Your Houston Astros lost 4-1 to the Atlanta Braves on Sunday afternoon to drop their record on the 2011 season to 24-42, the worst record in all of Major League Baseball. The Astros are a bad baseball team that is thoroughly uninteresting. As someone whose living is largely based on having compelling sports content to discuss throughout the months of July and August, I'm all for anything that makes the Astros a worthy discussion topic.
The ownership change from Drayton McLane to Jim Crane carried us a few weeks ago, and will become topical again after it becomes official
and the bloodletting begins.
Now, Buster Olney of ESPN dropped a topic into our laps that should be able to carry us for at least a few days, till like Wednesday at least -- Major League Baseball's potentially moving to two fifteen-team leagues, with the Astros being the N.L. team to make the jump over to the A.L. to even out the numbers.
I'm not sure what we're going to do for content after this topic dies in a few days, but we'll cross that bridge when we get there. (Maybe somebody can roofie Carlos Lee at the post-game buffet this weekend, and we can dress him up like a woman and stick him underneath the 59 overpass. Or who knows, maybe Carlos is amenable to doing it without having to be drugged; just tell him it's part of his contract and that he'll get a bucket of fudge in return.)
Anyway, back to realignment and the Astros' jumping over to the American League. When the topic was floated yesterday, I immediately endorsed the idea on Twitter (as did Richard Justice of the Houston Chronicle), and challenged people to come up with reasons why it was a bad idea.
Below is a general summary of the counterpoints brought up by my Twitter followers. For purposes of accuracy and succinctness, I will not include the various insults and epithets that were hurled my way. However, because we write for the same blog, I will include a link to John Royal's post in which he says those in favor of the Astros moving to the A.L. "aren't very bright people." (Never let it be said that I'm not a team player!)
So I will now try and overcome my apparently remedial I.Q. and general lack of "brightness" to list and respond to all of the anti-move arguments. Here they are, in no particular order (along with my retorts to each after "SP:"):
1. "I hate the American League, I hate the DH, National League baseball is superior, American League baseball is beer softball." SP: This is a stylistic preference, and if you're into the National League style of play, then obviously I can't talk you out of a preference -- the same way that you can't talk me out of my preference, which is that I favor the designated hitter. Yeah, I said it, purists, I actually enjoy watching real hitters hit a baseball and watching automatic outs stay where they belong -- on the bench. Look, I'm not here to try and tell you why pitchers suck so badly at hitting, nor do I think it will ever get fixed. I like watching good hitters swing a bat. I think having a spot in the order that is viewed as a virtual automatic out is a bad thing.
I realize that to baseball purists, I'm the equivalent of some snot-blowing, toothless ogre shoveling food in my mouth with both hands, and you're entitled to that opinion. The same way that I'm entitled to my stereotyping those who masturbate to double switches and sacrifice bunts as pocket protector, bowtie-wearing dorks. Neither stereotype is accurate, but we'll just call it even, okay?
By the way, you could make an argument that there isn't a ton more strategy involved with National League baseball, just a whole lot more moving parts and shit to do. Does any manager really ever go against what the "book" says to do late in games with regard to pinch hitting for the pitcher's spot and making double switches? Does it really take some cerebral giant to "manage" a National League game? The upper tier of smart baseball fans, armed with statistical data, couldn't push the same buttons and make the same decisions?
2. "American League games take way longer than National League games. You know, because American League baseball is a bunch of yolkedup, drooling troglodytes swinging for the fences." SP: Courtesy of my partner in "Operation Astros To The A.L.", Richard Justice, American League games this season are averaging a slightly laborious 2 hours and 50 minutes. National League games, on the other hand, are averaging...well, 2 hours and 50 minutes. However, the slew of sacrifice bunts, small ball, pitching changes, and double switches make it go by like it's 2 hours and 48 minutes.
3. "We would lose all of our rivalries, like the Cardinals and the Cubs and....um, the Cardinals and the Cubs!" SP: I hate to break this to longtime Astro fans, but the Cardinals and the Cubs and their fans do not care about the Astros. At all. Don't misconstrue the plethora of Cub fans and Cardinal fans at Minute Maid Park as the followers of those teams going out of their way to see a series with the Astros. Those fans go out of their way to see their teams everywhere.
Astro fans will counter with "Yeah, Sean, but when the Astros were winning and battling the Cardinals and Cubs for the playoffs...," and therein lies the rub. If you have to caveat a rivalry with "when we are winning," then it's not a rivalry. Rivalries are steeped in tradition and are not dependent on the won-loss records of either or both participants. The Cardinals and Cubs became "rivals" (and those are air quotes I'm putting around the word) of the Astros by circumstance. If the Astros are ever good again (dare to dream), their "rival" will become whomever they are battling for whatever meaningful accomplishment is at stake.
Trust me, Astro Fan, you'll get over that longstanding, ten-year hatred of the Cardinals and the Cubs. Those two teams are already over it, if it ever actually existed for them in the first place.
And I guess this is as good a bullet point as any to address the attempt to create a rivalry with the Texas Rangers (which clearly this would be if it ever happened). You could best describe the emotions between the Rangers and the Astros as casual indifference right now. However, like the record-dependent feelings for the Cardinals and the Cubs, if something is ever at stake -- a division title, for instance -- between the Astros and the Rangers, a "rivalry" is immediately born.
To say that the Cards and Cubs are hated and then say the same thing wouldn't happen with the Rangers is intellectually incorrect. And the Rangers-Astros hatred would actually have some geographic basis as well. Both fan bases can drive to the other city. The floor for the intensity of Rangers-Astros together in the American League is what it is now, the ceiling is whatever we felt for the Cardinals in 2004 and 2005 plus a dash of all the pretentious Metroplex reasons we perpetually hate the Cowboys. That's not bad!
4. "There would be a ton more 9 p.m. CST start times because of all the trips to Anaheim, Seattle and Oakland! Like 27 per year!" SP: First, this argument assumes that (a) the three-division format remains in place (who knows, but supposedly a 15-team, no-division format is in play), (b) the Astros just slide into the A.L. West (logical, if this all went down), and (c) the schedule would remain unbalanced with division games getting a larger proportion of the schedule than non-division and interleague games.
So I'll work under these assumptions in refuting this point, since if any of the three are untrue, this particular counterpoint for the "Astros stay in N.L." is invalid.
The reasons behind this point are fairly obvious --
1. From a selfish fan standpoint, people don't want to have to stay up late to watch their team and then go to work tired the next day.
2. From a business standpoint, could this possibly affect advertising revenue? Do advertisers pay as much for a game going 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. as they do one going from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m.?
Admittedly, I don't know the inner workings of the second point. I'll assume the difference is negligible or nonexistent. Let's face it, when people bring up these start times, it's more about their getting in six hours of sleep before work than Jim Crane's getting to buy another ivory backscratcher.
So let's break down the myth of these couple dozen new Pacific time zone starts that would supposedly crush productivity everywhere in Houston and bring our local economy to a screeching halt. This season, according to a listener of mine named Chris Hill (For the record, Chris is not for the move to the A.L., however he is generally very smart. Bright, even!), the Rangers play 22 Pacific time zone games in 2011, the Astros currently play 8. So assuming the Astros' new A.L. schedule would mirror the Rangers', that's a difference of fourteen additional Pacific time zone games for the Astros.
Of those fourteen games, I think it's fair to assume that half would occur on weekends, when waking up for work the next day is not an issue with the target audience for advertisers. So we're now down to an estimated seven games.
Of those seven games, can I assume that as an average Astros fan watching an average Astros team you were planning on watching maybe, what? FOUR of those games, tops?
Point being, the move to the American League West is, worst case, adding a small handful of nights you'd be up after midnight, not a couple dozen like the anti-move folks want you to believe.
5. "Aren't the Red Sox and Yankees in the American League? Man, we'll never make the World Series!" SP: While the free spending of both franchises does increase their margin for error and make them both perennial fixtures in the postseason, it doesn't make the Red Sox and Yankees infallible. First, the one business silver lining of sharing a league with both -- they come to Minute Maid once a year. That's big bucks and a great atmosphere regardless of the Astros' record. (This should matter to new ownership.) Second, if the three-division format remains in place, then the Yankees and Red Sox are far less of a problem for the Astros than they are for the Rays, Blue Jays, or Orioles. Win your division, and you go to the postseason.
Finally, in terms of blocking access to the World Series for the Astros, in the last nine seasons, Anaheim, Chicago, Detroit, Tampa Bay and Texas have all made the World Series out of the American League. To be the man, you got to beat the man. The man can be beaten. (By the way, "who the Astros would have to play in the playoffs" is a bit of a laughable problem to bring up right about now. Having to worry about this would be a legitimately good problem to have.)
6. "I'm from Houston, and I just don't want change. The Astros have always been in the National League, and it should stay that way." SP: This is the emotional response of people who grew up in Houston, and of all the valid (or invalid) points brought up in response to "Why shouldn't the Astros do this?" this is the one I can actually get with a little bit.
The best memories for most sports fans are the ones that took place from their mid-teenage years through their late 20s. Generally, for most of us it was the time in our lives when we had our greatest "freedom to burden" ratio. Everything is good those years, not just sports memories. Food tastes better, drinks go down smoother, women are less complicated. (Yes, I'm totally coming at this from a male point of view, ladies. Sue me.) So if you grew up in Houston as a "teenager to late twentysomething" and that time period overlapped with any degree of Astro success, your memories are rooted in National League baseball.
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And your Pavlovian reaction is to say, "I don't want to leave this. I like it the way it is, the way I remember it." It's basically a personal preference. And I won't tell you you're wrong.
All I ask is that when I bring up reasons (business and personal preference) why I prefer the Astros haul ass for the American League, don't tell me I'm wrong.
I may not be bright, but I'm not wrong either.
Listen to Sean Pendergast on 1560 The Game from noon to 3 p.m. weekdays and follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanCablinasian.