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Houston Astros Were Bullied Into Shifting To American League

(Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

MLB Commissioner Bud Selig

 

It’s official, Jim Crane has taken ownership of the Houston Astros, and the franchise is on its way to the American League, after what will be 50 years of play in the National League, following their final year in the senior circuit, 2012.

Crane’s $610 million purchase of the Astros from Drayton McLane was unanimously approved by Major League Baseball’s owners on Thursday.

Let me repeat the last part of that sentence: “unanimously approved by Major League Baseball’s owners.”

Funny how the sale of the Astros was very much in doubt, right up until last week, and then all of a sudden Crane is unanimously approved.

To steal a line from Loudon Wainwright, this deal “smells like a dead skunk in the middle of the road
stinkin’ to high Heaven!”

Soon-to-be former Astros’ owner Drayton McLane agreed to sell the team to Crane, all the way back in May, for a reported $680 million.

McLane, and everyone else thought it would be a quick sale, but MLB Commissioner Bud Selig had other ideas.

In the six months since the deal was announced, MLB  investigated Crane’s background and that of approximately 48 investors.

In 1997, employees of Crane’s former company, Eagle USA Airfreight, filed complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission saying there was discrimination. Eagle settled the case in 2005 for about $900,000.

Look, I have no problem with being cautious about what potential owners are out there, but six months?

In September, Crane expressed frustration at how long it was taking MLB to approve the sale, which was announced on May 16, and noted there is a Nov. 30 deadline. The sale had been placed on the agenda for a vote in August, then was removed.

And it’s not like MLB wasn’t familiar with Crane.

Two years ago, he was attempting to buy the Chicago Cubs, and last summer he tried to purchase the Texas Rangers.

Why the long wait you ask?

Well, the MLB labor contract expires in December, and Selig, along with some owners, apparently wanted a form of realignment that would put an equal number of teams (15) in each league.

To do that however, a National League team would have to accept a move to the American League.

Selig apparently tried to sell a couple of teams on the idea that moving to the AL was a good thing, but there were no takers.

According to reports from early in the process, Crane had no desire to move the Astros to the AL when first approached by Selig.

So, time was running out on Selig, and MLB, to get a team to move to the AL.

It was then they they decided to play their ace in the hole, and hold off in approving Crane, until he accepted the move.

Ingenious move by Commissioner Selig, albeit a slimy one.

He knew that Crane wanted to own a team, and that this would be his last chance to do so.

He knew that with owners of every other team that he talked to refusing to leave the NL, he couldn’t do anything about it, because he had no leverage.

He knew that for realignment, along with year-long interleague play to take place, that the Astros, and Crane, were his last hope.

Most of all though, he knew that Crane would eventually cave in.

Numerous recent reports now blatantly say that a  condition for approving the sale of the Astros from McLane to Crane, the Astros agreed to shift from the NL Central to the AL West as soon as 2013, giving each league 15 teams. It’s baseball’s first realignment since  Milwaukee went to the NL after the 1997 season.

Excuse me!…isn’t this a form of bullying!?!?!?

It borders on extortion!

Isn’t extortion an act which occurs when a person obtains either money, property or services from a person(s), entity, or institution, through coercion?

Isn’t that what happened here?

“Extortion” may be harsh, but at the very least it’s pretty close.

In the famous words of Gomer Pyle; “Shame! Shame! Shame!” on you Bud Selig!

It’s not that the realignment plan is a bad one either. It just stinks, the way the end result will allow it to happen.

Beginning in 2013, there will be 15 teams in each league, and interleague play will take place from April-September.

I don’t have a problem with that, other than the fact that they should have thought about this when realignment last took place following the 1997 season.

Reportedly, two more wild-card teams will be added to the playoffs, one in each league.

This might sound strange, but despite not being in favor of one wild-card team in the playoffs, I am in favor of two.

Allow me to explain:

I think more importance should be put on a division champion, and by adding another wild-card team, I actually think division champions will be more important.

Right now, a team that knows it won’t win its division, but have clinched a wild-card berth, can set its pitching rotation the way they want, while a team playing for a division title on the last day of the season may have to use their ace.

If those two teams meet in the first-round of the playoffs, then the wild-card team would have the advantage, and I don’t think that’s right.

If you add another wild-card team, the two could meet in a one-game wild-card match-up, with the winner moving on to face a division winner.

In that scenario, the division winner would have the advantage. The way it should be.

An expanded playoffs has been debated for a year, since union head Michael Weiner said players were open to it. Players also pushed for 15-team leagues because they felt it was harder to make the postseason from the six-team NL Central and easier from the four-team AL West.

Now, I’m an Astros fan, and I grew up with them being in the National League, so I’m not excited at all about them going to the American league.

I despise the DH, and I don’t like the idea of them beginning new rivalries.

The one argument I’m hearing from Astros fans that I disagree with is the one about how the move to the AL West is going to destroy the franchise, due to all the late night game on the west coast, in cities like Seattle, Oakland, and Los Angeles.

Am I thrilled about that? Uh, no! I wake up at 3:30 am! But we are talking about a franchise that competed in the NL West through the 1993 season, with the likes of the Dodgers, Padres, and Giants, and they survived just fine then.

In those days, they played 18 games a year on the west coast, which is probably more than they will play against their future division foes.

I don’t have a big problem with any of that.

My problem is that Jim Crane reportedly didn’t want to go to the American League, but the only way that he was going to get ownership of the Astros was if he did what the big bully Selig wanted.

Again, isn’t that bullying!?

Now, in fairness to Selig, I haven’t heard his side of the story (not that he’d tell it to me), and I’m only going by what I hear, at the very most, second-hand.

But this whole thing just doesn’t sit well with me at all, as an Astros fan, a baseball fan, and a citizen.

Did I mention this isn’t the first time Selig has done the Astros wrong?

Back in the 2008, the Astros had won 14-of-15 games in the month of September, and were a mere 2.5 games behind the Milwaukee Brewers in the race for the NL wild-card.

It seemed nothing could stop the Astros at that time. Nothing that is, except for Hurricane Ike, and Commissioner Selig.

Ike struck the Houston area on Friday, September 12, forcing the postponement of the first two games of a three-game series against the Chicago Cubs.

Selig, called for the movement of the final game of that series to be move to Miller Park in Milwaukee, which is driving distance from Chicago.

With many Astros players unable to contact family members due to downed power lines and cell phone towers, they were forced, on a couple of hours notice, to go play a “home game” in Milwaukee, against the Cubs.

You knew they wouldn’t be ready to play. They had just been through a natural disaster for Pete’s sake!!!

And they weren’t.

Carlos Zambrano no-hit the Astros on that night, and they never rebounded, losing five straight.

I still maintain, had there been no Hurricane Ike, and had they not been given the shaft by Selig, that they would have made the playoffs that season.

I bet you thought I wouldn’t remember that, didn’t you Bud!?

Trust me…I’ll never forget!

At least Crane got a reported $70 back for agreeing to move to the AL.

That’s like the school bully taking your lunch money, everyday, for a year, and refunding you a quarter at year’s end.

As for Crane, I can’t blame him for being bullied. He was in a situation where this AL thing was forced on him.

Hey, I’m being bullied too.

Despite the fact that my team is going to a league that I don’t want them to go to…and despite that I feel like I have to take a bath every time I think of the reason why…I’m going to continue to watch the Astros, as well as Major League Baseball.

Like a good bully, Selig bullied Crane, the Astros, and their fans, because he knew he could.

Just a reminder: The views expressed by the writer don’t necessarily reflect those of ESPN 1420, or espn1420.com…but they should!

 

 

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