This was not what I was talking about when I said
Fellas, you owe it to the fans. We may not forgive you and get over it right away even if you mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa all over the place, but I can promise you that a hell of a lot of us will never get over it if you don’t even try.
What happened today in West Palm Beach is much closer to “don’t even try” than to a real, honest explanation or apology.
After months of investigation by the Office of the Commissioner, Major League Baseball released a report last month finding the Houston Astros guilty of cheating for using technology to steal signs from their opponents in 2017 and 2018. Astros owner Jim Crane fired the manager and general manager for not stopping the player-driven scheme, and a week later he ran interference for his players—who at that point hadn’t yet said anything—by saying they would all talk when they got to together in spring training and then offer a public apology. That meeting happened last night, and the big apology came in a news conference this morning. Here, courtesy of KPRC-TV in Houston, is the entire pathetic performance.
No doubt the Astros in-house public relations folks consulted with outside experts in crisis management to come up with a plan; Crane needs to be asking for his money back from all of them. Putting the owner front and center speaking on behalf of his team seems the start of the right response, but the script they gave him to read was, as the kids say, an epic fail. Over the course of about half an hour Crane (1) repeatedly made the point that he personally was not responsible at all, even though (2) he hired the general manager and the manager who were assigned blame in the commissioner’s report because (irony alert) they did not properly supervise their subordinates, (3) acknowledged that his players broke the rules but refused to say they “cheated,” at one point (4, in answer to a question that starts at 8:04 into the clip) said his team’s rule-breaking actions did not impact any games, and then (5, two questions later, starting at 9:39) denied that he had said what we all heard him say. Over and over, his answer to every question that tried to start getting some into specifics became a variant of “the report says what it says, and that is what is right, and we will say no more than that.” He looked stupid. As an Astros fan, I am embarrassed by his ignorant performance.
Consensus of the crisis management pros consulted by the Houston Chronicle today was that this event made things worse:
“The core of the problem is that the team’s owner and players tried to declare the crisis over before it’s really over,” [Gene] Grabowski [of crisis communications firm kglobal] said. “They sounded arrogant when they said they are moving on. That’s for the fans and sports writers to say — not guilty players and owners.”
Mike Androvett, who owns a public relations, marketing and advertising firm that works with attorneys in Dallas and Houston, said the news conference failed to put the past to rest and, instead, “reinforced that the 2017 World Series win will likely be forever tainted.”
“I felt like the apologies by Mr. Crane and the two ballplayers seemed a little begrudging and lacking in specificity,” Androvett said. “If the intent was to nip this controversy in the bud, I think it will have the opposite effect.”
Crane, he said, “was not willing to share specific details, and he seemed only too ready to defer back to the commissioner’s report.”
Androvett said [Alex] Bregman and [Jose] Altuve, each of whom spoke for less than a minute at the news conference before giving more detailed answers in the clubhouse, “were placed in an unwinnable position, and as a result, their apologies rang a little hollow.”
Marjorie Ingall with the website sorrywatch.com, which tracks and rates messages of public contrition, said the Astros news conference “was spectacular in its horridness. It’s the way not to apologize. It’s every example of terrible corporate policy.”
Among Crane’s failures during his news conference, Ingall said, was refusing to acknowledge the damage the Astros inflicted on their opponents.
“You have to apologize to the people you’ve harmed,” she said. “If you’re not doing that, you’re not really apologizing.”
You can see Bregman and Altuve at 2:56 and 3:45 of the news conference: they said little, but did seem taken with the seriousness of the moment if not truly sorry for what they did to cause it. They did a bit better later in the morning inside the clubhouse, when they and a few teammates—Carlos Correa, George Springer, Justin Verlander, Josh Reddick and Lance McCullers—seem to really start to express some contrition for this illegal plan:
As I’ve put the pieces together, the story is that a team intern showed up with an Excel-based program (“Codebreaker”) that helped the front office decode a catcher’s signs, but that effort was denounced as pedestrian by Carlos Beltran when he was signed as a free agent before the 2017 season. (The original story from The Athletic is here, a version out from under a paywall is on Sports Illustrated here.) Beltran and bench coach Alex Cora, both now “ousted” as managers of the Mets and Red Sox, respectively, because of this affair, reportedly got the scheme rolling to route a center field camera video feed to the clubhouse/dugout area so the catcher’s signs could be deciphered and a short message—sent via bangs on a trash can in the tunnel behind the dugout—could be sent to tell the Astro-at-bat what kind of pitch was coming. And, we are given to believe, many of the Astros players and coaches opposed this scheme but “felt powerless” to stop it.
Clubhouse dynamics came into play, and Beltrán, a 20-year veteran, reportedly didn’t take too well to players approaching him about the operation. Players described him to The Athletic as “El Jefe, the Godfather, the king, the alpha male in the building.”
A half-dozen former Astros players spoke with The Athletic on the condition of anonymity and said some players were afraid to approach Beltrán and express their disdain for the cheating scheme. At one point, veteran catcher Brian McCann approached Beltrán and asked him to end the operation.
“He disregarded it and steamrolled everybody,” one of the team members said. “Where do you go if you’re a young, impressionable player with the Astros and this guy says, ‘We’re doing this’? What do you do?”
(Beltran retired after the 2017 season; the Astros players reportedly stopped using the system to steal signs sometime in the 2018 season because they felt it was not productive.)
To this point, I have not heard a single Astros player, coach, executive or team official try to make a case that the charges are false, that the Astros are innocent. (We’re starting to hear rumblings that there are plenty of other teams that are guilty, too, but that’s irrelevant to whether or not the Astros cheated; no one is saying the Astros didn’t do it.) Nobody I’ve heard has tried to pardon any of the players individually, make us believe that this guy didn’t participate in the cheating. They are publicly accepting the accusation that they violated the rules of the game, that they cheated in a way that effected the outcome of games.
Today Jim Crane and his players spent a lot of time reminding us us that they are have said they are sorry, that they have expressed remorse, as if that is all they need to say for us to be honor-bound to start to forget the whole sorry affair and rightfully turn attention to who will be the fourth and fifth starters this year, and whether or not Myles Straw can adequately replace Jake Marisnick as the designated late inning pinch runner.
What the Astros haven’t conveyed so far, at least not to me yet, is that they really “know why they’re supposed to be sorry” about this.
The players and owner Jim Crane held a team meeting on Wednesday to plan a course of action for the next day of camp. On Thursday, they severely underwhelmed. Astros hitters Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman provided roughly two minutes of insincere, vague remarks, while Crane issued a strange denial that the team’s cheating actually affected the outcome of the games.
“I am really sorry about the choices that were made by my team, by the organization, and by me,” Bregman said, squeezing as much out of the passive voice as he could.
The Astros’ talking points all had heavy overlap. The players said most of them didn’t speak out earlier because they wanted to get together and address it as a team. (Or maybe they wanted to get their stories straight and not admit any more than what was in MLB’s investigation.) They were sorry that they didn’t do more to stop it. They hoped to move on and be better in the future. They also didn’t specify what exactly they were supposed to be sorry for.
One more thing: it occurs to me that there is a way that the Astros could still make this even more annoying. If—despite all we’ve learned so far about the Astros cheating and whatever may still come out—if the team and the players come out tomorrow, and the next day, and next week and next month, and for however long it is that people in and out of the game are still pissed off and/or disappointed about this sorry episode…if they now take the attitude that they have done all the apologizing that is necessary and have nothing more to say on the matter…if one of them looks down his nose at a reporter and huffs that he has “already addressed that issue” and refuses to say another word…
And if the reporters let them get away with that? If they don’t “chase them ‘round the moons of Nibia and ‘round the Antares maelstrom, and ‘round perdition’s flame” to get a honest answer to a legitimate question…well, that’s a whole ‘nuther blog post.