U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

Astros fire assistant general manager for inappropriate comments to reporters

Incident Details

Thomas B. Shea/USA TODAY Sports via Reuters

A view of Minute Maid Park in Houston, Texas, where the Astros beat the New York Yankees in six games for baseball’s American League pennant on Oct. 19, 2019.

— Thomas B. Shea/USA TODAY Sports via Reuters
October 19, 2019

The Houston Astros fired Brandon Taubman, the baseball team's assistant general manager, on Oct. 24, 2019, after Taubman made improper comments toward female reporters about a team member accused of domestic violence.

On Oct. 19, during celebrations in the Astros clubhouse following the team's victory over the New York Yankees to win the American League pennant, Taubman yelled “Thank God we got Osuna! I’m so f------ glad we got Osuna!” directing his comments at three female reporters nearby, one of whom was wearing a purple rubber domestic violence-awareness bracelet.

Pitcher Roberto Osuna was a Toronto Blue Jay when he was suspended without pay for 75 games during the 2018 season for violating Major League Baseball's domestic violence policy. Osuna had been accused of assaulting the mother of his three-year-old child. The Astros hired Osuna near the end of that suspension despite having a "zero tolerance policy" against domestic violence, drawing widespread criticism.

Sports Illustrated's Stephanie Apstein, one of the reporters at whom Taubman directed his remarks, published a story on Oct. 21 describing Taubman's outburst and putting it in broader context.

"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," she wrote. "Taubman's timing was odd," Apstein continued, as Osuna had not performed well that evening. "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."

But for his arrest for domestic violence, Osuna would likely have never become an Astro, Apstein continued. "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," she wrote. "But the price was low for a reason: Many teams didn’t want to deal with the public backlash for acquiring Osuna."

The Houston Chronicle reported that Taubman’s comments were directed at one particular female reporter. “In casual conversations at the end of the 2018 season, Taubman complained about the reporter to multiple people,” the Chronicle reported, without naming the individual in question.

After Apstein's story was published, the Astros put out a statement accusing the reporter of fabrication: "The story posted by Sports Illustrated is misleading and completely irresponsible," the statement began, attributing Taubman's comments to "the game situation that had just occurred and nothing else -- they were also not directed toward any specific reporters. We are extremely disappointed in Sports Illustrated's attempts to fabricate a story where one does not exist."

Sports Illustrated came to Apstein's defense in a statement the next day: "Sports Illustrated unequivocally stands behind Apstein, her reporting and the story, which was subsequently corroborated by several other media members present at the scene. Any implication that SI or any of its journalists would ‘fabricate’ a story in its detail or intent is both disappointing and completely inexcusable."

Two days later, on Oct. 24, the Astros fired Taubman and tweeted out a mea culpa:

Team owner Jim Crane on Oct. 26 sent a short letter to Apstein admitting fault, writing, "We were wrong and I am sorry that we initially questioned your professionalism."

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker catalogues press freedom violations in the United States. Email tips to [email protected].