Friday, November 18, 2011

Go west, young man

In 1962 Major League Baseball came to Houston with the birth of the Colt .45's. A corner of the (now) Reliant Stadium parking lot was home to Colt Stadium.

In 1965 the (newly renamed) Astros moved into the 8th Wonder of the World - The Astrodome where they stayed until 2000 when they moved downtown to the newly built Enron Stadium. After the collapse of Enron the ballpark's naming rights were sold to Minute Maid.

From those humble beginnings in the sweltering Houston heat in 1962 through the disastrous 2011 campaign, the Astros battled for supremacy in the National League. They reached the playoffs for the first time in 1980 but lost in five games in the NLCS to the Phillies. They made it back to the playoffs again in 1986, losing to the Mets in six games -- the last of which was a 16-inning classic.

In 2005 the Astros finally made it to the World Series and celebrated by getting swept by the White Sox.

Now it's time to throw all that history out the window because Major League Baseball has decided that the Astros need to move from the National League to the American League in order to balance the divisions. In order to entice the Astros to agree to the move, MLB is paying Jim Crane, the new Astros' owner a total of $70 million (half of it from Drayton McLane). More to the point, MLB told Mr. Crane they wouldn't approve the sale without an agreement that the Astros would move. Of course, there may be a stumbling block.

If moving from the NL Central to the AL West is such a damn good idea - why is Jim Crane being paid $70 million to agree to it? If having the Yankees and Red Sox come to town every year is such a boon to the bottom line, why is Jim Crane being given $70 million back?

And why move the Astros? The Astros have played in the NL for the last 49 years. Why not the Arizona Diamondbacks? They've only been around since 1998? Their fan base is transitory and largely disinterested in baseball. And, hell, Phoenix is further west than Houston.

Why not Milwaukee? They've only been around since 1969. They played in the AL through the 1997 season. I understand they're in the Midwest -- but so what?

I love baseball. I love to root for the Astros. I hate the Yankees and I hate the Red Sox. But I also believe that NL baseball is truer to the spirit of baseball than that game they play in the AL. I believe the designated hitter is one of the worst abominations of our time. I think using a DH takes too much of the strategy out of the game.

Of course it won't matter in the end because one of these days the DH will be expanded to the NL, too. Just think about it, that means 15 more aging, out-of-shape veterans who no longer have the skills to play in the field will be able to collect a large paycheck. That will be the death of baseball.

The Astros have a proud history. Over the years the Astros have had heated rivalries with the Dodgers, Braves, Mets and Cardinals. Those days are about to be over -- all for a few dollars. It's bad enough that colleges are walking away from traditional rivalries all in the name of money; but now we're talking about our national pastime.

It's a bad move. Watching the Astros play won't ever be the same again.

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