Major League Baseball must have a rule that when it holds a gun to a team owner’s head and says, “You will relocate to another planet,” it is always a team that has never won a World Series.
Maybe that’s the penalty that franchise pays for championship failure. The Houston Astros are going from the National League to the American League in 2013 in order to even out the circuits with 15 teams apiece. The last time baseball switched a team from one league to another it was the Milwaukee Brewers shifting from the American League to the National League in 1997. To tell you the truth, sometimes I forget they ever moved. It will probably take 10 years for me to remember in mid-season each year that the Astros are in the AL.
That’s part of the key to picking the Astros. Nobody cares who the Astros play. You wonder if the remaining dozen or so Astros fans would protest if the team was being traded straight up to the Japanese League for the Osaka Tigers. MLB had major-league leverage to coerce the Astros into switching leagues whether they wanted to go or not because the team was being sold and the new owners were informed this was the way it was going to be and if you don’t like it you can’t buy the team.
So welcome to the American League West, Houston.
The Astros have been playing in the National League since 1962 and will take up residence in the American League for the 2013 season. It will be pretty darned peculiar if the Astros (granted the odds are 1,000-to-1) win the World Series in 2012 as a National League team and get to defend their title as an American League contender in 2013. For that to happen, the ‘Stros pretty much must resurrect Jimmy Wynn, Larry Dierker, Cesar Cedeno, Bob Watson, Jeff Bagwell and J.R. Richard, so I’m not too worried.
Makes you think, though, doesn’t it? Can you see Bud Selig telephoning Fenway Park and informing the Red Sox they must move to the National League to balance out the leagues? Right. Or Selig mentioning the idea to the St. Louis Cardinals? Uh, uh. Do you think the New York Yankees would hang up on that call? I do.
So apparently your franchise would only be in play for the greater good of the game if the game thinks you are lucky to have a franchise at all. In other words, the best defense against being used as a political football to even up the leagues is not to be mediocre for a half century. It’s just my suspicion that a sport that has tried to cling to some of its tradition wouldn’t exile a team from one league if it had ever won a World Series representing that league. The Astros have been around a while, but have limited tradition. For a while everyone knew the Astros’ home park because it was the Astrodome, supposedly the eighth wonder of the world when it opened in 1965. But it was replaced as Houston’s home field in 2000. And what huge rivalry will be lost? Actually, who is the Houston’s biggest baseball rival?
I don’t know if the new owners cared one way or another, but as an inducement to go along with the league switch, and without making noise about it, the purchase price of the team was cut from $680 million to $615 million. Now that’s a pre-Christmas sale worth getting up at 4 a.m. to take advantage of. For $65 million, I might do a jig naked on the pitcher’s mound at Minute Maid Park, or even in Houston’s rush-hour traffic, or change the name back to Enron Field. For $65 million, I might even be willing to play in the Jupiter League instead of the American League.
Heck, for $65 million I would be willing to change the team’s name back to Colt .45s if MLB told me to.
Surely, the nostalgia would pay off big, bringing back memories of those old days.