Outrage is not too strong a word to describe the reaction of Astros fans to the team’s realignment into the American League West. It’s a typical reaction: “Why me.”
Indeed, why Houston? Baseball in this city started with the Houston Buffs, a Cardinals farm team. The Buffs were replaced by the Colt 45’s in 1962 and the 45’s became the Astros in 1965. The connection goes back as least as far as 1940. Many fans remember that the Brewers used to be in the American League and wonder why they don’t go back to the A. L.
The reason is simple. They refuse. So do all the other teams in the N. L. Central. As a matter of fact, no N. L. owner would agree to move. And, if you polled the A. L. owners about moving to the N. L. most, if not all of them, would jump at the chance. As with most controversial subjects in and out of baseball, all you have to do is follow the money trail. A good DH is far more expensive than a utility infielder or outfielder.
Beyond that, many good fans prefer the National League game. The decision about whether to pinch hit for the pitcher or not creates excruciating managerial decisions. And, the managers like that. It’s like chess versus checkers. I have asked virtually every manager who has managed in both leagues about it. To a man, Joe Torre, Lou Pinella, Bobby Valentine, Tony LaRussa, Jimmy Leyland, Bobby Cox and Buck Rodgers, prefer the old-fashioned version of the game.
However, you don’t always get what you want. Each of them served time in the A. L. because there was no choice. They took Hobson’s Choice, just like Jim Crane, the new Astros owner. So, my advice to Astros fans is, “get over it.” The commissioner couldn’t force an owner to move, but he could withhold approval from a prospective owner. I know background checks and equity positions were part of it. But my instinct tells me that it didn’t take six months to get the deal done because of those considerations. I think it was about money. And the final deal pretty much confirms that. Crane wouldn’t agree to move without compensation, which he got. Instead of paying 680 million for the team he ended up paying 610 million.
The price reduction addressed two issues. First, starting in 2013, the team will play all west coast night games at 9 or 9:30 Central Time. These games will not make anywhere near the revenue that prime time games generate. And that’s another reason the fans are upset. Most of them have to go to work in the morning. They can’t stay up half the night to watch the game. The second consideration is the price of a good DH.
I’m not wild about the American League relocation either. But I have already gotten over it. I will still see the greatest players on the planet do all the things they do so well. It’s not like accepting the replacement players that the owners took to spring training in 1995 to try to scare the real players into capitulating in the negotiations for a new Basic Agreement. That would have been hard to accept.
But what is hard for me to understand is the reasons for the move. MLB wants to add another Wild Card team. So, is that impossible with six teams in the N. L. Central and only four in the A. L. West? Do you have to have five teams in each division for competitive balance? I think not. Competitive balance has a lot more to do with the quality of the teams in a division, than the quantity. When I was playing for the Astros, we were in the N. L. West. We had the late start times on the West Coast, so it’s not like we haven’t been there before. But we also had the Dodgers and Reds in our division, which was like being the Blue Jays in the A. L. East now. They could probably contend in the other two divisions in the A. L. but not in the East. There were several years when I thought we could have won the N. L. East back in the early seventies. But what could we do but get over it.
All of us have moments in our lives when we feel like we are being treated unfairly, but can’t do anything about it. We grouse and complain, and then we move on. That is our only choice now. If you want to hold on to bitterness and anger, be my guest. My advice would be to let it go and go on with your life. This move isn’t going to kill anybody. And if it turns out to be a mistake, it can be corrected.
I think the biggest mistake is having 30 teams to begin with. the number makes scheduling clumsy and in 2013 we will have interleague games spread throughout the season. Interleague play has been popular and attendance numbers prove it. But interleague games have been played in May and June, when it is a pleasant diversion. The second half of the season has been comprised of intraleague play, which is the best format for a pennant race. I don’t think the fans will support interleague play as well when it occurs throughout the year. If I’m right, it will affect revenue, and the money trail will not lead to the desired destination.
Neither fans nor owners are going to like it when the races come down the stretch and their opponents are playing a weak team from the other league, while their team is facing stiffer competition. If I’m right, there will either be another expansion of two teams, getting the numbers to 16 teams in each league, which would make scheduling much easier. Or their will be a modification of the interleague schedule. Either way, it would require another adjustment.
If you don’t like the weather in Houston, someone will tell you, “Stick around, it’ll change.” I would tell Astros fans the same thing.