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#pounditSaturday, November 28, 2020

Ex-Astros employees tell of ‘toxic’ work environment

The Houston Astros have aggressively embraced new ways of building a team that have been wildly successful on the field, but there are growing questions about how they’ve treated people behind the scenes.

In light of assistant GM Brandon Taubman’s firing, The Athletic’s Evan Drellich looked at the Astros’ culture and found deeply unpleasant things. Most notably, many current and former employees described an unpleasant and vicious working environment where advancement was difficult and people were treated impersonally.

“Toxic. Eats you alive,” one employee said of the Astros’ culture. “Cutthroat. Secretive. Not fun. But, winning, being first, innovative.”

One major flashpoint was the acquisition of Osuna, which directly led to the Taubman incident. Osuna was about to come off a 75-game domestic violence suspension when the Astros acquired him on the cheap due to his record. One ex-Astros employee said the move caused “emotional devastation” in the front office, sending a particularly bad message to women about how seriously the team took domestic violence.

Another former employee cited the team’s culture as the reason they left for another organization. The operation was described as ruthless, and it’s viewed as difficult to get a promotion. General manager Jeff Luhnow is also reported to have failed to inform employees when other teams call offering better jobs, which is a breach of the sport’s norms. The team does not pay well, and firings are said to be cold and impersonal.

“It’s fear-based,” another ex-employee said. “They will fire employees based on salary concerns, even after years of exceptional work.”

The Astros have essentially said complaints are inevitable when ownership and the front office leaders are trying to change the organization, and note that player complaints have essentially stopped now that the team is successful. That may be true, but there is still unhappiness among employees, and front office turnover is high.

The Taubman controversy, specifically the team’s botched initial response to it, backed up a lot of the complaints. It was tone-deaf and completely wrong, and the team’s damage control has also been atrocious. They may have a great team on the field, but all of this certainly paints a picture of a front office that has a problem when it comes to dealing with people.

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