The Brandon Taubman incident in October was a first window into the Astros' nature for some, when the assistant general manager directed aggressive comments about reliever Roberto Osuna toward a group of female reporters in the clubhouse and in particular one who kept the focus on Osuna's domestic violence suspension. The report of the outburst by Stephanie Apstein of Sports Illustrated was called "misleading and completely irresponsible" by the Astros in an official press release.
It wasn't. Multiple witnesses confirmed as much, and Taubman remains suspended by MLB. Commissioner Rob Manfred sharply criticized the culture set by the Astros' baseball operations department, blaming a toxic environment that facilitated Taubman's behavior and the decision to smear the reporter.
Manfred's comments came after the investigation that followed into the Astros' elaborate system of using cameras to steal opponents' pitch signals and relay to batters what was coming. The conclusions singled out the "very problematic" front office culture, "manifesting itself in the ways employees are treated, its relations with other clubs and its relations with the media and external stakeholders."
It is who they are.
I use the present tense despite the symbolic firings of general manager Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch, despite the punishment that included a $5-million fine and the forfeiture of two years worth of high-round draft picks, because it clearly wasn't enough. Upon hearing owner Jim Crane on Thursday, we now know that needs to be revisited and increased.
"Our opinion is that this didn't impact the game," Crane said of the cheating scandal. "We had a good team, we won the World Series and we'll leave it at that."
Not even one minute later, Crane was asked what he meant by sign-stealing not impacting the game. His response?
"I didn't say it didn't impact the game," he said.
Two of the players involved in the cheating were also put out front to explain themselves, but neither Alex Bregman nor Jose Altuve was at all convincing in conveying even halfhearted regret. New manager Dusty Baker defended his players as he has always done, despite not even knowing them or having worked with them.
Meanwhile, new general manager James Click refused to answer questions about why he continues to employ two front-office staffers reported to be big parts of the scheme, and he flatly endorsed hitting coach Alex Cintron despite his reported connection. It's more clear with every opportunity provided that the Astros don't think that they've done anything wrong and just want everything to go back to how it used to be.
The good news is that they don't get to decide that, to declare when the negative attention focused on them is over. In fact, their across-the-board bumbling now will ensure that they continue to be asked why their office culture persists and why nothing imposed by MLB is having the effect intended.
I would say the Astros just don't get it, but that would be incorrect and letting them off easy. The Astros don't want to get it and still don't believe they have to. It is who they are, right in front of our eyes.