring Osuna they made it clear that the PR hit was something they didn’t much care about, even going as far to say that it could be a “positive” in bringing awareness to domestic violence. When the team made the World Series back in 2017, Yuli Gurriel was suspended (in the next season, remember) for engaging in a racist taunt of Yu Darvish.
That’s the difficulty in writing, covering, and watching sports: life rarely escapes. We would prefer to talk about the real story here, which is that during a time when teams have focused on bullpens, that this World Series could feature two of the best rotations we have ever seen in a World Series in our lifetime—Gerrit Cole, Justin Verlander, Zack Greinke, Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, and Patrick Corbin—up to five of those could be Hall of Famers—will square off in a battle not of whose Opener will be better, but whose starter will actually go the distance.
Instead, we’re talking about an incredibly disturbing topic, in which a high-ranking Astros employee not only decided to dismiss domestic violence—that would have been the case if the Yankees made the series, for example—but took that trauma and rubbed it into peoples’ noses, and then argued that it was never actually said.
The late-2010s will be considered a lot of things, and forward likely won’t be one of them. This half-decade has been completely defined by those who not only defy peoples’ basic expectations of decency and fairness, but take pure enjoyment in the suffering of others. This—let’s call it “boarding school mindset”—is still an ever-present feature of elite institutions. Entertainment, media, and political life has become not about people running away from their flaws, but instead wearing flaw like a virtue, and an alleged curse of victim-hood.
It’s not all lost, of course. On the other side of the field is someone like Sean Doolittle, who has made compassion and solidarity a feature of his stardom—ranging from defending Derby, NY union workers in MLB’s attempt to outsource cap manufacturing, to speaking out on behalf of the LGBTQ community in Oakland, to defending Daniel Hudson for the criticism made when he missed a postseason game for his child’s birth. In sports, like in all social life, there is still a shared, common humanity to be found.
It’s hard to live this way as a fan of sport, but the only way not to live this way is to wear a mask, to deny what is actually in front of you and play pretend, which is acceptable when you’re a child and don’t know better, but more difficult when, as an adult, it’s just the bare minimum to think critically for more than two seconds about the product you’re consuming.
Does that mean this can’t be entertaining in a vacuum? Of course not. Beyond the rotation you have an Astros club that has struggled offensively and has a pretty tired bullpen with the long series, and the Nationals are completely well-rested. Juan Soto and Anthony Rendon have been revelations, putting up the biggest plays by cWPA this postseason. There are narratives I’d prefer to be focusing on. Yet compartmentalization is an unfortunate feature of baseball in 2019, and no matter who wins or loses, we will still have plenty of time to dissect and discuss these issues come one week from now.