The great news is that the sale of the Houston Astros was approved by the Major League Baseball owners at their quarterly meeting today. The Dreaded Drayton McLane Era in Houston Astros history is expected to finally be smothered with a pillow by the middle of next week; this will do nothing to immediately get us any better players, but it will make a lot of people feel better.
This past May when the sale agreement with an investment group led by Houston businessman Jim Crane was announced, I unburdened myself on the subject of McLane’s star-crossed stewardship of my hometown team. In retrospect, the only thing I’d change would be to include better examples of how splurging on big name free agents made McLane feel like he was building a champion but really only reinforced his legacy of misguided priorities:
Kaz Matsui. Woody Williams. Vinny Castilla. Sid Fernandez. Dwight Gooden. Mike Hampton. Jason Jennings. Pat Listach. Brett Myers. Russ Ortiz.
I’ve been a baseball fan since I was a kid and been lucky enough to always live in cities with big league teams, except for a few years as a small boy and then in college, so going to games regularly and seeing all the best players in person has been a big part of my life. I’ve seen a few really good Houston teams, and I’ve seen quite a few really terrible ones since I first walked into the Astrodome in 1966, but since then the Astros have been my team. Baseball fans are, among many things, loyal to their team.
But, I got so tired of sitting through season after season of McLane and his minions oh-so-earnestly soldiering on, unable to stop meddling in the baseball stuff they didn’t know about, from scouting to farm system to broadcasting and more, while conniving to get taxpayers to pick up most of the tab for a (beautiful) new playpen and then raising prices on everything we buy when we’re there. And now to top it all off, the team on the field has turned from a prince into a frog.
So, I’ve got nothing but positive feelings about the old ownership hitting the bricks (not the ones they’re selling for $100). The new guys could be worse, but I’m willing to take the chance that they’re not. I’m not so positive about the upcoming opponents.
The less than great news is that this sale turned out, as suspected, to be contingent on moving the Astros out of the National League and into the American League’s West Division. Probably starting in 2013—the season after next—after more than 50 years with a National League team and before that minor league teams that were associated with National League clubs dating back to the 1920s—Houston will become an American League city. This bites.
Since the expansions and realignments leading up to the 1998 season, there have been three divisions in each league with five teams in most of those divisions, but the NL Central has had six teams and the AL West only four (I can’t remember why). In the past few years it seems to have become important to even that out. The rules won’t let any team owner be forced to change leagues, but the commissioner’s office took advantage of this opportunity and made the league change a requirement for approval of this sale. The Astros’ new owner had to agree, or walk away from the whole deal.
Now the Astros will be in the same division with the Texas Rangers, Seattle Mariners, Oakland A’s and Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and play a larger percentage of their games against them instead of against their current NL Central rivals. Three of the AL West teams are in the Pacific time zone, which means the Astros will play a larger number of road games that won’t start until 9 p.m. Houston time and won’t end until midnight or more. That will cut into the size of the TV and radio audiences in Houston, hurt ratings and hurt the team and the broadcasters financially.
It will mean a big change in which teams we see come to Houston. Instead of three visits a year from the Cardinals and Cubs and other NL Central teams, and once a year from the Giants and Phillies and other National League teams, we may see all of them once a year at most. Instead, we’ll get a therapeutic dose of our new AL West buddies and annual drop-ins from not only the Yankees and Red Sox but the Twins and Orioles and Royals, too. Oh boy.
And as for the idea that the Astros will have a wonderful rivalry with the Rangers…well, that may come to be, but it’s far from certain. Notwithstanding all the balloon juice emanating from Major League Baseball about the “natural rivalry” between the two teams from Texas, let me presume to speak on behalf of Houston fans when I say, we don’t care about the Rangers. Don’t hate ’em, just don’t care about ’em. Never have. I think Rangers fans feel the same way about the Astros, but I’ll stand to be corrected on that.
And yes, I believe watching a team that plays all of its games with the designated hitter will be annoying. It won’t be the end of the world, but it won’t add to my enjoyment and excitement, either. I’m just not a DH kind of guy. Now it turns out that that will be part of the price I have to pay to get the Old Grocer out of my life and out from that seat behind home plate in the centerfield shot on my TV screen.
Well, things have been worse…did I mention Kaz Matsui?