A Moment Of Silence, Please

added 10/25/2011 by Bob Hulsey

Before the inevitable execution of Houston's 50-year love affair with National League baseball takes place, could we all bow our heads for a moment of silence, please.

For those who loved the pitching-and-defense Astros, who thrilled at their timely bunting and propensity for stolen bases, the demise of their loved one has come swiftly and unexpectedly. Their loss is great and painful and there are no words that can adequately console them at this time.

It seemed not so long ago that they were happy and full of life but then a disease took over and, after struggling in ill health for a few years, they have succumbed. Fighting the inevitable just took too much out of them.

National League baseball in Houston is not quite dead yet but it might as well be. Next month, it is expected that the Astros will announce a move to the American League - the land of designated hitters and four-hour slugfests where final scores resemble football games instead of soccer matches.

Long-time fans are having a difficult time with this and, as one of them, I share their disgust and dismay. The switch seemingly benefits everyone except the one who has to make the greatest sacrifice. And the fans who can see this most clearly are getting another punch in the gut at a time when they have already endured so much.

But, much like senior citizens who are shuttled off to the nursing home, longtime Astros fans are told to "get over it" and "it's for their own good." Code language for "shut up and eat your strained asparagus, you old coots."

If switching leagues was an obviously good business move, I could accept it even if I dislike it. But they can't even make that argument when you see how the AL clubs rank in attendance versus NL clubs. If playing the Yankees and Red Sox every year is some great tonic for attendance woes, why do so many AL teams rank at the bottom of MLB attendance now? If nine home dates with the Rangers is such a great thing, why are the three they already have each year not selling out?

Further, the Astros will be hurting themselves in terms of branding. If both teams are AL and playing the same schedule as the other, what is the point of supporting the bottom-feeder instead of the front-runner? Ranger fans will be everpresent in Houston the same way Cowboy fans are. Houston NFL fans are used to having their home team treated like a joke in their own hometown while they listen to the barbs from superiorists who support the Metroplex team.

Now Astros fans can experience the same feeling (as if they want or need to). Quite frankly, I think many Astros fans will bail on them just like Oiler fans bailed on the Oilers when they chose to leave town. Why endure unending failure and mismanagement when there is somebody right up the road winning championships and rubbing it in your face?

At least as an NL team, the Astros can offer different opponents and a different style of play. As an AL team, they simply look like the mom-and-pop store competing against Wal-Mart with limited inventory and higher prices. Why should the casual consumer care to keep them in business?

So, in short, switching leagues isn't just personally distasteful, it's an extremely poor business move. The very fact that Crane is demanding compensation for switching is proof they are *aware* of this but may be bought off to do it anyway.

Is $50 million worth the cost of putting the franchise in an even deeper hole? What's in it for the Astros? Nothing, that I can see. And what's in it for Astros fans? Nothing unless you like cheap tickets to watch losing (and boring) baseball that you can pretend is major league caliber.

So who's to blame? McLane just wants the highest bidder to buy his club. Crane just wants to be an MLB owner (though I still question why when MLB has been smearing his name and forcing him to make bad business decisions). Selig is doing this because he wants a new CBA signed with the MLBPA and MLBPA wants eventually to have the DH in all baseball because an $8 million/yr has-been slugger pays more union dues than a minimum-wage utility player who can come in for double-switches.

Blame all of them or blame none of them. Everyone's back is scratched if the Astros move to the AL.

Everyone, that is, except NL fans and particularly Astros fans. They are like the dying breed who still get their hair cut at the local barber or shop at the mom-and-pop store. They are being told they're going to have to change from the way it has always been and, further, they are being lied to and told it is for their own good. They'll throw their tantrum and then they will either leave in disgust or they'll meekly comply because they have no choice. We're being dragged off to the nursing home and told to eat our asparagus.

It has been a long and sometimes bumpy road. From Jim Umbricht to Don Wilson to Dickie Thon to J.R. Richard to Ken Caminiti, the Astros have always been a team that tried hard and yet rarely caught a break. It's sad and ironic that the Astros have been Texas' team for so much of their history and, now in decline, they are told to fall in line behind a franchise that was so often worse by comparison. Were this any previous time in the last 40 years, it would be unthinkable that the Rangers would be dictating changes to the Astros or that the Astros would be forced to accept it.

50 years seems too young to die and yet the old carcass and what it represents are quickly fading away. Show some respect and let them die with some dignity and some memories because that's all they'll have left.

And give them a moment of silence in remembrance because that era will never return.

Thank you.