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No, the Astros Haven't Killed Baseball in Houston

The Astros played an ugly game Monday night, losing 12-0 to the Tampa Bay Rays. The Astros have played a lot of ugly games this season. But this game was the final straw for Jesus Ortiz at the Houston Chronicle, and it caused him to wonder if the Astros are killing baseball in Houston.

My initial thought was that no, games like that 12-0 loss aren't killing baseball in Houston. They're not killing baseball because as painful as the games are, Astros fans understand what's going on. That the team has to be destroyed for it to be saved. And most fans support this because unlike in Kansas City, the Astros front office appears to be competent.

It's also arguable that what's really killing baseball is CSN Houston, or rather the fact that almost no one in Houston or the entire state of Texas gets CSN Houston. And if one can't watch the Astros, it's kind of easy to forget that the Astros exist, especially when considering the Astros radio broadcast is nearly unlistenable. But that's not killing baseball in Houston. It's killing the Astros in Houston, but it's not killing baseball in Houston.

Attendance may be falling at Minute Maid Park. Media coverage might be almost nil, and fan interest is closing on nonexistent. But none of this means that the current Astros are killing baseball. What's happening is that things are returning to normal.

Houston is a town of frontrunners with short attention spans. What's amazing is that the Astros were able to maintain interest and draw decent crowds for so long despite not being competitive since 2007, because Houstonians are like people in Dallas and Atlanta and Miami. If the team's losing, it doesn't exist. And even when the team wins, the fans won't show up for a few years until they know things are for real.

While the Astros didn't make the World Series until 2005, during the late 1990s, it can be argued, they were one of the best teams in baseball. Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio were at their primes. The pitching staff was fantastic. The Astros were in contention for every year from 1994 until they moved to Minute Maid Park. And yet the only time the Dome was packed was when Randy Johnson pitched in 1998, Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire came to town or it was a playoff game.

 

The Dome was generally empty throughout the 1970s and 1980s for Astros games. In those years where the Astros were actually in contention, it took most of the season for fans to actually semi-pack the place, and my father was able to get Game Three tickets against the Phillies in 1980 at the Dome box office just hours before first pitch of that game. So it's not that the Astros are killing baseball in Houston, it's just that things are returning to normal.

The Rockets often play before empty seats in Toyota Center. The Cougars and the Owls are mid-major college programs that often play games in stadiums that are nowhere near close to hitting capacity. And even the Dynamo novelty appears to be wearing off. The Texans still pack Reliant Stadium, but that's only because the Texans are winning. When the Texans start losing again, attendance will drop and it will become like it was during the Oiler years when the weekly question was whether the Dome would sell out and the game would be on television.

The Astros aren't killing baseball in Houston. The fact that the Skeeters are still packing them in down in Sugar Land is proof that the game's still alive and well. But interest in the Astros is just returning to normal levels. To the levels it was when Jeff Bagwell was Rookie of the Year and playing before 10,000 to 15,000 or Cesar Cedeno roamed centerfield in front of 10,000 fans.

Astros fans are like Rangers fans are like Braves fans. When the team wins, they'll show up, and nothing will kill that. They'll wear the colors and buy the hats and throw out names like Nolan Ryan and Craig Biggio and talk about the team's great winning culture, most of which they know absolutely nothing about. And when the team loses, they'll just yawn and show up for the Yankees and Red Sox and otherwise just find something else to do, like cheer for the Rangers or Braves or Yankees and Red Sox because that's what all of the cool kids do.

So no, the Astros losing a game to the Rays by a 12-0 score on Monday night isn't killing baseball in Houston. It's not even on life support. It's just returning to that state of barely being part of the Houston conversation, which is, for the most part, how it's always been in Houston.


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