Rick's Space: A young reporter gets tested

All The Facts Ma’am




Stephanie Apstein is a good, young sports reporter, good enough to be a staff writer for Sports Illustrated. She has a master’s degree from the Columbia School of Journalism.

Roberto Osuna, 24, is a pitcher for the Houston Astros. He dropped out of school at age 12 to pursue his passion, baseball. Osuna became the first player born in 1995 to make the major leagues.

It didn’t take him long to accumulate baggage that would place what could be a lucrative career in jeopardy. He had two children by two different women by the end of 2017, including a three-year-old with Alejandra Román Cota.

On May 8, 2018, “after a night of drinking,” he was arrested after a “physical altercation” with his now ex-girlfriend Cota.

Cota, who appears to be as young or younger than Osuna (her age wasn’t given) exited Toronto almost immediately, returning to Mexico. She never came back and the Toronto courts were forced to drop assault and domestic violence charges against Osuna.

But Major League Baseball carried out its own intensive investigation — those who govern professional sports were forced to begin taking a harder look at these things after the football player Ray Rice cold-cocked his wife on an elevator, knocking her out. He almost got away with it.

Osuna was found to be culpable and suspended by MLB for 75 games. His ability to close out games, his youth, and the fact he was sitting on a huge paycheck still made him a valuable commodity. One could also assume that fact weighed large on the mother of their child and her refusal to testify against him.

The Astros stunned the baseball world by trading for Osuna while he was in the midst of his suspension. It clearly sent a signal: You can beat your spouse if you pitch well enough. The team issued a statement: “We feel like the Houston Astros and the city of Houston will provide Roberto with an environment that will enable him to get a fresh start and get back to focusing on pitching and hopefully help us win going forward.” In other words, hopefully he doesn’t know any women around here to smack around.

Two weeks ago, Houston won the National League pennant. In the raucous, exuberant clubhouse celebration that followed, liquor flowed and euphoria reigned.

Stephanie Apstein was there covering the game, standing in a small group of reporters, taking it all in. She had written a piece for Sports Illustrated after the trade. “[When teams] acquire players with reprehensible pasts for less than market rate and concede they will have to pay a price in public trust. But when the bill comes due, teams act like they, not the people their actions wounded, are the aggrieved party.”

Assistant general manager Brandon Taubman, a Cornell graduate, suddenly turned on a group of three female reporters in the clubhouse, including one wearing a purple domestic-violence awareness bracelet, and yelled, half a dozen times, “Thank God we got Osuna! I’m so f—— glad we got Osuna!”

The funny thing is, Osuna pitched poorly.

The words cut like razors. The man was saying he would do it all over again — let Osuna’s wife absorb a good beating in return for winning a baseball game. Extrapolating, he might well have been saying, “I wouldn’t give a crap if he killed her as long as he won the game!”

Apstein, in prose, reported on the incident, matter-of-factly and in measured words. Taubman had ranted, forcing the women to cower. The outburst was offensive and frightening enough that another Houston staffer apologized.

It would have ended there but the Astros, still giddy, needed to punish the woman reporter who told it like it was, needed to reiterate where domestic violence issues rest on the scale of importance: at or near the bottom.

The Astros in a press release denied Taubman’s outburst had happened, calling the article “misleading” and saying that the magazine had attempted “to fabricate a story where one does not exist.”

But maybe some things have finally changed. This time, spectators, including men and perhaps even (gasp!) players backed up the female reporter. Taubman was summarily fired.

The next week the Astros, after taking a three-to-two game lead, lost the seventh and deciding World Series game. Osuna stunk up the joint. The Astros would have been better off without him. They didn’t need to play baseball games to figure that out.

rmurphy@indyeastend.com