“Spectacular in its horridness”

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.”

(snip)

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.”

(snip)

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.

(snip)

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.

Furlough Journal: Here we go…out the door

I really didn’t need all this fuss to let me know that my job is “non-essential,” you know.

Since Congress couldn’t come to an agreement on a new government spending plan by the deadline last night, we have a partial government shutdown and that includes NASA and the Johnson Space Center in Houston, where I work as a contractor in television production for the public affairs office.  Since we’re talking about the federal government, that means there’s bureaucratic silliness involved—we had to come to work this morning in order to be told we had four hours to complete an orderly shutdown and go home.  Ah, just enough time for me to change my voice mail greeting and turn off the TV!

When this happened in 1995 the contractor company for which I worked found something for us all to do, and we didn’t miss a day’s pay.  This time around, I am told, we are not on furlough—only the civil servants are—and we can work, but we cannot work in the government offices or use government equipment; we are also allowed to use vacation hours to avoid missing a paycheck.  I have more than a month’s worth of vacation available, so I’m reasonably confident.  Of course, if reason were to be trusted we wouldn’t have a partial government shutdown now, would we?  This conveys the feeling of some of the people at work this morning:

Khangress

The rest of us are a little less stressed.  I’m headed for lunch and then for the golf course…I could use some time off.

Resurrection without revolution not likely even in the 23rd century

I saw the new “Star Trek” movie this weekend, and I’d recommend it to Trek fans without reservation.  (If you want to see it but haven’t yet, don’t read on—thar be spoilers here.)

I’m still not comfortable with the whole “let’s reset the timeline” thing introduced in the 2009 movie, which I suppose means I don’t like it.  While I appreciate that the new writers and producers don’t want the new stories in what they hope will be a whole string of movies to be constrained by the history established in six previous television series (counting the animated series, 726 episodes in total) and ten previous movies, so far I can’t help but think “that’s wrong” each time I see something that didn’t happen in the original timeline, especially the lovestruck Uhura.  Maybe I’ll get over it.

With that in mind, I have to say I was disappointed in myself for taking quite so long to see the parallels between the new movie’s story and “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.”  Of course I remembered Khan (“I grow…fa-tigued again.”  “ADMIRAL?  ADMIRAL Kirk?!  “I’ll chase him round the moons of Nibia and round the Antares maelstrom and round perdition’s flames before I give him up!”), but I didn’t recognize the hero-selflessly-saves-the-Enterprise motif, with Kirk and Spock exchanging roles and dialogue, until it was completely unmistakable to anyone who saw the 1982 movie.

Back then it took another whole movie to bring the hero back from the dead, but today it just took the last ten or so minutes of this flick.  And I took it all in as presented, jumping right from resurrection of the captain to the relaunch of his ship a year later without giving any consideration to what probably would really have happened in the wake of McCoy’s greatest feat of medical prestidigitation.  Fortunately, our friends at The Awl have turned up the good doctor’s own recollection

Ridiculous, to think it all started over a tribble. A lifeless bundle of fur. I always kept a dead tribble in my Curio of Maladies in those days, for medical reasons, and was especially glad of it when they finally hauled Khan’s body aboard for study after the battle.

Kirk was particularly dead that day; I remember because everyone was crying and the science woman kept all of her clothes on. As is my habit, I injected several of Khan’s more personal fluids (super-fluids, if you’ll pardon the medical terminology) into the tribble to see what would happen.

The tribble returned almost immediately to life. I remember because I thought to myself, “Ah, I seem to have conquered death. Tremendous,” at the time.

As a doctor, this made my job a great deal easier.

As I mentioned before, Kirk was dead—terribly dead—being chock full of radiations and so forth, so I decided he’d make an excellent second test subject for my Home Death Remedy and plugged him with a bit of the super-blood a few minutes later.

(snip)

Within a week, the Federation had clawed itself into thirteen warring factions, all ready to destroy entire star systems at the prospect of getting their hands on that serum.

Kirk was immediately taken to a research-torture facility by a group of scientists from Section 31. In a way, I think we all failed to take into account the interest this shadowy government organization, with the resources to build a super-advanced death-ship in absolute secrecy, might take in a serum that reverses death.

I tried to tell them I was a doctor, but it didn’t even slow them down. They killed most of the crew in their raid, which I thought damned inconvenient, until I remembered the immortality serum I had developed, from super-blood.

(snip)

The rest you undoubtedly know. The wild-eyed men and women who took to showing up at my offices at all hours of the night, bearing the fresh and mangled corpses of their loved ones in their arms, begging for serum. The armies of the frozen half-dead, the resurrected children brought back to crazed and formless life by their deranged, grief-stricken parents, the Blood Colonies.

You wanna talk about changing history…