While fans of the Cardinals and the Rangers were agonizing over dropped fly balls, bad throws, and leads that mysteriously evaporated, fans of the Houston Astros have been worrying about how their ball club might move…without moving.
Drayton McClain wants to sell the Houston Astros.
Jim Crane wants to buy them.
And MLB Commissioner Bud Selig wants the team to switch leagues.
Mickey Marvins heads an organization of fans called “Save Our Stros,” which has been trying to prevent the latter development by means of petitions, billboards, and internet chat. In her home full of Astros banners, tickets, and signed memorabilia, Mickey Marvins explains why she wants Houston to remain a National League city.
“The history is there, and baseball is a game of tradition, and you just don’t uproot an organization and move it to a different league,” says Marvins. “And they play by different rules. They have a designated hitter, which I am not for. In the American League, there’s no strategy.”
The commissioner’s reasoning is that the move would give each league 15 clubs, creating the balance necessary to expand the playoffs to include two more wild card teams. But some Houston fans, Mickey Marvins included, feel the commissioner is paying insufficient attention to who’s been attending Astros games.
“When we played the Phillies, the Cardinals, the Cubs, the Mets, we were surrounded by their fans. They came in their shirts. They rooted for them. It seemed like there were more of them than us,” she says. “They won’t be able to see those teams anymore.”
Richard Justice, who covers the Astros for the Houston Chronicle, understands the dismay of fans like Mickey Marvins.
“Houston fans are comfortable with the National League,” says Justice. “They see the Reds and the Cubs and the Cardinals as their rivals, and they don’t want that to change.”
Those sound like sentimental objections, but in part – as Marvins suggests – they are based on a love of the game as it’s only played in the National League, without the designated hitter. Though Justice sees their point, he’s inclined to think National League fans – and not just those in Houston – enjoy exaggerating the distinction between the two leagues for effect.
“They see it as more strategy involved, more thinking by the manager,” Justice explains. “I once had a National League general manager watch an AL game and say ‘You have to be brain dead to watch this game.’ You know, speaking as someone who covered the Baltimore Orioles for a decade, I didn’t know I was covering a version of the sport that was flawed in any way.”
Sentiment and rage against the DH aside, according to Rob Neyer, national baseball editor for SB Nation, the shift would create some challenges for Astros fans who like to watch road games and still get plenty of sleep.
“You would have more games two time zones away. That’s why the Astros are likely going to get some money in this deal,” Neyer says. “They’re getting some financial relief because it will hurt their TV ratings a little bit, because they’ll suddenly be in the American League West, presumably, and have a lot more road games that start at 9:05 Houston time”
The sentimental argument FOR the shift is that Houston would gain a new natural rival, the Texas Rangers. Rob Neyer is among those who believe in the chemistry that match-up would generate.
I do think that in the long term, fans will embrace that rivalry,” he says. “They’re not doing it yet. Most Astros fans seem to be pretty unexcited about the prospect of a move to the American League. But I think five, 10, 20 years down the road, and you have to think of these things in the long term, I think it’ll be a great rivalry.”
Rangers owner Nolan Ryan has endorsed that notion, and he’s an icon in Texas. Still, lots of Astros fans would feel betrayed were their team to change leagues, even though a shift in the opposite direction, from the American to the National League after the ’97 season, served the Milwaukee Brewers reasonably well. They’ve been to the playoffs twice since replacing one set of rivals with another. Still some Astros fans, Mickey Marvins for one, can sound downright alarmist when speculating about Commissioner Selig’s choice of teams to uproot.
“We’re absolutely petrified that they’re going to mess up the Astros, cause them to not be successful, and then end up being moved to another city,” says Marvins.
Those objections, heartfelt as they may be, are not likely to change the commissioner’s plan. Mr. Selig is said to have made accepting the move a precondition to acquiring the Astros, and it’s the fact that the team is changing hands that has given the commissioner the juice to change the line-up…at least according to Rob Neyer.
“If the Diamondbacks were being sold right now, they might be the ones moving,” Neyer says. “Somebody’s gotta move if they’re gonna go to the better format, which is 15 teams in each league, somebody’s gotta move, and just so happens that because the Astros are being sold, they’re the ones.”
Houston fans unhappy with that reality are likely to have at least another summer to watch a home team without the DH. The plan seems to be to shift the Astros into the American League for the 2013 season, which might also be the season in which we see an additional wild card team in each league.