On Tuesday, November 22nd, 2011, the ownership of the Houston Astros officially transferred to Jim Crane and his investor group, ushering in a new era of baseball for Houston, Texas. Not only do fans have a new owner, but face the impending switch to the American League in the 2013 season. It’s a lot to take in.
Team For Sale
A year ago, Drayton McLane–who has owned the Astros for the past 19 years–announced that he was putting the Astros up for sale. It was a surprise, though maybe it shouldn’t have been. Two years earlier, news came out that he had agreed to sell the team to Crane, but that the deal fell through. He said then that he wasn’t actively trying to sell the team, but now it’s clear that it was on his mind, even then.
Fans in Houston love Drayton; more than just an owner, he’s a fan himself. I had the pleasure of meeting Drayton, shaking his hand, and getting his autograph (sadly, that autograph has long since been lost). He’s a friendly, approachable person, and truly wanted the fans to enjoy themselves.
Unfortunately, in recent years, since their 4-game loss in the 2005 World Series, fans have had little to cheer about with the Astros. We’ve seen most of our best players traded away–and go on to much success. Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio are retired. Team favorites Roy Oswalt, Lance Berkman, Hunter Pence and Michael Bourn were traded away for young talent as the Astros began rebuilding themselves for the future. The pieces were being put in place to make another run at the pennant, and a World Series title–the National League title.
Six months ago, it was announced that Drayton McLane had agreed to sell the team to Jim Crane, pending MLB approval. That approval was expected to happen fairly quickly, but then reports began to change. Rumors came out that MLB wanted the Astros to move to the American League. I initially dismissed the rumors; the Astros in the American League was a ridiculous idea…wasn’t it?
In time, it became clear that the deal between McLane and Crane was taking much, much longer than anticipated–not because of either party, but because of MLB. They were making the move to the AL a stipulation of the sale to Crane. Crane, also initially against the idea, realized that whoever bought the team would be required to move it, so he negotiated a better deal, and moved forward.
Today, fans face the fact that 2012 will be the final season played in the National League–at least for quite some time (it’s always possible that the Astros will be moved back to the NL, though it’s unlikely.) Carlos Lee will most likely retire after the 2012 season, though the Astros might offer him a token contract to return as their DH.
So, what do fans think of the change to the American League? They’re almost universally against it. The Astros will be celebrating their 50th year in 2012, all played as a member of the National League. But during this anniversary year, fans will be both celebrating 50 great years, but also mourning that it’s the last one.
The Astros were possibly two to three seasons away from competing for the playoffs again. Once some of these young guys get a little more experience, and start learning to play as a team, their talent can propel the Astros to a division title. While that’s still a possibility, a World Series title looks farther away than ever before. Teams like the Yankees, Red Sox, and Rangers are imposing franchises to have to face, on the uphill battle for a title. Winning a title is difficult–just look at the Rangers, who have fallen short two years in a row, and they have a fantastic team, from top to bottom. The Astros are a long way away from being able to truly compete in the AL.
A lot of the work will need to be done by Jim Crane, as he finds his footing, and learns what it takes to put a winning team on the field. It’s clear that the Astros aren’t going to get dramatically better soon. In many ways, I feel bad for Crane, who has to deal with not only a terrible team, with not much positive outlook for the next couple seasons, but also a change to a league the Astros have absolutely no history with. Sure, we have the Lone Star Series with the Rangers each year, played during Interleague Play, but that’s going to disband soon, as we’ll be playing the Rangers a lot more–and losing, most likely. The 2013 season will likely bring decent attendance, as people attend the games, curious about teams they’ve never seen before (or rarely), but once the Astros start losing, and slip farther and farther in the standings, those seats will remain empty again, as they did in 2011. No doubt about it, Crane’s got a tough job ahead of him. That’s why it’s going to be critical that he get the right people running the team.
There’s been a lot of rumors about GM Ed Wade being ousted, and the Astros bringing in another face. I’m not sure I would agree with such a change. Wade was the one responsible for the Phillies, and the winning teams they’ve put together the past few seasons. Since his arrival in Houston, he’s been doing the same thing–re-stocking the minor leagues and the prospects we have, making trades for other promising talent, and making good draft picks, and then getting them signed. Previous GM’s traded away most of the Astros’ top talent, in an attempt to win now, but at the detriment of the team in the long-term. I will understand if Crane gets rid of Ed Wade, but I think it would be a mistake.
Change The Look
The Astros are certainly in for a rough road, and fans have little to look forward to, at least in the near-term. Crane could probably help the bottom line a bit by overhauling the Astros look with a new logo and uniforms; what better time than at the start of the 2013 season and the switch to another league? It would at least put out a lot of new merchandise, and could potentially give the Astros that futuristic look and feel that they need so badly. After all, the look they have now is retro, and speaks to the history of the franchise–a history that will disappear in 2013. Why not give fans a clean break with a new uniform?
In many ways, the Astros are going to look and feel like an expansion team come 2013, and in many ways, they will be.