Baseball is, first and foremost, a people-pleasing business. There is no inherent value in the ability to hit a baseball hard or throw a baseball fast; these are skills which are appreciated because they allow people, namely the fans of participating teams, to feel happy. And the Houston Astros have spent the last week making me feel pretty gross to be a baseball fan.
Granted, I am not an active fan of the Houston Astros, but I am a theoretically decent candidate to jump on their bandwagon for a week as they play in the World Series. I’ve never been as bothered as some others by the fact that they “tanked” in the early 2010s as a means to improve their late-2010s team, and a number of their players are downright likable. They have Jose Altuve, a player who manages to be the living embodiment of scrappy, hard-nosed play without the hype consuming his inherent likability. George Springer is one of the great young players in baseball. Alex Bregman is one of the great young players in baseball and he annoys Trevor Bauer. Zack Greinke is a cerebral, interesting pitcher who deserves his first World Series ring.
There is, however, one player on the team whose presence makes rooting for the Houston Astros a truly difficult task. And it isn’t only that Roberto Osuna, who was suspended for 75 games for domestic violence in 2018, is on the Astros–it is that the Astros specifically leveraged Osuna’s suspension with the Toronto Blue Jays in order to acquire him as the nadir of his trade value. Osuna was, to use an uncomfortable but common phrase, a distressed asset.
Roberto Osuna’s history of domestic violence went shockingly under the radar in the subsequent year, but was loudly brought back to the forefront by now-former Astros assistant general manager Brandon Taubman, who, in the wake of the team’s American League Championship Series victory over the New York Yankees (in a dark bit of irony, hitting a walk-off home run off fellow domestic abuser Aroldis Chapman), approached a group of female reporters wearing domestic violence bracelets and yelled, “Thank God we got Osuna! I’m so f***ing glad we got Osuna!”
The story of Taubman’s comments, the team’s lackluster reaction to it, and his eventual dismissal once the story became a public relations disaster has dominated baseball discussion during a week that Major League Baseball surely wishes the stories were about the baseball being played. Many oral histories of the story have already been compiled by actual reporters–here’s one from Jeff Passan, in case you haven’t followed the story, but your favorite national baseball writer has likely covered the story. I considered writing about the story when the comments first broke, but I had nothing to say that wasn’t already being said universally across baseball media. But then came the inevitable counterpoint: an attempt to rehabilitate the Houston Astros, from the front office to Roberto Osuna himself.
That Roberto Osuna is not in jail is a referendum on the legal system. That Roberto Osuna is playing Major League Baseball is a referendum on our cultural values and that we consider his ability to pitch a baseball more important than his basic decency, at least if he happens to be playing on our favorite team. That USA Today’s Bob Nightengale would even bother to both-sides the story and examine Roberto Osuna’s feelings on merely being discussed–it’s not as though this controversy is going to suddenly land him in prison–speaks to the cultural treatment of Osuna as a sports villain rather than a life villain.
I don’t have a great, intuitive sense of what punishment Roberto Osuna should have faced as a result of his domestic violence. As somebody who has never been a victim of domestic violence and who, as a heterosexual male, is part of the statistically least likely demographic to ever be a victim of domestic violence, it is easy for me to minimize how much of a problem it is. At the same time, I’m also weary of being an absolutist who demands the maximum punishment for any infraction for the sake of being demonstrative, the type of reactionary who demands the death penalty for those who commit relatively minor crimes and insists those who disagree must support those crimes.
But this is a separate issue from what is transpiring here–there is this persistent implication that Roberto Osuna must be forgiven, as though forgiveness is automatically secured once punishment has been served. Roberto Osuna is allowed to pitch in Major League Baseball, and while I have mixed feelings on whether or not he should be allowed to be, I do not have mixed feelings on Osuna himself. I hope he gets rocked every single time he pitches until he is no longer given the opportunity to pitch in Major League Baseball. I wish him nothing but failure. The same goes for Aroldis Chapman. The same goes for Julio Urias and Miguel Sano and Addison Russell and Steven Wright and Odubel Herrera.
The public relations hit which the Astros faced both in the immediate aftermath of the Osuna acquisition and the Taubman comments is the only thing we have to keep every baseball team from reacting to domestic violence as merely a market inefficiency to exploit. To this point, the only player that Major League Baseball has truly seen to be not worth the public backlash was Luke Heimlich, but it’s easier to resist the college pitching prospect than the flame-throwing MLB closer, even before considering each’s crimes. The next player to be unofficially blacklisted from MLB could be Felipe Vazquez, the two-time All-Star reliever for the Pittsburgh Pirates who is currently on administrative leave from Major League Baseball following multiple child sex charges. I suspect that Vazquez will not only never again pitch in Major League Baseball but will indeed go to jail, but if somehow MLB manages to find new ways to disappoint us, he will be booed in every stadium he pitches with the possible exception of his home stadium (note that I said “possible”).
Viewing Osuna, or Vazquez, or Chapman as an impersonal collection of metrics is the logical conclusion of the sabermetrics movement, though sexism in baseball certainly existed prior to Moneyball. While the approach that led to these awful conclusions may be wildly different, the conclusions are essentially the same. And it is your right, and arguably your duty, to voice opposition to these conclusions.
And at the very least, you ought not shed a tear for the Houston Astros. They knew what they were doing when they traded for Roberto Osuna. They concluded that his right arm was worth more positive than his legal history was worth negative. They’ve reaped the positives to within one game of a World Series victory. It is now time to pay the pied piper.