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Hot Stone League

Larry Stone gives his take on a wide array of baseball issues and weighs in about the Mariners, too.

November 16, 2011 at 11:52 AM

Astros’ pending move to AL West not popular with their fans

What is your reaction to the Astros’ likely move to the AL West in 2013?

(Update 9:27 a.m.: Numerous twitter reports are coming in from Milwaukee this morning that the Astros sale to Jim Crane has been approved by the owners, and the Astros will officially be joining the AL West in 2013).

I’m curious to see how Mariners’ fans feel about the likely arrival of the Houston Astros in the AL West in 2013. Because I’m realizing more and more that the folks in Houston really don’t like it.

Former Astros star Lance Berkman said a move would be a “travesty.” There’s this story that talks of dissatisfaction from other former Astros. Contained within is mention of an informal poll in the Houston Chronicle showing that 76 percent of the respondents opposed a league change. In fact, 35 percent vowed to sever their allegiance if the Astros joined the American League.

I heard today from a passionate Astros fan named Chad Pankratz who is now living in Seattle. He doesn’t like this development one bit — in fact, he deemed himself “violently opposed” to the Astros moving to the American League. Pankratz felt so strongly, he fed-exed a letter to commissioner Bud Selig expressing his displeasure. “We feel like Selig is jamming this down our throats and essentially extoring Jim Crane into accepting this move,” he wrote to me in an e-mail.

Well, it does kind of seem that way, as this Associated Press story today confirms. As I wrote in a column today, MLB has been grappling with realignment dating back to 1995, when the Rays and Diamondbacks were accepted as expansion franchises. The problem is that no team can be compelled to switch leagues*, so every proposal along the way ultimately fell apart because one team or another didn’t want to move. Now, with the pending sale of the Astros from Drayton McLane to Crane, MLB has seized upon this golden opportunity to facilitate a long-awaited (and, I might add, necessary) realignment. While I’ve always been an advocate of evening out the divisions, I certainly understand the ire of Astros’ fans who feel their team is being railroaded. In this online petition started by an Astros fan, and forwarded to me by Pankratz, it is suggested that Selig move the Brewers back to the American League and “leave the Astros alone. You are breaking my heart and ruining what is left of our fan base with this proposed move.”

*It has always been my understanding that original Arizona owner Jerry Colangelo and original Tampa Bay owner Vince Naimoli signed agreements upon their entrance into baseball that they could be made to switch leagues without their approval after two years. I honestly don’t know if that agreement is still in place — I’m doing some digging. If so, I think a good argument could be made that Arizona would be a much more logical team to move to the AL West. Houston could have then switched to the NL West to even out the divisions, which presumably would have been more palatable because it would have left them in the National League. The Diamondbacks, however, have always been able to fend off all overtures to move them to the AL — and there have been a few over the years.

Chad added in his e-mail that “all the Astros message boards are full of rage that is really our last spasm of impotent fury.”

Here’s a representative point of view. You can get a flavor of the strong feelings by reading the comments section here. This recent posting by “mikrobass3” on crawfishboxes.com, a prominent Astros blog, is also typical:

if bud had come along and said, ‘hey astros, come join the al, it’ll be great for baseball and we’ll find a way to make it worth your while!’ i’m not happywith that, but i’m okay with it. instead, we get back door dealings and squeeze play negotiating, kicking this team and their fanbase when they’re down and out. as a fan, i feel neglected, disrespected and abused. as a grandson and son of asrtos fans now deceased, i feel mightily pissed.

perhaps the wounds will heal over time, perhaps not. but i’ll never forget the way it went down.

On the other hand, Richard Justice, an influential columnist with the Chronicle, has been a supporter of the move. The headline on his latest blog post is, “Astros are getting a new owner and moving to a better league, so what’s not to like?” He concludes his post: “You are fearful today because the American League is an unknown quantity. But you will love it. You will love it more than the cheese enchiladas with extra cheese and onions at Pappasito’s. Have I ever let you down before?”

We’ll check back in a few years and see if he’s right.

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