I am calling you out. Yes, you, the fan that is no more because of things done by an owner that no longer cared.
I mean, what is it with you? How long are you going to sit back and pout about the switch from the NL to the AL? Are you still hating on Jim Crane because Drayton McLane took a proverbial torch to Minute Maid and burned the clubhouse down before selling it? Was it the CSN debacle? Trust me, Crane was hoodwinked by that one, as well. Did you prefer the ugly grey black and red to the homage to the original rainbow uniforms? Ticket prices? What?
How long are you going to sit and cry about it? I think it’s been long enough. Let’s just get over it and move on like adults should.
Let’s take a look back at our recent history which has your jockstraps all twisted and bunchy.
2010: McLane puts the Astros up for sale.
There had been talk for a few years about the Astros being sold. Fans got nervous – naturally – with the selling aspect because another buyer could move the team. After all, Houston was a pretty mediocre market for the MLB – attendance at the game was lackluster, rating at about 16 of all MLB teams for average attendance. In the 4th largest city in the country. By the way, that’s pretty abysmal, especially if you consider there are 3 cities out there with 2 MLB teams that keep their fans cheering (well, maybe except for the A’s). But, McLane gave us promises – nothing big was gonna happen, just a change in ownership. Oh, and we were getting that awesome new regional network to cover the games.
2011: Astros sold to Jim Crane and the end of the world happens.
After McLane went in and renovated the park, then systematically stripped the Astros roster down to its bare bones, one Mr. Jim Crane stepped in and made an offer. Crane had been itching for an MLB club for a few years now, and had already been hot on the heels of McLane as early as 2008. He also had failed bids for the Cubs and Rangers. Instead, he made the right offer in 2011, and got the Astros. Of course, this came with the proverbial nail in the coffin for the Astros and the NL: the Astros must move to the AL West.
It was a condition of the sale of the team, meaning no matter who bought the team, they’d have to agree. If that made buyers shy away from prospectively buying the club, McLane would have eventually been the one to sign off on this. No matter how you spin it, Bud Selig decided the leagues needed to be evened out (which he was right on that), and the Astros were gonna be the team to move. If you want to be mad, be mad at Selig. Jim Crane was strong-armed into that agreement, and we all know it. We’ll get into this a little more later, as this is the primary move that killed the fandom in this city.
2012-2013: Astros bottom out and Crane refuses to spend money.
Actually, the Astros began to bottom out as early as 2010, when we started losing all our players. 2011 brought us the sad milestone and distinction of the worst record in the history of the ball club. Then we get to Crane ownership and the 2012 season. The 2012 season was a dark season in our ball club for various reasons. First, it was our final season in the NL Central, and we couldn’t even go out on top. Hell, we couldn’t even see the top. 2012 surpassed the historic worst record of 2011, and the end of that trend was nowhere to be seen.
2013 was our inaugural year in the AL West. This was a hard switch, for multiple reasons. We were a National League team. Always had been, and it felt like we always would be. It was a pretty big slap in the face to get shuffled over to the AL, especially when former AL teams-turned-NL teams could have made the switch back. It would have made more sense, SELIG. Not to mention the fact that we were now faced with late night games that wouldn’t end til the next day. However, we got the screws, drew the short straw, and were shuffled over to make things nice and even for everyone else.
We were also switching from a rather cushy and not-completely competitive division to one of the toughest divisions in the league. Given our roster (or lack thereof) it was going to be ugly for a while. Now, I’m going to step back and say that this excuse to dislike the move is horseshit. This is actually the only positive aspect of switching leagues. Competition is good. It pushes people, and pushes teams to do better. If anything, we should have seen this as a challenge, not some “no fair you’re making us work harder” aspect. Really, this aspect is a rather weak one. Do better.
There’s also the aspect of switching rivalries midstream. One of the greatest things about the sports is the rivalries that are built with teams over time. It encourages competition and loyalty. It brings a new spirit into the game. And let’s face it – it’s fun to trash-talk. Hell, one of my favorite memories of the Astros was October 19th, 2005, when I called a Missouri friend attending the final game between the Astros and Cardinals to get the crowded bar behind me to simultaneously yell “FUCK YOU PUJOLS” into the phone in celebration of our first World Series berth in the history of the franchise.
Rivalries are what the game is all about. Now we were looking down the barrel of severing all of those ties that made the game so great for so many years. Gone were the days that we battled with the Cardinals for the divisional lead in the NL Central. Gone were the days we could count on the Cubs tanking it each and every year so at least we wouldn’t be the worst. No more Atlanta playoff rivalry. Instead, we were being force fed an instantaneous interstate rivalry with the Ranger, because – hey, same state, same division! Yeah, that’s not how it works.
Additionally, Crane wasn’t putting money into payroll and getting a few players here and there that could mildly improve our season and give us a reason to watch a game. So our insta-rival with a very formidable and winning Rangers essentially kicked us while we were down. Then he started pulling really bad PR moves, like changing the name of the team, which just made fans hate him and the deal even more. But then we had the disaster of an attempt to create a regional sports network in the name of Comcast SportsNet. Good idea in theory, horrible idea in application.
I’m not getting into the history except to note that this had been in the works for at least a good decade. When the opportunity finally arose for a RSN to be pursued, the Astros and Rockets, along with NBC Universal went into a partnership to form the Comcast SportsNet, with the Astros holding the highest number of shares, followed by the Rockets, then NBC. Then disaster ensued. Seriously, a collapse of a RSN of epic proportions.
Whoever you want to blame, blame. If you want to point the finger at Crane, you probably wouldn’t be wrong. But, even though Crane did his part to muck up carriage deals and further negotiations to keep the network afloat and moving, he had every reason and right to. CSN and its profitability for the Astros was a pretty big component in the sale of the ball club. And why wouldn’t it be? The formula made sense.
Houston was a lucrative market, and other RSNs had boosted the profits of other clubs. This was something the Astros needed (and, really, still do need), considering the potential. And even knowing that he was getting a bare-bones, no talent team that was sloppily thrown into a rebuilding process by a former owner and management team that, frankly – and I’m not afraid to say it, couldn’t properly rebuild this franchise if their life depended on it. The rebuilding process should have started after 2005.
So, Crane dropped a lot of dough to acquire the Astros, and he was promised consistent profits with the incoming RSN. That didn’t happen, and with the way that deals were being structured to increase availability, it wouldn’t happen. Ironically, even though the Astros had the most to gain/lose with their stake in the company, it was really the Rockets that were going to pay the ultimate price. The Rockets had strong, consistent viewership, and they were on a playoff run. Their fan viewership would be what brought in the money.
Adversely, the Astros viewership was at an all-time low, and promised to be so for the foreseeable future. This was on account of the rebuilding process and the switch to the AL West. Every divisional game outside of Texas would be broadcast after 9, and nobody’s staying up til 12 or 1 to watch their team lose. In fact, even though there was a 40% household reach in the market, there were times when viewership for the Astros games hit a percentage low of ZERO households watching. The Rockets were going to float this network for a good while, and that can’t be argued.
In the end, Crane was the one that threw the wrench in, but he had every right to do it because of the Devil’s deal he had to sign to purchase the team. Love him, hate him, do what you’ve got to do, but there is no businessman on earth that wouldn’t have done the same in his right mind. So, CSN collapsed, both teams sued, got a lot of money back, and now we have Root Sports. And everybody’s happy. Well, maybe not Comcast, but fuck Comcast.
Getting back to the Astros and the road to where we are now, the team and the fans have been through a lot of hard times. For the Astros fan especially, it seemed like we have been getting punched in the face constantly for the past few years, and there’s nothing we can do about it but squirm and fume. Many have been so disgusted that they’ve sworn off the team. But I’m asking you, please reconsider. I know it’s been tough – we’ve all been through it. But, there’s a support group that meets up on a regular basis at Minute Maid Park. I invite you to join us.
2014 – Present Silver linings
In 2014 we began to see the shrewd, crude business dealings of our organization finally begin to pay off. During the cloud of horror of the previous 3 years, Crane was actually making some smart moves within the organization, including his staff. Our farming system was being built up to be one of the best in the league (I mean, look at this year’s Minor League playoffs if you want to know how good), and good old Scrooge McCrane started opening up his pocketbook. He wasn’t overpaying, he was still keeping the costs relatively low, but he was (with the help of Luhnow) building a respectable, young team.
Then we had the draft disaster. It really wasn’t a disaster, though, but the Astros name, once again, was drug through the mud. In summary, we low-balled our #1 pick after a team physical, there was some re-arrangement in contracts with subsequent picks, he (or, more poignantly, his dipshit agent) refused further negotiations, and the whole deal (including a few subsequent picks) was blown. The Astros were demonized, but it turns out their concerns were right. Brady Aiken blew out his elbow in his first college game, got the tommy-john, and didn’t play another game before this years draft, in which the Cleveland Indians picked him up 17th overall.
The draft fiasco was somewhat a disaster, with mistakes probably being made on both sides, but the Astros were really thrown some punches. Especially by douchebag agent extraordinaire, Casey Close. In the end, though, the Astros did nothing against the rules, and made a pretty smart, albeit shrewd decision, not to risk a high school draft pick that already had injury concerns. We’re not talking about a mid-career athlete, or even a 4 year college draft prospect. We’re talking about a kid out of high school. Astros made the right call, so let’s move on.
2014 also brought us out of our 3-year, 100+ loss streak. Sure, it was only by a handful of games, but things were finally on the upswing for the club. Teams started to take notice. Sports media started to take notice. Everyone started to take notice that the Astros could very well be a competitive team in the near future. The only people that didn’t seem to notice were the people of Houston. We still had pathetic turnouts for games (and still are having a hard time getting past 20K on an average night). We’re in the midst of a playoff run, and we still don’t have the backing we need.
This year, the team surprised us all. We knew we were in the right direction. We knew there’d be a marked improvement over the losing seasons we’d battled through. But nobody could have seen this playoff run we’re in right now. It’s winding down to the final few weeks, and it’s a tight battle to watch in the AL West, as well as the AL wildcard spot. You could argue that this could be the most hotly contested wildcard spot in years. It’s going to be an exciting few weeks.
So please, guys, let’s just let it all out. The franchise has been through some hard times, and it seems like the fans have been punished the most. The faults are scattered over a large group of people, from the Commissioner to the former owner, and it is what it is. I’m still having a hard time reconciling the move to the AL, but it’s real. So let’s just get it out of our system, and stop punishing ourselves, as lovers of the sport, and our team, which had no say in negotiations, and start watching the game again.
Let’s fall in love with the Astros and baseball again.