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O’Neil: Astros’ apologies for sign-stealing scandal are trash

Astros players Alex Bregman and Jose Altuve publicly apologized for the sign-stealing scandal. (AP)

The Astros are sorry.

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That much is clear after the sorriest excuse for an apology that you’re ever going to see.

In case you missed it, Houston Astros owner Jim Crane sat down in front of reporters on Thursday along with his new manager Dusty Baker and two players who read prepared statements.

The result was an utterly comical attempt at damage control which took less than 30 minutes, but will last forever because of the sheer incompetence in addressing the fact that in 2017, the Astros won the World Series in a season where their players used a video feed to determine what pitches an opponent was going to throw and relayed that information using the complicated mechanism of banging a trash can.

“Our opinion is this didn’t impact the game,” Crane said.

Less than a minute later – after being challenged on this claim – Crane claimed he never said that it didn’t impact the game. The utter inanity of the whole thing was underscored by the final two questions, which were expertly asked by Marly Rivera of ESPN.

Rivera: Then what are you guys apologizing for?

Crane: We’re apologizing because we broke the rules.

Rivera: But isn’t sign stealing a distinct advantage for the hitter so doesn’t it automatically impact competition?

Crane: It could possibly do that. It could possibly not.

Cue the guy who’s presumably paid by the Astros to manage the media to call a halt to the proceedings: “OK guys, we’re going to wrap up,” he said.

No. Wait. Don’t go. We all wanted to hear more attempts to express remorse without actually specifying the severity of the transgressions.

It’s hilarious when millionaires – and in the owner’s case, a billionaire – try to get in the way of their own apology to the point that it winds up sounding like they’re only sorry about being caught.

I’m honestly not sure the best approach for the Astros in this situation. I’m sure some of the players do feel genuinely bad about the fact that they gained an unfair advantage at the plate. I don’t doubt everyone of them is embarrassed that it has been exposed so publicly, but once the Astros were caught, their players and owner faced a choice of three distinct paths:

1) Throw yourself at the mercy of the court. Self-flagellation is the key to this one. Tears would help, too. Wail on about how sorry you are, how sorry you’ll always be and spare no detail enumerating all the ways in which you were wrong and how determined you are to learn from this and be a better person going forward. Kids would be a useful prop here. Either your own children or young fans and talk about being a better role model.

Now, the downside here is that you’ll have to keep repeating the storyline every time you’re asked about it. Any attempt to minimize the degree of the transgressions or cast yourself as anything less than a repentant sinner will hollow out your apology, and spending the next month going on and on about how despicable you were is probably not the best way to prepare for a baseball season.

2) Offer the one-time mea culpa. Fall on the sword just once. Open up to any and all questions, stating at the outset that this is not a subject that you plan to revisit in the future. That puts a time limit on the inquiry, but the result is that the questions are going to be more pointed, more probing right away as everyone will seek to find out as much as they can knowing this is the one trip they get to the well.

The downside here is that anything short of total honesty is going to be met with extreme criticism so any attempt to avoid detailing specifics – saying you can’t comment on the investigation or discuss the specific actions of specific people – will be seen as evasive and used as evidence that you’re just trying to sweep the whole thing under the rug, which let’s be honest, is exactly what you’re trying to.

3) Go the black-hat route. Refuse to discuss it at all, saying that’s something that is up to Major League Baseball to address its findings and you have no desire to comment on any of their rulings. The benefit here is that it cultivates an us-against-the-world mentality, and your fans might actually be emboldened to stand with you against the criticism.

The downside is that everyone other than those fans is going to believe you and your team have the conscience of cat burglars, sneaking around swiping secrets and slipping off into the night with your ill-gotten treasure. This level of demonization will be exceptionally hard to deal with if you have even a whiff of concern for what people think of you, and not many people have the stomach for that kind of thing. Crane and the Astros certainly didn’t.

What is remarkable about Thursday’s press conference is that the Astros managed to get the downside of each of the three scenarios outlined above with absolutely none of the benefits.

They’re going to keep getting questions about the whole scandal for the foreseeable future, everyone believes that they’re being evasive and unwilling to honestly discuss what happened and they’re seen as absolutely unrepentant cheats.

Sorry? Yep. That about sums up the public description of the entire franchise.

Follow 710 ESPN Seattle’s Danny O’Neil on Twitter.

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