Well Played, Nolan

added 11/17/2011 by Bob Hulsey

With alarming speed, Nolan Ryan has turned his Texas Rangers into two-time American League champions but also set themselves up to own the state perhaps even more than the Dallas Cowboys do.

By convincing Commissioner Bud Selig to hold up the pending sale of the Astros from Drayton McLane to Jim Crane until Crane agreed to move the Astros into the same division as the Rangers, Ryan has insured that there will be no possible competitve advantage the Astros will have in the marketplace for baseball fans throughout the state.

The Astros will be the punchline of professional sports franchises, much like the Rockets and Texans have been while the Rangers will complete a pro sports domination of the Metroplex over their oilpatch rivals.

It started innocently enough when the former Astros legend purchased a minor league team through his son, moved it to Round Rock and put Astros prospects in it. Soon, they bought another one to have affiliates in Round Rock and Corpus Christi.

Whether there was a falling out between Ryan and McLane or whether the savvy Ryan just saw an opportunity and seized on it, Ryan was quick to put a group together to buy the Rangers when the owners fell into bankruptcy. Ryan then converted his son's Round Rock franchise to one under the Rangers' control.

Meanwhile, someone put the bug in McLane's ear that the way to maximize profits was to start his own cable channel with the equally clueless Rockets, abandoning the already-established Fox Sports network to the Rangers.

The locked-out Rockets and the 100-loss Astros, partnering with Comcast, will try to sell cable and satellite providers to add this new channel offering throughout the Southwest and Louisiana. They'll expect cable viewers to pony up extra cash that the Astros and Rockets will get to split.

Outside of the Comcast-controlled Houston area, expect this to sell only slightly better than the Longhorn Network and the Chevy Volt. In reality, it won't sell anywhere in Central Texas because the Rockets have to be blacked out in favor of the San Antonio Spurs and who wants to pay extra to watch bad American League baseball when better American League baseball is already available on the standard channel tier, featuring those Round Rock players that have all grown up.

Checkmate.

It's unclear whether the Ryans will transfer the Corpus Christi Hooks to the Rangers umbrella in 2013 (the Rangers already have a AA affiliate in nearby Frisco) but even if they don't, how sweet is it to have first-hand knowledge of every prospect coming up through the system of your division rival? Why, if the Astros are hard up for cash, the Hooks might even become a feeder system for the Rangers, much like the Kansas City A's were to the New York Yankees back in the 1950s. The Rangers can simply buy or make lopsided trades with Houston, knowing that the Astros will be so busy bleeding red ink that they'll need the money just to pay the bills.

Ryan is a smart businessman and smart businessmen know that the best route to success is to eliminate the competition and, if you can't outright eliminate them, shrink their market share while burdening them with the same financial costs you have.

Beginning in 2013, the Astros will have all the same disadvantages as the Rangers - tons of late night games, ungodly airline miles, same crappy opponents who can't attract flies - but the Astros will have to survive with a much smaller marketing footprint, weaker tv revenues and a poor on-field product they will need to sell to a fan base that runs the gamut from despondent to disgusted.

Oh, and after six months of steady dripping about Crane's questionable reputation, just how cozy is the minority population going to feel about lining Crane's pockets, especially when they can choose to give it a true blue honest-to-god Hall of Fame baseball legend?

Game. Set. Match. Rangers.

Perhaps the only advantage the Astros will have will be all the primo draft choices that will be piling up from all these years of ineptitude. Eventually, the Rays made this pay off and that seems to be Houston's model for the future. Or maybe they'll just get lucky and find the next Albert Pujols under a rock somewhere in the Dominican. In any case, the Astros will only get to keep the good players until they become free agents when they will go off to teams in better markets.

Any Astros fans who decides to stick it out through the coming horror show, this is all you have to hope for. Houston won't have the money to bring in top players and Crane doesn't even pretend that this is a possibility. When his accountants tell him about all the empty seats and flacid cable ratings, he'll have even less desire to spend.

Meanwhile Ranger Nation will continue to expand and Houston-area fans will get used to seeing red and blue caps with a "T" logo all over town, much like they see the Cowboys' star everywhere they go.

Here in Austin, the change is nearly complete. This used to be an Astros town. It's not anymore.

Forcing Houston to switch to the American League took away any competitive advantages the Astros might have had in making - or spending - more money than the Rangers. There won't be a thing the Astros can do that Ryan and the Rangers can't do better.

If Ryan's heart were in better shape, he would be doing cartwheels right now. He's got everything he wants to dominate the state, even the region. Perhaps he might parlay that into a higher stratosphere to contest the lordly Yankees and Red Sox every year as the state adds more people who will buy Rangers tickets and Rangers gear.

Jim Crane settled for a $65 million discount but he's going to wish it was more every time he sees the Rangers getting over on him and his new club - which is bound to be a very frequent occurrence for years to come.