The Astros and Major League Baseball Just Can't Seem to Understand Public Relations
Please correct me if I'm wrong--but I don't believe there has been a scandal in Professional Sports handled as badly from a PR Perspective as the Houston Astros Sign Cheating Scandal.
Every chance the team has had to put the issue in their rear view mirror has flamed out---spectacularly.
This past weekend, the Astros and owner Jim Crane sat in front of the assembled reporters and photographers and proceeded to either (A) Read without emotion from a piece of paper stating non-committal, sort of apologies or (B) in the case of Crane directly contradict himself from sentence to sentence.
It was a really bad look that absolutely nobody believed, nobody....
Ok, so yeah, the people in Los Angeles had a bit of extra motivation for being angry due to the Dodgers losing the 2017 World Series to Houston in prime cheating time....
But the Dodgers and their fans were FAR from the only people who didn't buy...well pretty much anything said.
Then the Commissioner spoke up. (ed.note: This is the full 45 minutes of the interview).....
Rob Manfred said a lot of things during this interview---some good, some not so good. For reasons only he can explain, after being asked about putting some sort of "Asterisk" or mark next to the Astros 2017 title, Manfred called the World Series trophy a "Piece of Metal".
The PR Nightmare got worse....Los Angeles Dodgers Justin Turner went off on Monday about Manfred's comment and the verbal jousting between his teammate and friend Cody Bellinger and the Astros...
There are multiple layers to this mess that seemingly has yet to hit bottom in large part due to the Astros and Rob Manfred's unwillingness to just own the issue. Manfred's been lashing out of late towards reporters including the Wall Street Journal's Jared Diamond who got his hands on the Commish's memo detailing the investigation into the Astros. Said memo outlined the actual findings, not necessarily what the public was told. Which is a BIG problem.
The memo details the involvement of former Astros G.M Jeff Lunhow and the appearance of software developed specifically to decode signs called "Codebreaker" or "Dark Arts". The investigation found there were line items in the 2019 team budget for said software.
Players from all over baseball have been taking shots at the Astros and their half-hearted "Apologies" and Manfred for his misstatements and vague handling of the details. I'm pretty sure the Commissioner called for Lunhow's termination and former Manager A.J. Hinch's suspension and no discipline for the players to avoid a battle with the Major League Baseball Players Association. Which is fine--except most of the people involved with the MLBPA (the Players) are pretty pissed about it.
If you want a list of player opinions--go to Twitter and check out the feed of almost every player on every team in the league not named the Astros or Red Sox.
All that being said, how do you handle something like this from a Public Relations perspective? While you can play devil's advocate if you are an Astros employee or Houston fan and say "You can't prove it directly changed the outcome of a game", you can say it contributed or helped. In baseball, at this level, knowing what pitch is coming certainly helps---but if the pitcher throws a perfect pitch, the hitter still has to hit a baseball being thrown at 90+ mph and moving not in a perfectly straight line.
Sure, it helps to know what is coming, but unless you've tried hitting a baseball thrown that fast, it's impossible to judge. But---if it is your job, your livelihood and what you've trained for your entire life, it sure increases the odds you are going to get a hit.
At the end of the day---this could have been a manageable PR event had the Astros or MLB just been honest with everyone after getting caught and owned it. If you are caught doing something bad--ALWAYS the best way to get in front of it is to be sincere and apologize. It's amazing how forgiving most people can be if they believe you truly are being honest and sharing your feelings with them.
Jim Crane, the Astros Players, Rob Manfred....none of them have been totally forthcoming and totally honest about anything in this fiasco. NONE of them. And I know the all have highly paid Public Relations Professionals advising them. Why they haven't been told to just own the mistake and be up front with everyone is baffling and in my opinion Malpractice by the PR people.
Unless the issue is much, much worse than anyone is willing to admit, there is no excuse for not trying to portray yourselves has truly remoreseful and thus far there is nothing Crane, Carlos Correa, Jose Altuve or any other person currently on the Astros roster has said which would make anyone believe they care at all what anybody else thinks.
Which is why despite new Manager Dusty Baker trying to ask MLB to keep players from retaliating, it's likely to be a long, long season.
*Ed Note: The Boston Red Sox are going to find out their fate for a similar accusation very, very soon. It will be interesting to see how they handle it*