added 9/18/2008 by Bob Hulsey
Remember that August game in Chicago when the Astros were subjected to taking the field amidst lightning and tornado warnings? It was the first of a three-game series at Wrigley Field. What if the worst had happened and a tornado fell from the sky and did major destruction to the ballpark and the city of Chicago?
Imagine if the Astros insisted on having the remaining two games of the series relocated to Minute Maid Park (since it has a roof) where the "home team" Cubs were forced to take a cross-country flight, endure the booing of Houston fans, suffer the domination of their mentally and physically exhausted team without so much as even a prayer for the tornado victims or a moment of silence before the game. Do you think the Cubs would agree in any way shape or form to such a travesty? Do you think Cub players and fans would not be bitter and angry?
And yet practically the same scenario played out for the Houston Astros and their fans in the aftermath of Hurricane Ike. The sham "neutral site" series will leave a lasting black eye on Drayton McLane and Major League Baseball among Houston fans and will probably discourage any free agents who might have thought about signing with the Astros for 2009 and beyond. Who would want to play for an owner that allows their players to get mistreated like that?
Flashback To Katrina
Let's rewind for a moment. When the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina occured in 2005 to New Orleans, no city came to their aid as much as the City of Houston. The Astrodome was used to shelter thousands and many thousands more Louisianans found housing in Houston. Many are still in Houston today. Texans have big hearts and were proud to help their neighbors in need.
The World Series came to Texas for the first time that October and, rather than the pro-Chicago atmosphere that dominated the two games played up there, the two games played in Houston were more like a telethon for Katrina victims. Aaron Neville sang. Habitat For Humanity ad inserts were everywhere. You wouldn't have guessed the games were in Houston at all because the theme was not about Texas. MLB made it all about Katrina.
Even as Hurricane Ike menaced off the Texas coast and the Cubs were finishing a series in St. Louis, the Chicago Tribune (owners of the Cubs) were floating the idea of playing that weekend's games in Milwaukee. Specifically Milwaukee, not just any "neutral" site. Milwaukee is less than 90 miles from Chicago, roughly the same distance Beaumont is from Houston, and fills with diehard Cub fans whenever the Bruins make the short journey up there to play the Brewers. This notion had specific appeal to MLB Commissioner Bud Selig, the former owner and still puppetmaster of the Brewers who could see an opportunity to help his favorite franchise bring in more revenue like he did when the Indians were snowed out last year.
While the Cubs insist they were willing to play the games anywhere (except in 48 states, that is), they and their house organ were specifically promoting one venue and one venue only. Behind the scenes, they were likely shooting down every idea that didn't benefit them as much as playing in Milwaukee did.
Astros owner Drayton McLane Jr. wanted to keep the games in Houston. His players, fearful for their families and property, didn't want to leave the state to play baseball. Perhaps they were naive to think Ike would allow them to still play baseball in town but Minute Maid Park survived the cyclone in fine form, even if many other parts of the city didn't.
Play It Here
The correct thing to do would have been to play the games here in Houston - before an empty ballpark if it came to that. But at least the Astros could have shown some solidarity with their community and not fled the scene. If the Cubs had been flown into San Antonio and bussed into Houston and were forced to look out their windows and see what Houstonians were facing, I'd like to think they would not have made some of the callous comments that they've made in the aftermath.
Had the Cubs refused to come, the Astros should have pushed for forfeiture. If Selig had sided with the Cubs, the Astros should have refused to play them anywhere outside the state, even if that meant absorbing two forfeits.
But if the games had to be moved, there were acceptable venues all over the country that would have been more fair than Milwaukee. Brad Ausmus and the Players Union lobbied for Atlanta or Tampa, two venues far removed from both fan bases. The three National League locales in California were all vacant and bone dry but were apparently never considered. Seattle, with a roofed stadium, had nothing going on that weekend.
In the end, the bleary-eyed Astros produced only one more hit in Milwaukee than if they had forfeited. Was all that worth it? The players and the traveling crew were put through more disruption going to a land where they clearly did not want to be, booed by a legion of Cub fans who proved that the "C" on their caps does not stand for "Class". No moment of silence for Ike's victims. No pleas for hurricane relief. And as they won, Cub players and their house organ, the Tribune, showed the crassness of their fans comes from the top down with their post-game comments and columns. They even compared their hardship of having to wait two days with the hardships Houstonians were going through as if they are in any way equivalent!
What hardships did the Cubs suffer in all of this? They got two days off, a road trip negated, a short bus ride to Milwaukee, a home field atmosphere for two "road" games and got to sleep in their own dry beds. Playing within two hours of home, Cubs General Manager Jim Hendry declared was a "compromise". How exactly did the Cubs compromise? Oh, that's right! They wanted all three games played in Milwaukee, not just two. They didn't want to visit Houston at all, not even at the end of the month. God forbid they might have had to burn a pitcher just before the playoffs began.
More Shame To Go Around
But the Cubs aren't the only ones who ought to be ashamed. McLane moaned about losing $3 million dollars in gate receipts. He even dared to call it "painful". This while thousands of Texans were in real pain, facing wrecked homes and some with nothing more than the clothes on their backs. It was shameful for him to cry about his losses when genuine human loss was in such great magnitude all around him. Had the series been played in Houston, the right thing to do would have been to donate all gate receipts to hurricane relief efforts. That would have been the magnanimous thing to do at a time like this. But, no, McLane was worried more about his own pocketbook.
I'm often defending McLane to other fans but I can't do it here. At best, Selig gave him no other choice. But, even at that, I would have rather seen McLane stand up for his team and his city than subject them to humiliation in Milwaukee. Sometimes, a line has to be drawn in the sand and this was one of those times. What happened in Milwaukee was grossly unfair and completely unnecessary.
Most deserving of scorn, however, is Commissioner Selig himself. He showed total insensitivity to the situation in Houston. He dragged a shell-shocked team halfway across the country to play in hostile conditions all under the sham of a "neutral site". He can lie all he wants to about there being no other alternative but I simply don't buy it and I doubt anyone with an IQ over 70 does either (which excludes most Cub fans).
I guess the "best interests of baseball" include kicking a city when they are down and spitting in their face. It amazes me that any supposed businessman can treat their customers and their employees with such contempt. It is tone deaf moves like this that make Bud Selig a walking public relations disaster.
Want to make some money, McLane? How about a Bud Selig Bobblehead Doll giveaway next year so fans can beat, kick and break them? Be sure to do it at a Cubs game too so we can throw the broken pieces at clueless jerks like Ryan Dempster and Aramis Ramirez. I bet you could sell the place out for that promotion.
Houston fans will not quickly forget nor forgive Selig's despicable treatment of them. I'd advise him not to show his face in Houston for at least the rest of the decade, maybe longer.
Houstonians showed what big hearts they have when they took in the victims of Hurricane Katrina yet, when it was their turn to suffer, Major League Baseball showed Houstonians how small their hearts were with the way they handled the Astros, a team that has overcome so many obstacles to stay in playoff contention.
You find out who you true friends are during the hard times. They are the ones who stand with you, pitch in and help out. They are people who think of more than just themselves and their own bottom line. Houston is full of those sort of people in neighborhoods big and small, banding together to put their tattered communities back piece by piece and lifting up those hurting the most.
We found out that Major League Baseball is not such a friend. We shall remember this. For a long time.
And when the Cubs choke in the postseason, as they no doubt will because Karma's a bitch, I'll pop some champagne and dance on their collective graves. I will never cheer for the Cubs again. Ever. I hope they lose for another hundred years.