How Crane Can Be A Houston Hero

added 4/11/2012 by Bob Hulsey

There are a lot of people unhappy with how Jim Crane became the owner of the Houston Astros. Most aren't unhappy that Crane and his group wanted to buy the Astros. They're unhappy that he agreed to switch the ballclub to the American League, beginning next year.

That's a decision Crane claims he had no choice but to accept and, when he agreed to buy the club from Drayton McLane, there was no hint that this was going to be his fate. I'll take Crane at his word that he was happy about buying a National League team. Ever since the switch became official, Crane has been excoriated on this site and elsewhere for "selling out" 50 years of National League history and a segment of Astros fans.

There's no way to know for sure why attendance at Astros games was down this week but some will say that the league change is part of the reason. Some will blame it on last year's losing team and the lack of star talent.

(There are some who claim that attendance is not really down at all; that it's just the way the numbers are recalculated sort of like the way the national unemployment rate is calculated. America is not really out of work and Houstonians really are showing up to watch the Astros. Yeah, if you say so.)

But the Lord moves in mysterious ways and it's possible He has just put a huge gift in Crane's lap if he's bold enough to take advantage. The Los Angeles Dodgers just got sold for more than a winning Mega Millions ticket and that has caused San Diego owner John Moores (a Houstonian) to put the San Diego Padres up for sale. Moores has retained Steve Greenberg and John Moag to find prospective buyers.

Sound familiar?

Greenberg was the guy McLane hired to find a buyer for the Astros which is how Crane's group became the front-runner for the sale.

When a front-runner is announced, Crane should be all over it, suggesting the Padres be switched to the AL instead of the Astros. He should even offer the Padres' new owner the $70 million he allegedly agreed to as a condition for switching the Astros. It will be public relations gold if he appears sincere.

Although the Padres have 43 years as a National League franchise themselves, I don't think Padre fans will care the way many Astros fans do and they won't feel so offended that arms were twisted to extort (thanks, Lance) their cooperation the way Houston fans feel was done to them. If the switch is promoted as a condition of sale, it will seem kosher to many.

The Padres grew up largely as the footstool of the Dodgers so an inferiority complex is already inbred in their fans. San Diego enjoys great weather all year long so it is hard to get serious about baseball when there are so many other enjoyable pasttimes like the world-famous San Diego Zoo, the beaches, the marina and ducking stray bullets that fly from across the border.

Houston is so hot and humid all summer that most of the natives can only think of finding something cold to drink and some place cool to sit, which is why their ballpark has a roof and Petco Park doesn't. Houston fans can get rather testy, particularly when they are uncomfortable which is a condition that generally lasts from May to September. San Diegans can be more placid about switching to the AL. That's what great weather can do to the psyche.

If Crane could get the Padres to take the Astros' place, he could be elected the next Mayor of Houston - if he's crazy or crooked enough to want the job. Suddenly, what was a PR nightmare for him becomes PR nirvana: Jim Crane, the hero that "saved" National League baseball for Houston. I envision parades in his honor.

Sure, the Astros would likely be the team moved to the NL West to replace the Padres but, so what? All our rowdy NL friends like the Cubs, Cardinals, Braves, Mets and Phillies would still be on the annual schedule. Our 1980s rivals, the Dodgers and Giants, will have added importance and regional rivalries with the Diamondbacks and Rockies can develop much more easily than rivalries with Oakland and Seattle.

In the revamped NL West, there would be only two Pacific Coast teams in Houston's division, not three. And, best of all, no designated hitter.

The Padres, meanwhile, would be in the same division with their closest geographic competitor (that would be Anaheim) and would have two other West Coast opponents to fight with. Oh, and they'd be guaranteed six home dates each year against the Yankees and Red Sox to boost attendance (thanks, Richard Justice). Plus, they can bamboozle AL fans with something they've only seen during the World Series - something called "pitching".

So, San Diego's sacrifice would seem small and might even work to their advantage by luring new people to their lovely city and that's very big to their Chamber of Commerce.

Commissioner Selig and the players union both told Houstonians the forced league switch was nothing personal. It was just business. Crane should give them a chance to prove it by forcing the Padres to switch instead. After all, the precedent has now been set that MLB can force a team to switch leagues against their will during an ownership change. If they did it to Houston, there's no reason they couldn't do it to San Diego.

Maybe it delays the switch a year, but there's no reason to rush into a mistake. All the same conditions the commissioner and the union wanted can still apply with a Padre switch - the two 15-team leagues, the expanded playoffs, the season-long interleague play. Nothing else needs to change.

Crane, meanwhile, can appear to grow a spine. He can appear to stick it to Selig. He can stick it to Nolan Ryan. He can stick it to all the Rangers fans that thought they could make the Astros their footstool. Wouldn't that be incredibly sweet?

There's no harm in trying and that $70 million could be easily made up by a revived, unified fan base. Crane's opportunity awaits. Will he step up and take it?