Manfred Has Chance To Be Houston Hero

added 8/19/2014 by Bob Hulsey

Few people have I wished more to see replaced in their job than MLB Commissioner "Bud" Selig. The former used car dealer and former owner of the Milwaukee Brewers has never acted in the best interests of the Houston Astros, including the roof decision during the 2005 World Series, the Hurricane Ike debacle and strongarming the franchise into switching leagues as a condition for selling ownership - a burden never before placed on any other sale in the sport's long history.

Nor has he been a champion for the sport itself, forcing as he has the dilution of the playoffs, the season-long mess of interleague play, the slowness to respond to the PED crisis and other acts that have varied from the annoying to the ridiculous.

I really have no idea who Rob Manfred is, other than that he has been the Chief Operating Officer under Selig and was his right hand man in labor negotiations. Manfred, though, has won the vote to be the next commissioner when Selig resigns in January. As most commissioners, it would be expected Manfred would want to make his own imprint on the game and not simply be a stooge of the owners.

He can do that by undoing Selig's most tortured act on the fans of Houston. Manfred should return the Astros to the National League with the next labor agreement and either return to the 14-16 imbalance that MLB seemed content with for over a decade before the Astros became the sacrificial lamb in some crazy quest for "fairness" or return the Brewers to the American League from where they came in 1998.

There was no way Selig was going to switch the Brewers back and I believe his reasons are personal, not business. He was the former owner of the team and always seemed to give them every advantage he could find. Selig had to leave before anything would be done to help the poor Astros return to their historic roots.

Let's look at the facts here. The "rivalry" between the Astros and Rangers has been exposed a fraud with the attendance numbers of this season. True rivalries are indifferent to the standings - Yankees vs. Red Sox, Dodgers vs. Giants, Cubs vs. Cardinals. Fans of these clubs take joy in the other's misery, never passing the chance to get their digs in at the other. Astros and Rangers fans really aren't that interested in the other team's fortunes. A shotgun wedding hasn't made them bitter enemies.

Yes, the powers that be invented a silly boot to signify a state championship between the two franchises. Let me ask a question. Do you see any hardware passed back and forth in the other rivalries mentioned above? I'm sure if the other fan bases were fighting over some symbolic hardware, it would only be for the purpose of throwing it at the other side.

From a marketing standpoint, changing leagues has been a disaster for the Astros. Part of the problem the Astros have had in selling their regional sports network, Comcast Sports Net - Houston, is that most cable/satellite providers in the area already offer fans American League West baseball (the Rangers) provided by Fox Sports Southwest, including 19 mutual games between the two teams. Why, the channel suppliers ask, should they make their subscribers pay twice for essentially the same product? If the Astros had stayed in the National League, CSN-H would have been able to offer a distinct difference between their brand of baseball and the Rangers' brand.

If you look at the geography of baseball, most states with two big league franchises have them in separate leagues so fans have a chance to see all the best players of both leagues and both styles of play. That's the way it is in Florida, Illinois, Missouri, New York and Ohio. Only Pennsylvania and Texas force only one type of baseball on their fans despite multiple teams. If a baseball fan in Texas wants to watch a National League game now, his nearest options are in Atlanta, St. Louis or Phoenix.

Proponents have trumpeted endlessly about Houston's proximity to the Rangers but the Astros are a long, multi-hour flight from the rest of their division opponents. Only an insane person would think Houston belongs in the same division as a team in Seattle, Washington. Yes, the Astros have a long trip to reach any National League city too and might even have to face West Coast teams if they were realigned to the National League West but the actual miles average worse in the AL West than in any other division. Minnesota, Milwaukee and Kansas City are actually closer to the entire West Division than Houston is.

Attendance at Astros games since the league switch has been far worse than they were as a National League team. In 2010, the team averaged over 31,000. Even with an uptick this year, the Astros are still averaging under 22,000. Of course, the main reason the Astros draw worse is because they aren't a very good team. But there is a segment of the fan base that's still upset about the league switch or can no longer watch their favorite NL team in Houston. Even if that number made a 500-1,000 difference in ticket sales, can the Astros really afford to thumb their noses at this revenue source? Even if the true number is 200, wouldn't it still make a difference?

Manfred can demonstrate his independence from Selig by righting this wrong and correcting what has clearly damaged the franchise. Would Jim Crane be willing to give back the $60 million rebate he demanded to accept the league switch back in 2011? That's an open question but he has been on record before that he preferred to keep the Astros in the National League and it would only be fair to give him the chance to be true to his word.

Houston was the long-time farm team of the St. Louis Cardinals of the National League before winning a National League franchise for themselves in 1962. For 50 years, they cemented their identity as a National League entrant that emphasized pitching, speed and defense. Put simply, they should never have been uprooted from their historical persona.

Manfred may not even know about Houston's history with the National League. That's why it is up to Astros fans to educate him. Only through a strong effort of devoted fans will the Astros find their way back to the league that gave them 50 great years. Perhaps an email campaign or a hashtag campaign on Twitter can be used to give NL fans the chance to be heard that was denied them during the sale process.

Fans, it's your turn to make your voices heard. Success won't happen overnight but at least we won't be up against a biased commissioner who champions his former team over the good of the game.