The Astros’ Apology? Not Accepted

The Houston Astros have gotten a lot of criticism lately, but they may also have a business opportunity. They could work out a marketing promotion with Reese’s, maker of those peanut butter cups, whose ad slogan is: “Not sorry.”

Oh, they say they’re sorry, just as losing Academy Award nominees force themselves to smile and applaud for the winners. But their contrition is about as convincing as Pete Rose’s hair dye. When Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman stepped forward to apologize at a Thursday press conference, they looked as though they were making a hostage video.

“I’m really sorry about the choices that were made by my team, by the organization and by me,” said Bregman. “I’ve learned from this and I hope to regain the trust of baseball fans.” Altuve assured the audience that everyone in the organization “feels bad about what happened in 2017.”

You gotta love their phrasing: “The choices that were made” and “what happened in 2017.” The systematic, extended use of electronic surveillance and communication to sabotage opposing teams — well, they made it sound like an unfortunate rain shower that happened to fall on them. “We cheated every chance we got, and the cheating won us a World Series” would have been a more honest formulation.

“I’ve learned from this” and “feels bad” have a charming vagueness. Did Bregman learn the importance of greater secrecy in foul play? Is Altuve pained that everyone now regards him as a thief? Neither player appeared to be wracked by conscience.

Owner Jim Crane minimized the crime as irrelevant. “Our opinion is, you know, that this didn’t impact the game,” he said with serene calm. “We won the World Series and we’ll leave it at that.”

Yes, we were at the bank wielding guns when it was robbed, and yes, we have bags filled with bundles of cash, but we don’t think we owe our wealth to the robbery. And we’ll leave it at that.

The cheating involved a mix of modern video and primitive communication, with a TV monitor near the dugout showing the catcher’s signs and a guy banging on a trash can to indicate to the batter what pitch was coming. The commissioner’s report said the scheme was “player-driven,” but an investigation by The Wall Street Journal found widespread guilt: “The Astros’ rule-breaking permeated the entire organization, involving executives, coaches and players.”

Professional sports teams are results-oriented, so it’s safe to say that if this program didn’t “impact” games, it would have been scrapped. The obvious reason players were so happy to make use of it is that it made a difference.

The Journal notes that one internal email commended Marwin Gonzalez for doing “the best job with getting this info.” The utility player had his best season in 2017. His reward was a $21 million contract with the Minnesota Twins, who might have paid less had they known more.

But don’t worry: Gonzalez apologized. “I’m remorseful for everything that happened in 2017,” he said Tuesday — though not, perhaps, for what happened in 2019, when the Brink’s truck arrived to unload his windfall.

It’s plain that if they had the chance to do it over, the Astros would behave differently. They would try much, much harder to avoid getting caught. Since they were caught, they can bring themselves to utter a few banal words of feigned regret. But nothing indicates a willingness to take true responsibility for their transgressions.

Those transgressions rank among the most outrageous and disgraceful in major league history, with immeasurable consequences. They damaged the careers of opposing pitchers whose failures were mistakenly attributed to their inadequacies. They brought hits and money to hitters who were complicit in the crime. And they cost other teams victories they would have had in the absence of the cheating.

So if the Astros are sorry, let them show it. First, by providing a complete account of everything they did. Second, by admitting the obvious fact that they owed much of their success to it. Third, by surrendering the rings and the bonuses they got for winning the Series and renouncing their title.

If the Astros players and staff aren’t willing to do any of these, they should take their apologies and throw them in the trash can. I know they have one.

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune. His twice-a-week column on national and international affairs, distributed by Creators Syndicate, appears in some 50 papers across the country.