Dear Jim, Please Kill The Astros

added 1/26/2012 by Bob Hulsey

Before anyone takes this the wrong way, I'm not actively suggesting Jim Crane kill anyone, not even Milo. But the name "Astros" ought to go. It probably won't happen because a name switch would cost money and, so far, spending money doesn't seem to be congruent with Crane's approach to owning a ballclub.

On the day he was approved as the new owner of the Astros, Crane said he was open to changing everything - except the name. Now, in announcing a reduction of ticket prices and a more tolerant policy allowing fan-provided food into Minute Maid Park, Crane hinted that he's also considering a name change.

I say "Go for it, Jim".

In the marketing world, changing a product name is called "rebranding". When Proctor and Gamble can't sell a box of detergent, they change the box, or they add "New and Improved" to the label. If that doesn't work, they change the brand name. If you think of the Astros as a box of Tide, now is the time for a major facelift.

Of course, any rebranding comes with some risk. One reason it doesn't happen is because of copyrighting and trademarks. That's why the Big 10 Conference isn't changing their name despite expanding to 12 schools. Likewise, the Big East Conference will probably keep their name despite adding teams in Boise and San Diego. The name identity is crucial to their image.

As a National League entity, the Astros brand stood for outstanding pitching and defense. A reunion of the 1986 Astros was held recently and that club had only one slugger - Glenn Davis. Then they had two more guys who were solid hitters - Kevin Bass and Jose Cruz. Everyone else on the team was there because they could pitch or because they could field. That won't cut it in the American League where every team has at least five deep threats. AL fans don't care if an outfielder butchered a fly that let in two runs if they also hit a three-run bomb later (see Cruz, Nelson).

In their prepared league switch, the new regime has just signed the defense-impaired Jack Cust. If there's anyone who screams "AL player", it's Jack Cust. He has one talent which is to hit homers, a skill more valued in the AL where guys who can't field or throw can still be hailed as heroes (see Ortiz, David).

The term "Astros" was invented as a tribute to the astronauts and the Space City theme but NASA is facing lean times and their baseball team now embraces trains, not spaceships. The Astrodome looked like a giant UFO. Minute Maid looks more like a giant greenhouse. The space theme has passed us by and there's no reason to hang on to an outdated nickname when everything else about the team is changing. Houston today is more about medical and energy exploration than space exploration.

Let the "Astros" be remembered as that 51-year National League franchise without the taint of the American League abomination that is to come. A name change would signal a full break with all that was National League. If you had just spent $610 million to buy a ballclub, wouldn't you also like to decide the team's name and colors? Sure you would.

Back when the NFL Texans were born, there was a groundswell of fan interest in naming them the "Oilers", just as Cleveland insisted of the new Browns franchise to be named after the old Browns that left town. In retrospect, it was good that Bob McNair had the freedom to choose a new name and new colors and claim a new identity for his team than be saddled with the playoff-impaired Oilers baggage.

When the Texans had a name-our-team contest, my suggestion was "Gorillas", noting we'd have the entire primate world to ourselves instead of being one more bird, dog or cat specie. It would have certainly been unique and easy to spin into all sorts or promotions ("Go ape for your Gorillas, Houston!"). I don't think the nickname works as well for the Astros as it does for football however.

I've heard suggestions for a name change from "ALstros" to "Strohs" (with marketing tie-in) to "Humidity" to "Killer Bees" to "Wehaveaproblems". Possibly a return to the minor league "Buffaloes" would mollify the old-timers. Maybe the most fitting would be an homage to our constant construction: "The Houston Cranes". Catchy, yes?

Judge Roy Hofheinz changed the original nickname from "Colt .45s" to "Astros" so there is some precedent for Crane. The wild west theme converted to outer space quickly and to much acclaim. Why can't the new AL entity also adjust to the times?

Whatever we've learned about Jim Crane it's that he isn't Drayton McLane. It takes a certain type of man to insist on a $70 million rebate while agreeing to be raped. I'm not sure yet if that's good or bad, but it's definitely not Drayton.

It also seems apparent that Crane isn't swayed by what the fans want. I suspect the price drop isn't to benefit fans but to keep the park from looking too much like an echo chamber. If Crane cared what fans wanted, he'd do better than Jack Cust.

I find it amusing that some fans are up in arms about changing the name as if anything other than Carlos Lee is remotely recognizable about the team now than the last one in Houston that sported a winning record. The Astros we loved are history. They won't even be in the same league next year. Crane is right that the organization must embrace the future, not the past, and that includes a total rework of the franchise's identity.

Let's treat this like an expansion franchise because, in essence, it is - at least on the field. New league, new name, new colors, new tv contract, new whiz kids with slide rules calling the shots, new beginning. You'll feel better as you munch on your home-cooked popcorn and carried-in bottled water if you let go of all your Astros expectations and accept that we're now the Devil Rays. Not the Tampa Bay Rays of recent success but the Devil Rays of 90-100 losses and entire sections of empty seats until such time as the brainiacs figure out what they’re doing.

At least if the name changes, they'll stop calling us the "Lastros".