S1: The following podcast contains explicit language.
S2: Hello I’m Josh Levine Slate’s national editor and the author of The Queen and this is Slate’s sports podcast Hang Up and Listen for the week of October 28 2000 19 on this week’s show Ben Lindbergh of the ringer will be here to discuss the Houston Astros massive World Series comeback Dad spends Laura Wagner will then join us stuck with the Astros massive World Series failures an executive taunted a female reporter by shouting about an alleged domestic abuser in the team then failed to own up to it for a very very long time.
S3: Finally The New Yorker’s Vincent Cunningham will help us overreact to week one of the NBA season. The Warriors they’re really bad that’s that sound overreacted.
S4: We’ll see. Joining me here in the Washington D.C. studio. It is the author of A Few Seconds of Panic and Word Freak. Stefan Fatsis Hello Stefan.
S5: Hi Josh. Did you want to talk about soccer the morning before we get happy day into the rest of the show.
S6: Yes well first Kristen politic scored his first second and third goals for Chelsea couldn’t do much against Canada.
S5: Clearly Canada much stiffer than Burnley as an opponent clearly. And they were all great goals. They were fantastic goals. This was very exciting. He looked very excited as he should have looked. He looked the way that he should have. He’s figuring out both how to play at this level and how to look at this level. He’s doing a good job of it. And we also have breaking news on the U.S. Men’s National Team.
S7: Yeah the Dutch American player sir Geno dest made a choice of what team he was going to play for internationally. He’s 19 years old. He’s a defender for acts and starts which means he’s really good and he’s chosen the United States of America.
S5: When we talked about Grant Well I was skeptical. And you learn to go with with the Dutch. I was much more optimistic.
S8: I think I’m definitely catastrophe rising about the U.S.A..
S7: I still kind of don’t understand why he would want to play for this train wreck of a country but more power to the young men now maybe his vision is a little bit longer than yours Josh and he’s more optimistic about the long term prospects of the United States of America as a soccer power.
S5: I guess the hope is right. He did his video in Dutch announcing his choice young man young man but hey I’ll be happy to root for him in years to come. I am doing a book thing in Baton Rouge on Saturday. It’s the rare LSU and Saints game double by week. There’s no football in Louisiana so I am the most exciting thing happening in Louisiana in Baton Rouge on Saturday. It’s 11:00 a.m. at the Louisiana Book Festival in the state capital building House chamber. I feel very how important a lot of ghosts rattling around in there. I will make sure to bring my what do you call that Ghostbuster light saber.
S8: That’s different I think. Moving on. We are doing a live show December 3rd Tuesday in D.C. The Hamilton life tickets at Slate dot com slash life please come. Everybody who goes to a live show and tries it. I’ve never heard a dissenting view on that. Maybe you can come and tell us that you didn’t like it just to expand our collection of audience replies or not.
S9: Do you think the centers would actually tell us that the show sucked.
S10: They were dissenting and had too much to drink. Maybe but we’ll find out December 3rd. Hamilton life.
S7: D.C. Slate dot com slash life for most fans of the Washington Nationals there was just one highlight from game five of the World Series in D.C. on Sunday night.
S11: Right before that moment fans booed the shit out of Trump when he and his entourage from Hell were shown on the jumbotron and someone unfurled an Impeach Trump banner on the field. Not so good for the former Montreal Expos the Nats lost to the Houston Astros 7 to 1 after dropping the two previous games in our nation’s capital. 8 to 1 and 4 to 1. Our friend Ben Lindbergh is here. He writes and podcasts for the ringer and is the co-author of the books the MVP machine and the only rule is it has to work. Welcome back Ben. Hey guys. All right the Nats have won 18 of their last 20 games including eight straight in the playoffs including games one in two in Houston and they have the narrative momentum on their side because of the Astros front office embarrassments. Then we came here to D.C. the three games actually seemed pretty simple to analyze because each of them was so lopsided. The Astros hit and pitched much better than they had and the Nationals hit and pitched much much worse than they had and all of those things were connected.
S12: Yeah I mean not that we needed another example of momentum not really mattering in sports but this would be Exhibit A. The Nationals really had the big mo as Josh Lyman put it on the West Wing heading into the weekend but everything swung back in the direction of the Astros. I mean the Nationals as you mentioned were winning all their games. They were unstoppable. They had the clubhouse chemistry. They were doing the baby shark thing and then this weekend they just suffered a total offense of outage and really the story of this world series so far. Aside from the off the field stuff is that no home team has won a game yet and really that comes down directly to the fact that home teams are 44 38 with runners in scoring position in the series which means that the Astros in Games 1 and 2 and the Nationals in every game since just have not capitalized on whatever opportunities they’ve had and so the Astros outscored the Nationals by a combined score of 19 to 3 this weekend. I think that probably makes it sound a little more lopsided than it was since there were some attack on runs late in those games that made them even less competitive. But really we have not seen a team come back from behind to take the lead since the fifth inning of Game 1. So it sort of felt like whichever team took the lead was just going to hold onto it which has made this serious sort of a serious.
S13: Momentum is often killed by the next day’s starting pitcher.
S6: You’re going to let Ben get away with a West Wing reference.
S13: Oh yeah that was bad. But back to me. The next day’s starting pitcher classic momentum Keller. And then the next day starting pitcher wakes up and can’t like move is knackered shoulder or anything which is bad when he throws with if you need to professionally throw a baseball. So I was thinking after the Astros came back to tie it at two like all right we’re like now into the meat of the series it’s gonna be exciting we’ve got our Scherzer Strasburg Cole Verlander situation all set up and then Max Scherzer dumb neck had to come and ruin everything bad like if like the Nationals are you are way more top heavy than the Astros and your heavy top has a bad neck then you’re not in good shape.
S12: Yeah and Nationals manager Dave Martinez has done a pretty good job of dealing with his team’s top heaviness and he’s managed to use just his best six pitchers in as many innings as possible in the Nationals 14 games heading into Game 5. They had used basically the pitchers that they don’t want to use for only 19 innings in total. But on Sunday Martinez finally ran into a roadblock that he just couldn’t manage around because Max Scherzer not only could pitch but literally could not move his arm could not get out of bed without falling out could not get dressed on his own.
S14: So there was just no question about whether he could take the ball in his game and make sure there is in addition to being one of the best pitchers in baseball he’s almost a mean in that he is like the guy who never wants to give the ball up he always won performative later. Perhaps. Yes. So we’ve all been joking throughout the series about you know mixtures or must want to come into this game. You know in relief the day after he starts like Dave Martinez must be fighting off Max Scherzer to get into this game. So if Baxter’s are says that he can’t pitch in he’s had many postseason opportunities he’s never won a World Series and here it is game five in D.C. pivotal game. You know that he wanted to start as much as anyone humanly could. And he just couldn’t do it which. And that Joe Rush who had not made a start since September and had not even been on the roster in the postseason rounds prior to the World Series got the ball. And considering the circumstance and the competition Russert did OK. But he would have had to be almost flawless going up against Derek Cole. And so we got denied the. Garrett Cole Max Scherzer rematch that we were hoping to see here.
S15: Yeah we were hoping for sort of a 1 1 game that would come down to the eighth or ninth inning to get to the bullpen and see who was fresher and who actually who could actually hit the ball and something would happen. But the Astros have been hitting so well I’m not sure that it would have mattered. I’m not sure it would have been determinative necessarily. They hit three two run home runs last night it feels like every eighth at bat the Astros have been hitting a two run a homerun in this series. So how much of this is the Nats bats being subdued by the Astros terrific pitching and how much is it just that the Astros really have reverted to form.
S14: Yeah I think it’s largely the latter.
S16: Note This is the first time all season that the Nationals were held to fewer than four runs in three consecutive games so that has never happened before. But the Nationals had never played the Astros this season before the series. So I think the Nationals were calling themselves a buzzsaw when this series started. Stephen Strasburg set that and now they’ve kind of run into the buzz saw themselves. The Astros are the best team in baseball. They have the best offense in baseball a historically great offense that hadn’t really shown up for much of the postseason prior to this weekend and then showed up all at once so it kind of takes away some of the talking points and some of the analysis that we could do because yes there were questionable managerial moves that Dave Martinez made although in retrospect maybe he knew that Scherzer might not be able to go in so he was sort of planning for that and what looks like lack of aggressiveness at the moment was just planning for the future. But you could complain about some of those moves you could complain about plate umpire Lance Barksdale zone in Game 5 which seemed to be floating all over the place and certainly seem to hurt the Nationals a couple of times but ultimately it comes down to the fact that if you score one run you’re almost certainly not going to win the game. There have been 32 games I think this year in which an opponent scored one run against the Astros and only one of them was a win. Back in April the twins managed to win a one nothing game against the Astros and Justin Verlander so that is not the way to win. And even if you had had the optimal managerial moves and the perfect umpire strike zone odds are that that would not have changed things. And it’s sort of a shame because we were sold a historic pitching matchup for the series. It really seemed to be that when you put these two pitching rotations together this was as many people pointed out before the series. Probably the best collection of starting pitcher talent that we have ever seen in a world series. So that was pretty exciting but none of those pitchers has really performed up to their level you know in game one we got the cold Scherzer match up but neither one of them was really peak coal or Scherzer and I guess Game 2 was the closest we’ve come when you know we sort of had a duel between Berland and Strasburg but that was about it. And you know we didn’t even get the second Scherzer start where at least not yet. So it just hasn’t really delivered on the pre Series billing.
S4: We are going to get another Verlander Strasburg in Game 6 and so this series is not totally irredeemable. It’s still still going on. We still have the opportunity for greatness. We made it to the game six. That could’ve been a sweep. I just feel like I have to buck you up here. Ben you’ve seemed very sad about how the series had been so lame with all the excitement going into it but you know I guess I’m curious what you thought about what both you guys thought about the conversation about Barksdale strike zone in game five. I think in all sports and in playoffs in particular just like we are more inclined to talk about things that are interesting or controversial and in this game there just wasn’t anything really else to talk about on the field. Like if you didn’t want to talk about Trump getting booed and so that the bad strikes and just kind of like fills that conversational chasm. But like with the way that you know the zone is superimposed on screen and we can see instantly whether pitches fall into it it is funny how the league and its broadcasting partners are really like emphasizing when umpires do badly and just like you can’t ignore it.
S15: It’s just like on the screen and you have to talk about it. I think the last thing you said Josh is the most intriguing to me that Major League Baseball allows this because it’s certainly in their purview to tell FOX or Turner whoever is broadcasting these games that we’re uncomfortable with the focus being on the two point line rectangle around the supposed strike zone he was there.
S8: Is that to their credit that they allow that to be shown.
S11: Well I think on the one hand it’s to their credit. But on the other hand I’m not sure it enhances much and does distract from the flow of the game. I mean some of the calls that Barksdale was being criticized for him being criticized by the players on the field were obviously marginal. I was gonna say one or two of them were clearly strikes a couple of them were right on the zone or outside the zone and it is entertaining to see young Holmes and read his lips or you didn’t even have to read his lips because you could hear the mike wherever its position there him saying sarcastically to Barksdale Oh it’s my fault.
S15: After Barksdale apparently accused him of having bad framing on a clear strike border one strike against Carlos cryo that led later in the evening to a two run homer that put the Astros ahead. But you know that’s entertaining but for all of us at home to say enough clearly it’s not clear this might cause the zone as it is drawn in. Behind the camera isn’t 100 percent accurate is it the way we see it on television.
S16: It’s definitely not the real time zone that you see on TV. For one thing it usually doesn’t really adjust for each player’s height it’s just sort of a standardized zone so that can be a problem. And there’s just some error inherent in measuring the path of the pitch.
S6: And cameras you know computers can be mis calibrated when there’s the kind of the camera angle is misleading too because it is not directly behind the pitch right. It’s side and that’s always been an issue with us.
S16: And when MLB grades umpires based on the tracking technology it gives those reports to them the next day after there’s some processing and some adjustments done to make it more accurate. So that real time in the moment impression is not always accurate but because it’s right in front of our faces when the ball doesn’t seem to go through that on screen so it makes it pretty glaring and I think there were a couple of cases in game five where it was exacerbated by the situation or by Barksdale is no response to the situation. There was the one where Chris Gray seemed to possibly be struck out and then he got the iPad to continue and he went on to hit a home run. So that obviously drives the memory home whereas if he had just grabbed it out or something after that no one would have cared all that much and then there was a later instance where it seemed like Barksdale was calling a ball as payback because young goes the Nationals catcher had taken it for granted that there was going to be a strike call and he started you know whipping the ball around the infield. And then it was real ball evidently because he had been presumptuous about that. So that doesn’t help but I think you know we are probably heading for a world where we do have computer called strike zones and I have mixed feelings about that in some respects. But I think it’s inevitable because it’s just kind of an untenable situation here where we have access to this accuracy and these readouts it’s kind of like with replay review I think once fans watching at home and in the ballpark have the ability to see these things slowed down and replay it and know with certainty that the umpire got the call wrong you can’t really persist with the state of affairs where we just let incorrect calls stand then even the most correct balls and strikes. Umpires get about 90 percent of their calls correct which is pretty good. It’s the best that a human can do but it’s just an impossible job for a human to do perfectly and I think at some point we will acknowledge that and get computers calling these out at the very least we won’t get make up calls and punishment calls and grandstanding as we sometimes do with human ups.
S7: Just quickly on this Ben do you have any sense of how this work during the experiment in the Atlantic League the summer league. There were plenty of stories when it was happening but has there been any assessment of its efficacy.
S16: Yeah I know that a lot of the players were unhappy with it partially because the rulebook so the zone that the computers called didn’t perfectly map on to how the strike zone has historically been called. So you would get calls that technically were accurate but they never would have been called by a human umpire you know a curve ball that just nicked the front of the zone and that dip below the plate and was cut well below the plate that would be called a ball 100 percent the time by human. But that robot so called it. That’s right. And so some of that is just adjustment getting used to what the district zone looks like. And there were also issues with calibration though and with some of these things being off it there’s still some obstacles to getting this working perfectly in real time so that you could get the accuracy and not have a delay that everyone would notice between the umpire getting the green light or the red light from the system and actually making the call.
S3: When you frame it around 90 percent it’s really interesting it’s just like 10 percent of calls being wrong seems bad but when you think like all right we’re getting add Adams for like having the same accuracy rate is like Steph Curry at the free throw line. This is like getting really pissed every time that Steph Curry misses a free throw that that seems seems a bit off but they’re just different acceptable standards of air and different realms of human experience and so yeah. Perhaps this is not an instructive analogy after all but there are a lot of pitches in every baseball game.
S17: I would say that too. So even if you’re 90 percent accurate you’re still getting quite a few calls wrong in every game so try to no umpire ever has a perfect game.
S18: So we’re going to talk about the Astros front office and Brandon topping in our next segment with Laura Wagner we’re also going to talk to you about your reporting on the Astros in our Slate Plus bonus segment. Ben you wrote about them in your book with Travis Gottschalk then MVP machine but just at the end of the segment I wanted to ask a very kind of broad question because you have reported on this team and their thinking on the front office like does their performance in this world series the fact that this is such a deep roster.
S4: This is not a top heavy team this is one where throughout the lineup it Stefan said You see guys hitting to run homers like do you feel like the Astros with all the negative press they’ve gotten but with all of the success they’ve had in the past three years and in this world series do you feel like they will feel like this validates their approach or do you think that they’re going to actually go back and question themselves and say despite all the success we’ve had we’re still approaching this wrong and there are changes that we need to make.
S8: Because in the statements that we’ve heard it just does not seem like an organization that has like any kind of deep sense of regret or self now attrition.
S16: No not at all. The contrition was the word I was going to use and the lack thereof I think you’ll get into the details I’m sure in the next segment but nothing about the Astros response in the week following Brendon tuppence outburst and the reporting about that has suggested that they are really taking a hard look at themselves. They seemed perfectly willing to do nothing to put boiler plate statements out there even after their first statement where they accused Stephanie Epstein the sports illustrated reporter of fabricating her report. After that it was all just you know minimize and insincere apologies and really doing the bare minimum. I think while they were getting rightfully dragged whole week they kind of responded to that. You know they claimed that they had been proactive about it. But I think they were the opposite of proactive and really I think they may have gotten themselves into this situation by being so good at building baseball teams and by being criticized for the way that they built baseball teams and being vindicated over and over as their baseball teams turned out to be the best perhaps the best of all time. And so if they win another World Series here then I think they may be thinking look we can weather this you know as long as we collect the most talent and put the best team together and win World Series. Most of our fans will forgive us and you know we will sacrifice this one person who is directly responsible and will apologize vaguely at first and then later actually retract our statement but we will continue to operate because what are the penalties ultimately unless MLB imposes some discipline and they keep winning they keep dry.
S7: And so you can kind of get away with this Ben Lindbergh writes and talks about baseball for the ringer. He’s the co-author of the MVP machine and the only rule is it has to work and we’ll be talking with them more about the Astros and our bonus segment.
S19: We will. Ben thanks a lot. Thanks guys.
S18: Last Monday night Sports Illustrated Stephanie Abyssinian published a piece in which she reported that the Houston Astros champagne soaked locker room immediately after they won the pennant. The team’s assistant general manager Brandon Talman quote turned to a group of three female reporters including one wearing a purple domestic violence awareness bracelet and yelled half a dozen times. Thank God we got Osuna. I’m so fucking glad we got Osuna Osuna is Roberto Osuna relief pitcher the Astros traded for in 2018 after he was suspended for 75 games by Major League Baseball for allegedly assaulting the mother of his child. Osuna wasn’t charged with a crime after the woman declined to testify but he was nevertheless a distressed asset in purely economic terms. And the Astros got him on the cheap. Osuna has been a good pitcher for Houston but on the night Tillman was shouting about him he’d given up a game tying home run later reporting revealed that Tubman was taunting one woman in particular a reporter who has thus far preferred to stay anonymous and who in the past has tweeted out the number for a domestic abuse hotline during as soon as appearances on the mound for the Astros. When Aberdeen’s report went live the Astros initially called the story misleading irresponsible and fabricated. The team has since issued a bunch of apologies for that initial statement. They’ve also fired Brandon Tillman but it’s going to be impossible to a race that initial message one in which the organization proved that massive arrogance was not just Tillman’s problem. It’s a character flaw affecting the entire organization. Joining us now is Dad spends Laura Wagner. Hello Laura. Hi. So what stood out to you as this story has developed over the last week.
S20: The biggest thing that stood out to me is just how many times they messed up handling the situation first as you said they accused Stephanie Epstein of fabricating the story. Then eventually they released a second set of statements from Taliban and Jim Crane neither of which apologized and both of which kind of took the. If anyone was offended I’m sorry. Apology structure and then they finally just yesterday issued a retraction of the statement that said Epstein fabricated it and only after she asked them to retract it. So the fact that this took almost a week for them to retract their initial statement accusing a reporter of the worst thing that a reporter can do in journalism I thought was just kind of a crazy illustration of how the Astros organization works.
S7: I think the clearest indication of the way the Astros organization actually felt about this came during obviously in the initial statements. But then when GM and baseball operations President Jeff Luna went before the media and really waffled basically wouldn’t say I’m sorry said that the statements were wrong but then went on to say that there were conflicting accounts and people’s memories weren’t clear.
S5: I think he said it.
S7: We’ll never know we’ll never know what happened right because time has elapsed it’s gone like a puff of smoke. We can’t be sure. Rather than issue a clear and formal statement and to say that the Astros don’t have a cultural problem is just insane at this point after what’s happened this last week I think I’ve ever seen an organization misstep in sports as repeatedly as they did over the first five days. I just don’t understand what breeds that sort of arrogance in a sports culture. And clearly it’s the kind of people you’re hiring. It’s the outlook you take to your colleagues it’s the outlook you take to the rest of the industry. And in this case it’s the outlook you take toward women employees women who work in this space.
S3: Stephanie Epstein’s original story stands in stark contrast to the Astros responses to it. I was impressed by her piece when I read it initially. The fact that she chose to write this when maybe some other reporters would think that it was kind of self obsessed you know why should we complain about how we were treated poorly. Some people just don’t want to call attention to themselves in that way. But of the more the news cycles evolved and the week went on the more I was actually impressed with that initial story because Laura it’s incredibly challenging to break news on something where the news is actually something that happened to you and the way that she was able to write accurately. It turned out about what Tolman said and what he did. But also there was some analysis in that piece about how teams like the Astros want to sign guys like Osuna. They want to say they want to have this press conference and say we have zero tolerance for domestic violence. They want to donate you know some six figure sum that’s like a tiny percentage of Osuna salary to charity. And then when you actually ask them to reflect the values that they claim to have they get all like angry and annoyed at you for talking about thing that’s like oh this isn’t about baseball like you know we’ve addressed that. And I thought the piece was just like so smart and actually is something that if you’re like an aspiring journalist or and like journalism school I think they should teach this story. It’s like this is unbelievably good like covering breaking news with opinion and analysis where it’s about you.
S20: Right. I was really impressed. Not only did she report on the story and report on it accurately obviously but she was also careful in her reporting. I mean the fact that she included the detail about the woman who was wearing the purple domestic violence bracelet but did not identify the woman because she did not want to be identified and then managed to kind of take this one incident and show how it relates to how MLB treats players who have been accused of domestic violence and kind of point out the hypocrisy is in how teams in the league deal with these players. I agree. I thought it was really well done and I’m glad that she wrote it. I do think that this is a story that only a woman would write I think. I mean there was a guy from The Houston Chronicle who confirmed this story shortly after the Astros accused her of fabricating it. There is another reporter from Yahoo who also confirmed this story shortly after it was reported. So I think that people knew about it and the fact that she was the one to write it. I think she deserves a lot of credit for that.
S7: Right. It’s sort of what rises to in someone’s brain. This is a story. You know maybe it wasn’t obvious to everyone in the room because what your initial reaction to something like that it’s like oh this asshole I know who he is Brandon Taubman he’s in the front office executive is number two in the baseball operations department a rising star in the sport and before this happened was I think everyone says was going to be a GM at some team.
S3: He’s like seen as like a genius in baseball.
S7: Yeah. And so you hear something like that. And what’s your initial reaction. Well that was weird and a little scary and I’m not quite sure how to process it. It’s uncomfortable. The woman who he was directing his comments at certainly has felt uncomfortable. I mean she is a reporter it’s not too difficult to identify who she is because of the details that NPR later reported in David Folkenflik story that Taubman was directing his comments at her because she had tweeted out a number for domestic violence hotline whenever Osuna would pitch. So to have the sort of journalistic presence of mind to recognize that it’s a story and b this reflects badly on a senior executive in the sport. Yeah. That’s why she deserves a lot of credit.
S3: Stefan you vast a rhetorical question before about what makes an organization act like this or do these things. I think I have an answer for you and I think it’s partly about the Astros but partly about the structure of Major League Baseball. I think Tomine is clearly you know knowing very little about him or nothing about him before this is clearly arrogant clearly thinks that he can say or do whatever he wants in this context of major league locker room and why does he think that because the team won 107 games this year because there are many dynasty. They won the World Series a couple of years ago and just completely separating out his personality or behavior. He is incredibly good at his job and the Astros front office is incredibly good at their job. The reason that they’re so arrogant is because they’re the best in the business and in baseball there is this kind of cult of the general manager. You know this kind of post Billy Beane Moneyball scenario where these quant guys come in and they have as a group been extremely successful at reorienting the game at figuring out how to acquire talent and how to get rid of talent and pick and choose who’s going to be the best and most useful on the field. And it’s not the same in other sports like in the NBA you know Masai Jerry is the best executive and then MBA last year for the Raptors and his genius move is like to trade for one of the greatest players in basketball. You know it’s like there’s not as much you can do when it’s like the key to winning a championship is just like having the best players in baseball like the Nationals get to the World Series after getting rid of one of the most the most expensive player in the game. Bryce Harper and so these guys rightfully think that they are the reason that these teams are in the World Series and so then you get this you know culture LA where they think they answer to no one. They think that they like playing God and that obviously they can do and say and call whoever they will. You know anyone anything.
S20: Yeah. Yeah. Evan Dressler at the athletic had a really good story. That’s kind of making this point and laying out a show different examples about how this the entire team is framed around winning and efficiency and that’s it. And this has kind of resulted in the loss of humanity from the front office it’s all about ruthless clients maximizing efficiency and value and the argument makes the case that they’re started sort of losing part of their humanity in the front office.
S7: Well and part of that is of course because the Astros have systematically reduced the number of actual talent scouts in their organization that they do believe that they are better at identifying and not just identifying but as Ben Lindbergh’s book with Travis logic points out not just identifying talent but creating talent that they’re like God. We don’t need people to tell us that someone’s good. We can take someone by looking at them and make them good. I mean Jeff Parsons story for ESPN about the culture of the Astros I think nailed that as well. And the the the the image that they’ve projected into the rest of major league baseball. Contempt for the Astros runs deep and has well before this incident Jeff wrote. Jealousy breeds some of it the organization’s arrogance accounts for the rest. The Astros painted themselves as a disruptor and revelled in the commotion they lived with the perception that they didn’t understand people they fed their process followed it with fealty doubled down they believed in it and they never had and they never had much of a reason not to.
S3: So we had Jeff on our show last week. He described the Astros as arrogant. Stefan I don’t think either one of us were thinking about Roberto Osuna at that point. And so when we kind of asked him follow up question What do you mean. It was the conversation proceeded more in kind of generalities. And that shows like why and how this works. Like we were thinking about the Astros are this great team they’ve won so many games and we had I think forgotten about all of the reporting that had been done in the past about the specifics of this team’s arrogance. And so it takes an incident like this like that’s what Tillman did he not only kind of disgraced himself he revealed and exposed you know what this organization is to people who you know including us who might have been inclined to forget it or not talk about it during this World Series because we’re like talking about you know who’s able to they because he’s so fun and tiny and his fault entirely.
S8: It is that’s like the reality of of how the media and journalism reporting works Laura is that you start digging into something because of some like big external event some like shock to the system and otherwise we just kind of a lot of time go along complacently and don’t really like dig in and think about stuff like you know are these people like that did you just kind of look at the results and sports.
S20: Yeah I think that’s probably true although I will say that Diana Moskovitz had a really good piece on this a long time ago kind of asking these questions and thinking about this.
S21: So we talked about this stuff a long time ago too. It has been we were just weren’t talking about it during the World Series.
S20: No definitely it definitely gets pushed to the side.
S7: The other thing that I think gets pushed to the side and I think we’ve done that a little bit right now is that we forget how gender on equal measure League Baseball is even relative to other sports. Richard Lapchick does this annual gender and racial report card on sports for last year and there’ll be Central Office on gender equity gets a C grade from him. SENIOR ADMINISTRATION it teams C minus professional administration teams D plus. I mean the Astros if you look at their baseball operations personnel list on line forty three positions nine or women the Nationals eighty nine baseball ops jobs three filled by women. And this was a workplace harassment episode.
S8: Yeah I mean it does bring up the issue of women in the locker room like Lisa Olsen was you know who was famously and awfully sexually harassed by the New England Patriots in the 1980s was saying on Twitter like at least we’re at the point now where no one is questioning whether Stephanie Epstein or any of these other women deserve to be in the locker room like that is a shift. But the conversation now should be about is this workplace a workplace that safe for women or that you know there’s just whether it’s an incident like this or just kind of like consistent low grade discomfort like I think that’s a good point to make. Stefan that this is not a scenario where it’s like even if women are accepted as like you’re literally allowed to be in the locker room it’s still not necessarily a comfortable place.
S20: Yeah I agree. And that’s why I think it was so insane that bastard’s first statement was that this was fabricated because everybody has accepted at this point that women do face challenges that men don’t. In sports media and in locker rooms and that I think that’s pretty well established and agreed upon. So for the Astros to say that she just made it up didn’t make any sense.
S7: It didn’t seem like there are any dissenting voices here either. The support for Stephanie Epstein among writers and other journalists was unanimous as far as I could tell.
S20: Yeah. And I thought it was kind of heartening to see everyone rally around her and support her like that. It was almost like there was an informal unionization happening around this one issue of sportswriters all banding together over this issue and you don’t see that that often there is if you like are willing to wade into the cesspool for a lot of people who are you know saying this is beating a dead horse.
S21: We’ve been talking about this for a week now like it’s done let’s get over it. Let’s talk about baseball. And it’s really the Astros own fault. I mean obviously it’s the Astros own fault for the initial behavior but they have prolonged this news cycle by putting out a horrible statement like literally every day.
S11: Sure we’re beating a dead horse. You know this happened a week ago. Well we’re recording this on a Monday. The Astros owner didn’t issue that apology to Stephanie abstinent until Saturday night. And Epstein didn’t report on it or tweeted out until Sunday morning. So no this is still happening. The other thing that really hasn’t happened because of all this dithering by the Astros we still don’t know who in this organization approved that first egregious statement and Brandon Tolman is the only person in the Astros organization that has suffered any repercussions for the organization’s behavior at major league baseball is said to be investigating.
S7: Maybe there will be some sort of punishment to Luna who’s admitted reading that statement before it went out the first one that accused Stephanie Epstein of fabrication or others in the team.
S8: Laura Wagner of Deadspin thank you for being here. Thanks for having me.
S18: All right I wanted to let you know that in our bonus segment for Slate Plus members we’re going to talk some more with Ben Lindbergh. And we’re going to continue our conversation about the Astros Brandon Tom men and their arrogance as an organization as a front office. Ben wrote about it in his book The MVP machine. We will inquire if you want to hear that and you’re not a member you can sign up for Slate Plus just thirty five dollars for the first year.
S22: You can do that at Slate dot com slash hangout plus sign up at Slate dot com flesh hanging up plus the NBA has been back for a about a week now which means there aren’t nearly enough data points to tell us anything about how this season is going to play out but actually let’s be real. We know how badly some of the season is gonna play out the Knicks appear bad. Clippers seem good. The K deal is clueless warriors. I’m actually gonna pass the make to Draymond Green for this assessment.
S23: I would like to see him play harder. You know that that’ll help a little bit. But the reality is we fucking suck right now. Hopefully we’ll get better. We’ll continue. Working to try to get better but we’re just not that good right now. Yes. I mean I. Know a better way to find out for you. Or. I’ll tell. You. I could try a Spanish right. Really not good. That’s really the best way I can tell you right now.
S8: Joining us now is Vincent Cunningham a staff writer and Nico theater critic at The New Yorker. I think we got that without the Spanish Red. Vincent.
S24: Yeah. I mean that is coming across pretty clear me.
S22: So did you hear the part though where Draymond paused for like half a beat after we fucking suck before he said right now that is what they call optimism that’s early optimism the Warriors maybe 0 in two they may have been losing to the thunder by 33 at halftime but they only suck right now presence of mind it’s good perspective from drama the Warriors official Twitter account Vincent is tweeting stuff like tough one in OKC and learn and move forward.
S21: These are the tweets of like the tweet that the Washington Wizards send out. It’s like a whole new mentality for the whole organization. Like how are you adjusting to these new luck bad warriors.
S25: Well it’s been really rough for me because I honestly I spent all summer sort of befuddled at the prognostications of doom and totally writing off these warriors. I always figured hey likes Steph still their dream was still there and I actually am a big deal fan. I loved him so it’s like you know I thought that would be OK. That defense would be not so great but they’d be able to kind of make up for it what I didn’t really account for was the total lack of depth elsewhere. So it’s actually been a rough transition for me. I found myself watching that OK see game just kind of in a state of horror. It was it was really really really bad.
S15: It was 70 to 37 at halftime. That’s really really bad. The final score was 120 to ninety two really did not indicate the the the blowout factor there.
S7: The Warriors are very very young too. What is it nine players that are 23 or younger I mean there really is only so much that the two of them can do right now. Absent a third wheel Klay Thompson and absent some of the other good players that they have allowed to leave.
S21: I mean it’s not like any of these young guys have like amazing pedigree now either though. It’s not like there’s like a more amazing young talent up and down this roster and they just need to like figure it out as you know.
S7: So you’re playing with that Klay Thompson you’re playing without Iguodala. You’ve let go Iggy and Shaun Livingston and DeMarcus Cousins and Quinn Cook and lose what you’re left with.
S3: Yeah. This is precisely what they’re left with Draymond has always been a guy who’s amazing on a great team. He’s the best fourth piece ever in the history of the NBA and there’s always been these questions Vincent about how good are valuable he really has an it’s all about context when you’re at a complementary player and this was one of the questions about this team it’s like when you’re counting on Draymond Green to score a lot you’re probably gonna be disappointed but he just has this force of will about him and there have been times throughout this dynastic run where despite all the town they have it has been Draymond who’s been driving that team like with his well and with his good play to success and so it does lead you to wonder like what can he do with just force of well with this roster and apparently so far what he can do is tell his teammates that they suck.
S25: Yeah it’s rough because I mean even just last season a couple of months ago in the finals and the series before the finals against Portland you just saw him sort of just like he had kind of lost that that is now mythical 25 pounds and was just sort of rushing up the court made everything he did look beautiful but I mean it everything is so contextual and it shows you the importance of contingency and basketball there’s like a version of Draymond Green that’s drafted by the Nixon who we just think of as just a guy you know another person along the list of you know sort of mediocre knick athletes but on a different scale that’s the same thing with Steph right. Part of what’s so devastating about him is that he’s always been surrounded by people who are able to make space for the incredible things that he does and you see I mean he’s still scoring and he’s all over the place for this team. Steph Curry is but it’s not the same. He doesn’t get that sort of third quarter detonation that usually happens just there was nothing even close to it because nobody had to pay attention to his teammates. So it just shows you how contingent all that stuff really is.
S21: Speaking of contingency opening night of the NBA the National TV schedule was pelicans and Raptors the Pelicans a level of national interest and the pelicans as highly contingent on the presence of a healthy a healthy need Zion Williamson.
S8: I enjoyed watching the Pels take the over time I’m not sure. Most of America did. But the bigger you know. Sorry Raptors they like more interesting game and eye opening night was Lakers and Clippers. The first game of LeBron and an 80s versus Kawhi Leonard Paul George is out with an injury.
S15: Shouldn’t you say that Zion is out with injury. I mean this is a problem. Yeah I said healthy need. Well you’re assuming everyone knows that isn’t he isn’t healthy.
S8: His knee is not healthy. He’s out for however long he is out for he had surgery. We’re not concerned at all. Anyway back to back to L.A.. So first game of LeBron Anthony Davis versus Kawhi Leonard and the Clippers Paul George is out but this shows the importance of having a good and deep roster in the NBA. The Clippers bench in that game outscored the Lakers like a million to two and Vince and you wrote a really nice piece for The New Yorker about watching Kawhi on the Clippers. What did you see from him in that game.
S24: It was just amazing and I mean last year was this incredible sort of tour de force. He just round after round even as his leg was more and more hurt at least. To all appearances he just kept on getting better and it seems like he’s just he’s on an uninterrupted trajectory since then he seems to have gotten somehow even more muscular. That guy looks like he’s like a basketball is secondary to his eventual bodybuilding career and he just gets to these spots and just knocks people over and it just he just knows exactly where wants to be and he’s got this weird upright posture where he just kind of it just looks like he’s walking over to the spot and if there’s somebody on on it he says Excuse me.
S26: You need to move now and it’s just if he doesn’t play like anybody else and he does it within this again within this great context that the Clippers have already built. So there are all these great defensive players like Patrick Beverley and Montrose Harrell and they all just like it just seems like a team that’s running like it like they’re like on the way into the playoffs and set on the first couple games of the season. They’ve been they’ve been awesome and Kawhi is kind of the whole reason they’re I’m just going to quote you because this was lovely.
S7: He has volley balls for shoulders and melons for biceps.
S26: You wrote a good line. Very nice thank you. It’s amazing. I don’t know how he keeps flexible but those shoulders as I’m doing a jump shot and I was like that thing’s going to pop. It’s unbelievable.
S8: I didn’t realize Stefan before seeing this game how much this move to play for Kawhi like you could talk about it in terms of marketability. He isn’t a terminator commercial which is very awkward and I think has been over praised but I didn’t realize how this move to L.A. actually reflects Kawhi leaning into his own unpopularity because nobody actually in L.A. cares about the Clippers even when the Clippers are good and the Lakers are terrible like it’s truly evinces a deep understanding of self for cool eyeliner to sign on to this team that is like extremely well constructed and seems set up to just like run through the Lakers and everybody else.
S21: And yet no one will like or care.
S6: Well I mean doesn’t that sort of fit in with his previous homes too. I mean you know I mean this is his brand in a way. What to do on the court and off the court which is as little as possible off the court and that makes sense for him and he isn’t. He’s viewing this about as objectively and clinically as an athlete could view where he lives and where he works.
S8: He makes wanting to play for the Lakers just seem like a fundamental flaw and weakness. It’s just like Anthony Davis like you like willingly signed on to play with.
S21: I mean like we’re talking ourselves I knew at this point like Dwight Howard speaking speaking of volleyball and grapefruit it’s like Dwight Howard look pretty good but like he’s still fundamentally Dwight Howard right.
S5: I don’t know if that’s going to change throughout the year.
S24: BENSON Yeah the Lakers thing is so strange because I don’t know. Look it’s a team that looks like if you take everybody away from that location and like time It looks awesome. It’s like Rajon Rondo Dwight Howard and I don’t know.
S26: But it’s just funny that like Lebron always finds himself in this situation. It’s like him. One other great person. And then we get 20 games into the season and it’s like Oh LeBron is team isn’t good enough. And we do it all the time and then they have like a locker room like a players only meeting about it and then that’s one big trade. It’s just like you could kind of forecast your way all the way to the end with the statement like their eventual second round exit but which Lakers are 2 and 1 and they only lost to the Clippers.
S22: They don’t look they don’t look they don’t look like as bad as some of the past LeBron teams do but I still think it is pressure to forecast a early season players only meeting.
S8: It’s got to happen but at other kind of early season storylines that you’re excited about or not excited about.
S27: VINCENT Well one of the things that I always love about sort of the beginning of this season is just looking to see who actually got better when you know that we kind of part of the illusion especially I find that the NBA is like song so it was good last year then you know they’re gonna be great in the future right. Like that was the that was the Jason Tatum trap. But like it turns out Trey Young is just awesome now. He just figured out exactly what he’s supposed to be so excited people like that I’m excited about Pascal Seok.
S11: I’m excited about all these people that gave us some glimpses in years before and and are coming into it now should we feel sad about the Raptors in any way that hey we saw the best iteration of them last year or do we genuinely believe that they have a chance of getting back to at least the Eastern Conference finals.
S3: I don’t think they’d be the favorite. I mean I think I was certainly there and sell tickets and Bucks are all ahead of them. But as Vinson was saying the outcome is really really good. And he has the chance to be a franchise Cornerstone and they just extended him and they’re not in a bad position.
S4: I mean they’ve got Marcus on Kyle Lowry still but they’re not on like super long term deals. They do have a bunch of young talent and so I think they ended up you know they got a title and they’re like they didn’t have to totally mortgage their future to get it. So we’re all good.
S27: Yeah kind of like it. Yeah. They’ve got people who we’ve got to see in the finals last year seem to still be getting better it’s not just the outcome but Fred Van Vliet. He’s been looking good. You know I like the way he plays Norman Powell there are all these guys that now we know a little bit charred the rest of their progress.
S3: Definitely the weirdest moment of the opening week of the NBA season was in that opening game between the pelicans and the Raptors where I was tied in the last minute and the Raptors like I think it was after a time out they like cleared out and just had Norman Powell at the top of the key just like you dribble and ran out the shot clock and shot like a 30 footer it was extremely confusing. It’s like do they realize that this is Norman Powell. It’s like a. It definitely should be like the cliff that this franchise had you know fallout from last year’s final but Raptors won’t be. Back to Trey Young for a second. He has been shooting all these threes from the logo Chris pausing guests made it three from the logo. It’s like what is that like 30 35 feet away. I feel like this is the next stage of the NBA is three point revolution.
S15: How did you get a car for making that shot.
S21: I think you should. This is like the gamification of the NBA. It’s like it feels like vents and players just enjoy shooting from there and it’s like it’s incredibly fun highlight to watch. But I just feel like if the logo actually wasn’t on the floor there would be no reason for players to shoot from that spot on the court.
S27: No it’s right I did. Even now things that seem like regular three pointers I’ve been noticing are just like easily a foot behind. Right. I think everything has moved back. People just kind of I watch John Doyle and you take one that was you know like a 24 footer and in like the course of a play the other night I would just kind of thinking about that. Yeah first of all they’d like to do it and it’s a great highlight. And also though every year we get an influx of sort of you know starter quality defenders who are incredibly fast and strong and big and everything. It’s like there’s there’s nowhere else to go. Like the space is a continuing problem I think. So it’s like the only way we can make space for ourselves and continue to shoot a bunch of threes is just to go back and back and back. There does seem to be like a sort of basic geometry problem.
S7: I wonder what the limit is is half court. The limit is there no limit is ninety four feet the limit.
S21: You have like an eight second back court clock so you can’t just kind of stand back there and just fling it up you do kind of have to be in the top court. It’s hard to get the at a time and I guess that’s true and you know teams want to get six seconds or less. So yeah maybe that’s not a barrier.
S7: What what rookies do we like so far Zion is out for a few weeks. RJ Barrett the next I mean you know not much we can say about the Knicks we’re going to be terrible as we’ve already alluded to. How is John Moran doing.
S24: It looks it looks pretty great. I mean he just took.
S27: I’ve got a great block. What was that last night against Kyrie Irving against you. Yeah. Sunday night against Kyrie Irving they take the Grizzlies to overtime against the Nets and then they ended up winning that game and he had 30 points nine assists Yeah he had that game winning assist to Jae Crowder with like under a second to go for the winning three pointer that guy seems good.
S26: He’s awesome. And he’s like he’s one of these one of these people that you can tell everybody else likes playing with it’s people spots fun guy to watch really fun but you kind of grazed over RJ Barrett. Is it good for the record will be potentially a starter in the NBA. Yeah.
S13: Nick Saban really isn’t great isn’t it. Yeah yeah. He has looked better than I think people thought he might have looked on and before the season started so let’s give some credit there. No need just to insult the next necessarily. There are plenty of reasons to insult them necessarily. And let’s wrap this up by noting that now that the Games have started where a weekend the whole like China thing just recedes even further into the background.
S27: And I think what then. Excuse me.
S13: There’s this big country there is a tweet and there’s the details are getting a little fuzzy but you know on the one hand it is obvious and predictable that this was going to happen on the other. It’s just another kind of reminder indicator that the fact that Daryl Morey tweeted when he dead was just like the precise time when it was calibrated to get the most attention like there was not thing else going on in the league to distract from it and actually quite the opposite because the teams where an Adam Silver were heading to China just seems like how and we talked about this a little bit with the Astros in the world series here just shows like how easily were distracted by the bouncing ball and like there was no there was no bouncing ball to distract.
S15: Well I would say there’s a third hand here and I think that Adam Silver and the NBA are still going to be really concerned internally. I mean China did not the the Rockets games are basically banned from the airwaves. I mean they were not showing NBA games this week during the first week of the season. There are still serious serious repercussions and just because we’re not as focused on it as we were when there were no games being played doesn’t mean that the NBA isn’t still scared shitless.
S13: Vincent Cunningham writes about theater and basketball for the New Yorker thanks as always.
S10: Thank you.
S7: And now it is time for after balls. Josh I think we should dive back into Washington baseball history dive. I am a bachelor area. Sports Illustrated tweeted out a paragraph from The Washington Post’s account of the great Walter Johnson pitcher Walter Johnson big trend his nuptials back in 1914.
S5: Let’s celebrate them where we’re a little bit late night but hey the Johnsons the gifts ran them out for sure.
S11: This was in the June 25th 1914 issue of The Washington Post Walter Johnson World’s Champion pitcher yields the palm to cupid and weds Miss Hazel Lee Roberts the world’s greatest pitcher before whose resist List’s arm. All other rivals have gone down to defeat met his master in the love of God and gracefully surrendered. When Walter Johnson of The Washington American League team was quietly married last night to Miss Hazel Lee Roberts daughter of Representative E. Roberts of Nevada at the home of the bride’s parents the Raymond apartment house 14 98 Monroe Street NW on podcasts in 1914 what they just read straight news stories from 1889 and laugh about.
S3: How silly and anachronistic everything they did.
S11: The tumult and the shouting which greeted his wizard like prowess at the baseball park were in striking contrast with the exclusive and simple ceremony at the home of the bride.
S8: Whereas the part where we get to the after ball name is like what’s your wizard like prowess.
S9: Teammates didn’t know Walter Johnson private guy teammates didn’t know he was getting married. The bride wore cream lace dress covering a cream taffeta skirt because everyone wants to know what the bride was wearing. Stefan what’s your cream taffeta skirt. No. Let’s go. Let’s get on now. Car wouldn’t start. After the ceremony. Johnson had the hand crank it to get it going. I think we’ll go with Miss Hazel Lee Roberts.
S8: All right. Stefan what’s your Miss Hayes Julia Roberts.
S6: Well there was a lot of historical actually living in D.C. last week the last time a Washington team won the World Series was 1924 with Walter Johnson. Everyone noted big change but actually there Hazel Lee Robert and putt actually the last time the Washington team was in the world series was 1933 when the Senators lost but actually the last time a Washington team was in the world series was 1948 when the Homestead Grays won the Negro Leagues version. But actually the Grays played all of those series games on the road because the Washington NFL team was using Griffith Stadium. So actually the last World Series game played in D.C. before this weekend was in 1945. Also the Homestead Grays. I looked up that series the Grays two year run as champions ended in four straight games at the hands of the Cleveland Buckeyes. The Grays had the big stars Josh Gibson Buck Leonard Cool Papa Bell but those dudes were old. The Buckeyes outscored the Grays 14 to 3 that game 3 in D.C. was a 4 nothing shot out. The legendary African-American newspaper reporter Wendell Smith of the Pittsburgh Courier wrote that the sweep was one of the biggest surprises in baseball history. Smith’s column about the series had a longer second section about the latest news and baseball’s slow road to integration which black writers like Smith had been championing for years and this was much more interesting to me than the reports on the Grays losing earlier in nineteen forty five under pressure from progressive politicians and public figures New York Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia had established the mayors committee to integrate baseball urging all three New York teams to sign black players. Smith got hold of a statement given to the committee by the president of the Yankees Lee MacPhail. Smith called MacPhail the mouth freckle faced Mary Mac madcap Larry loquacious Larry and Uncle Larry. I found McPhail statement online it was acquired by the Negro Leagues Museum in Kansas City a few years ago. It is a testament to the arrogance excuse making victim blaming and straight out racism that afflicted baseball for more than a century. MacPhail started by acknowledging that black people liked sports and were good at them and claims that quote The majority of Americans cared mainly about quote the excellence of performance in sport rather than the color race or creed of the performer. Then he blamed groups of political and social minded drum beaters for trying to force MLB to integrate baseball actually wasn’t a Jim Crow operation MacPhail said. The problem was that people just didn’t understand the complex business of baseball. Indeed McVeigh’s first argument against integration in that statement was that MLB derives substantial revenue from operations of the Negro Leagues. Talk about showing your ass the Yankees he admitted netted most one hundred thousand dollars a year hosting Negro League games and didn’t want to give that up. MacPhail also said that integration was impossible because Negro Leagues players were already under contract. There wasn’t a single black player good enough to play in the majors anyway. And the Negro Leagues didn’t deserve cooperation because they lacked quote a sound and ethical operations basis. And quote Wendell Smith dismembered MacPhail in his column not just through insults. First he noted that MacPhail had been an Army colonel in the war fighting to perpetuate the ideals of democracy. Now MacPhail was quote through waving the flag. He’s going back to business as usual. The majors ammo Smith wrote was to quote soak Negro league owners for everything but the air consumed within the confines of the parks strip them of everything they can without being illegitimate and then add pain to misery by saying Get yourselves straightened out. Major League teams charged Negro Leagues visitors for everything from advertising to seat dusters. Smith wrote on October 20 3rd 1945 eight days before the LaGuardia Commission issued its report. Branch Rickey of the Brooklyn Dodgers signed Jackie Robinson to play for the team’s minor league affiliate in Montreal. Ricky gave a two hour and 15 minute interview to Wendell Smith. Smith wrote that the quote heavyset bespectacled Diamond mogul signed Robinson because he believes the Negro shortstop is a great prospect and because his conscience would not permit him to wallow in the mire of racial discrimination. End quote. Robinson debuted with the Dodgers in April 1947 three months after Josh Gibson of the homestead grays died at age 35 of a stroke. A black player wouldn’t play for the Yankees until 1955. One last actually Josh after Sunday night. D.C. hasn’t hosted a World Series victory since 1944 when the Homestead Grays beat the Birmingham Black Barons in Game 5 of the Negro League finals for runs to two Josh Watts you are Miss Hazel Lee Roberts.
S8: I was just about to cite that you anticipated my citation. Did you know that in the 1944 Negro League World Series there is a game played in New Orleans.
S7: I didn’t know that but I did know from doing this research that the Negro Leagues played so many of their games on the road because they were as MacPhail noted. They were basically indebted and at the mercy of major league clubs the stadiums that they that they shared and were tenants in. So like a lot of the games were road games and all of these series yes.
S8: So even in the world serious pelican stadium 1944 pelicans. I did not know that until a couple of minutes yeah. So my after Ball is similar conceptually I have a lot of friends who have paid a lot of money to go to this world series and DC. Tickets are going for like a thousand dollars on the secondary market. Even if you paid face value it’s like 300 bucks to get into the stadium. Now as we’ve been discussing the Washington Nationals have treated their spendthrift fans to three consecutive losses which cannot be a super great feeling you’re paying for the privilege to watch your team go down to a humiliating defeat. For the president. Fair point fair trade but it’s not just the D.C. thing and its World Series. Astros fans went home unhappy after games 1 and 2. Everyone’s sad everyone’s angry everyone has sorrows. They’re all getting drowned during this World Series. There’s something kind of hilariously demented about a series in which no fans are happy which led me to wonder has there ever been a seven game playoff series in which no one is ever happy. That is. Has there ever been a seven game playoff series in which the road team wins every game. I’m not the first person ask this question do you find a bunch of threads about this on Reddit and Quora another message boards. The consensus answer is no. This has never happened in the first round of the NBA as 1984 Eastern Conference playoffs. Then New Jersey Nets beat the Sixers in a five game series with the red team winning every game that is a five game series. There have also been a bunch of seven game series in which the road team won as many as five games but that’s it. In baseball the Rangers beat the Rays 3 to 2 in the 2010 A.L. division series again wrote team winning every game again five game series. Same with the 2012 and LDS Giants over the Reds NHL bunch of series with five road wins no best of seven series with seven red one so we could be seeing history here Stefan.
S18: The Astros lose the game six at home and then the Astros lose Game 7 at home. First time ever in any of the major professional sports unless I screwed this up if I did let me know. I don’t think I did though. But that’s not the end of this after ball. There will be a disappointing end. A search in the annals of ice hockey did bear some frozen fruit Stefan 1992 playoffs for the American Hockey League the American Hockey League top tier minor league for the NHL and the NHL they play for the Calder Cup shout out to Frank Calder president the NHL from 1917 to 1943. All right. The Calder Cup the Adirondack Red Wings now defunct then of Glens Falls New York. They’re playing the St. John’s Maple Leafs now defunct then St. John’s Newfoundland and Labrador Canada.
S8: This was a series in which fans of the visitors were truly challenged if they wanted to see their team on the road. A Google Maps at 32 hours and sixteen hundred miles you’ve got to go Trans Canada Highway. This road has tolls. This road includes a ferry. This route crosses the country border. Your destination is in a different times and what year are we talking here.
S22: This is 1992 OK. Air travel did exist but I’m trying to. Come on. I’m trying to make it seem as hard as possible. I just want to assure all of our listeners that no fans in these arenas wherever happy. So seven game series game one at St. John’s Adirondack wins 63 game two at St. John’s Adirondack win seven for game three at Adirondack St. John’s wins for three game for it Adirondack St. John’s wins for one. Game five at St. John’s Adirondack wins 3 1. None of these games are even close. There was one one goal game. Game 6 at Adirondack. St. John’s wins 5 2. All right. Game 7. We’re going to Newfoundland and Labrador.
S9: Load up the dog sled.
S22: This is that’s a John back chance to to win it all to take home the Calder Cup. No Adirondack wins five to two. The coach of Adirondack was actually Barry Melrose who after that year would go on to take the job with the L.A. Kings. He wrote about it in his book and said absolutely nothing interesting about this short amount so we’re not going to quote him the Glens Falls New York newspaper did cover this assiduously though the sports page headline on May 30th 92 was of course Rhodes sweet road the same day in that paper. There was a front page story in which the fans were quoted about their feelings Jim and Chris Fitch stood in the top eye all of the Glens Falls civic center leaning over a railing and listening to a radio broadcast. I’d rather have seen it here said Jim Fitch a smile creeping across his face. But it doesn’t matter all that matters is that we won. There was positive news in this story though. Best of all anyone who wanted to see it could thanks to a deal local cable station TV 8 worked out with a Newfoundland channel and watch it they did two hundred or so wings diehards packing Heritage Hall while countless others watched at local bars or in their living rooms. TV ratings never were so good. Victory Parade June 1st finally the fans and Glens Falls get to greet their conquering hero. The crowds were overwhelming 250 people showed up just one it what a throng. It was raining though. This story just made a lot of excuses about what an amazing showing this was considering it was raining. But I think you know they were just unhappy because they kept losing at home. You got to win at home teams lock it down.
S2: But hopefully they’ll continue losing to set this all time record. That is our show for today. Our producer is Melissa Kaplan to listen to passages and subscribe or just reach out go to Slate dot com slash hang up. You can e-mail us at hang up at Slate dot com. If you’re still here you might want even more to hang up and listen and our bonus segment this week we talked to Ben Lindbergh about the Astros and Brandon Taplin as we were working and reporting on the Astros to some extent.
S28: You know for one chapter in the book they made the trade for Roberto as you know who at the time was suspended for domestic violence and so of course we realized that we have to acknowledge this we have to explore what led to this. Now the Astros were not the only team to have acquired a player who had been suspended for domestic violence or to continue employing a player who had suspended for that year that conversation joined Slate Plus it’s just thirty five dollars for the first year sign up at Slate dot com fleshing out.
S2: Plus for Stefan Fatsis and Josh Levine remembers Omar Obeidi. And thanks for listening.
S8: Now it is time for our bonus segment for Slate Plus members and as promised Ben Lindbergh of the ringer co-author of MVP machine is back with us. Hey Ben hello. So as I mentioned in our earlier segment you’ve done a lot of reporting and thinking on the Astros and you were writing about their arrogance you know years ago in the context of their team building strategy. This idea that they were kind of these quant geniuses they fired all their scouts and they knew things about how to build a baseball team that other teams didn’t know they turned out to be correct. I don’t know if the mechanism of like we have to fire the scouts and that’s the way to do it. I don’t know if that was exactly correct of everything they’ve done is precisely the right way to do it. But you can’t argue with the results and I just imagine Ben as you were writing the book you had to think about the balance between should we celebrate the fact that you know the Astros are on the like cutting edge of this player development revolution you’re writing about they’re clearly smart about identifying talent like how much do you lionize them for that and how much do you criticize them and focus on the fact that they were behaving oftentimes and inhumane ways.
S14: Yeah we thought a lot about that. So we set out to write this book about player development early in 2018 and the Astros didn’t even appear in our book proposal. You know we said well we’ll focus on some team but until we started doing the reporting we didn’t realize that it had to be the Astros and as we continued to talk to people the Astros kept coming up over and over and over again because they were the trailblazers in player development. They were the ones who really integrated technology who changed these player development practices and who had great success with that. So as we were working and reporting on the Astros to some extent you know for one chapter in the book they made the trade for Roberto Osuna who at the time was suspended for domestic violence and so of course we realized that we have to acknowledge this we have to explore what led to this. Now the Astros were not the only team to have acquired a player who had been suspended for domestic violence or to continue employing a player who had been suspended for that. So they were not unique in that. I think the Todman outburst and their response to the Todman outburst has really elevated them to a new level when it comes to being a bad actor in this area. But I think that clearly there is a culture here that contributed to this. And so when we wrote about the Osuna trade we portrayed that as sort of an example of qualities that had served the Astros well on the field being taken too far and then kind of getting mad with power almost and believing that they could do no wrong because from the moment that Jeff Lin took over the Astros in late 2011 he really did things that were widely criticized whether it was tanking or extreme rebuilding whatever you want to call it or specific strategies like the shift or tandem starters or later things that they’ve done like letting go of many of their pro scouts and reorganizing their player development staff and some of the signs dealing they’ve been accused of of that is sort of baseball stuff. And for the most part they’ve been proven right about the baseball stuff even like their top draft pick that they rescinded an offer to Grady Aikman after it was found that he had some irregularity in his elbow a lot of people criticized the Astros for retracting that offer lowering that offer but that elbow blew up and they were sort of proven right. So again and again they kind of did the thing that they thought was right that would lead to success and again and again they were right in the sense that the Astros built this great team and are on the verge of winning two World Series in three years. But I think they internalized this quest for surplus value and for always extracting the most out of players and not really looking at players as people so much as just combinations of stats and salary. And that led them to make the trade which was really not even a necessary trade on a baseball level and of course was widely criticized which they had to know it would be. But they went ahead and did it because hey where the Astros and everything we do turns out to that lead to World Series titles.
S15: I mean part of the thing that surprises me a little bit here is that our level of surprise that a professional sports organization behaves in a sort of cold hearted and inhumane way. This is the M.O. of pretty much every National Football League franchise. I mean players are treated as utterly disposable assets front offices believe that they have this supreme gift of assessing and developing talent and coaching staffs don’t give players hardly any agency at all on the field. Everything is scripted everything is determined everything is according to the genius of the coach and his staff. Baseball I think is different and has historically been perceived as different but now in the quantitative era it is certainly a convenient way of criticizing teams like the Astros and others who seem to go overboard on the quant side while ignoring the human side. That’s the simple narrative breakdown right that the Astros are great at all the quantitative stuff that every other team is trying to do but they have forgotten what it means to sort of be humane and treat people well. Both players and staffers and visitors to their workplace.
S14: Yeah I think that’s true. I mean they have this sort of ruthless business background and Luna was bringing in McKinsey consultants to tell him optimizes for an office and I think when it comes to just you know cutting players who aren’t that good and finding undervalued players maybe it serves you well. And the irony of all of this is that the Astros that put together a very likable team with a lot of really charismatic players and seemingly a clubhouse that plays very well together and guys like cozy up to Vai and crows Gray and George Springer and you almost can’t not like these guys and the Astros in a way have been celebrated for paying attention to that human side of things. You know I think the thesis of Astro ball the book was that the Astros had managed to fuse this kind of cold hard calculating analysis with some appreciation for human values and you know individuals and that that had helped them develop these players and you know personally I think that really the Astros narrative is is more about getting away from tradition and looking at you know certainly looking at players as individuals when it comes to developing them and figuring out how they can be better and discussion.
S17: This pitch a little more and we should tweak this guy’s swing in that way but I don’t think they really have many qualms about employing people who are not good guys. If they are good at baseball and one thing we reported in the MVP machine which again we didn’t really set out to write a book about the Astros front office culture. But it was just inevitably as we were writing it came up because one of the reasons that we were able to report on the Astros measures we were it was that they had this front office exodus as we were working on the book and a lot of front office people left a lot of coaches left. That was partly because baseball of course is a copycat sport and when one team is successful and innovative in some way every other team wants to hire that team’s employees but it wasn’t just that it was multiple people who had left by that point and have left since who left in part because of this culture because there’s a lot of suspicion and secrecy and because the Osuna trade was very divisive. Now obviously with our Jim Crane we’re not the only people to approve that clearly. It seems that Brandon Tolman was on board with that trade but much of the front office was not and was quite upset that the Astros had acquired this guy. But the people at the top grain and now they are really sort of ruthless when it comes to this and if they think that some decision will affect the baseball team in a positive way then they don’t really care about the backlash I think they may have underestimated the backlash to the Osuna trade and obviously to the top man episode and so they handled it very clearly I think because they were so out of practice when it came to being contrite and apologizing for anything because they were used to being proven right and just doing the thing that everyone thought was a mistake and ultimately that benefiting the Astros.
S4: It’s not fundamentally wrong to assign someone who’s been suspended for whether it’s domestic abuser or something else to give somebody another chance. It seems like what the Astros did though is to claim that that’s what they’re doing in an insincere way to try to get credit for it and to give a donation for domestic violence causes when actually they were doing this in the most ruthless and cold hearted way possible. And so there are two there are two possible ways that they could have done this better. Three pathways. Number one. Number the trade. Number two make the trade and be smarter about hiding why they’re actually doing it.
S8: Number three is actually do what they claim they were they were doing that the player promote an actual legitimate organizational interest and commitment to speaking out against an fighting domestic violence and bastards like that I think is fundamentally Well the problem here.
S15: Well on the other fundamental failure on the part of this organization and it’s not just Luna but it’s everybody that is involved in sort of anticipating how the public will react to something and to anticipating how the culture of your organization may lead you into a problematic place. Because of something you’ve done and what they didn’t anticipate here is that someone in this front office in this case Brandon Todman who Luna had to have known had a bug up his ass about the fact that a reporter covering the team had tweeted out DV hotline numbers when Roberto Osuna was pitching and nothing was done to combat that or to anticipate that this was going to blow up at some point.
S3: Well I think the thing that’s important to note here Ben is that the Astros were an arrogant enough to think that they could be honest about what they were actually doing. They tried to pretend like they were getting Osuna for you know you know that they were being thoughtful right about it. They weren’t like actually you know what we’ve calculated is that players who commit domestic abuse or alleged document domestic abuse are one point six three times more valuable than they would be otherwise and he was cheaper. And so we just made a team made a move that’s going to like no they didn’t say that. They said oh we have zero tolerance and we’re donating 300000 dollars like that. They’re smart enough to know that you like can’t say publicly what it is the two men eventually ended up saying yeah right.
S17: And I don’t know that they’re the only team that would have made that move.
S1: I think that there were other teams that certainly were wary and would not have done that. But even the other side of that trade the book is didn’t release Roberto Osuna the day that they found out about this. No they held on to him and they got something in return for him. So there aren’t that many teams that consistently make a moral stand here. I think it’s it’s just that yes the Astros it’s so transparent why they’re doing this. And yet their statements are not transparent. And so I believe that they did not make any donation or talk about partnering with domestic violence prevention awareness organizations until after the backlash had already begun. So there just didn’t really seem to be a good faith effort on their part. You know and so when they were talking about well we hope that this will raise awareness and you know in the long run bringing attention to this issue will be a positive and we have a zero tolerance policy which was just nonsensical on its face when you are acquiring a player who is currently suspended for domestic violence it none of it really made sense and it was all we know why you’re doing this. You know why you’re doing this but you’re telling us something different. And I think that rubbed people the wrong way.
S7: Well Louise Thomas in the New Yorker had a terrific essay about all of this and the last line in her piece I mean she on she got it she nailed the reason that this happened and that’s that the Astros for all of their cultural lying arrogance and for all of their cultural dependency on their ability to quantitatively analyze and take the human element out of baseball decisions couldn’t get over the reality that they are humans too right then they make as she wrote they have hidden biases and not so hidden biases their distortions their decisions are distorted by loyalty and an aversion to change. They have trouble adapting quickly or admitting error. They model the world narratively instead of according to the facts they can’t see past their own stories. The Astros couldn’t see past their own stories here.
S1: And I think winning is everything for them as it is for many teams but they are better at it they win more. And some of the moves that they have made in pursuit of those wins. You could argue that they’ve done some damage but they’ve also paid off in the sense that yes maybe tanking was bad and it gave the Astros fans a few years of misery but ultimately it led to this great team and maybe two World Series titles and probably most Astros fans would sign up for that. I would think or if you’re letting go of some scouts. Well that’s tough for the Scouts but businesses change. You know the Astros were maybe the first and most most ruthless to implement that but other teams have since followed them as they’ve realized that it probably makes sense with the technology that’s out there to reorganize the way that your scouting structure works and they’ve hired plenty of other people in other roles it’s not necessarily fewer people it’s just different people so it’s not that those things are definitely bad. You know I don’t know that shifting is bad. Every team shifts now the way that the Astros did five years ago. That’s just it just just you know employing some strategic advantage that other teams are going to beat you to if you don’t act first and that’s ultimately just on field stuff for the most part. It’s baseball. But in Osuna and now in the top man episode it goes beyond that and the Astros just are not used to apologizing for anything and I think they are just misguided enough to think that hey we’ve been right about so many things we don’t need to pay attention to the detractors of the naysayers this time either. You know until it it just becomes impossible not to. And then the fact that they are so practiced and inept when it comes to actually apologizing for anything that they’ve done has showed itself over and over over the past week as they have made a bad situation into a terrible one fumbling it in every possible way can read more about the Astros and their front office in Ben’s book the MVP machine current with Travis magic.
S4: Ben thanks as always. Thanks for having me. Slate Plus members thank you. We did it. We’ll be back with more next week. Talk to you then.