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You have a strange definition of “only”, Bud

Or maybe it’s your definition of “logical”, I’m not sure.

But while first-year manager Bo Porter continues to fire up his players and general manager Jeff Luhnow oversees year one of a complete organizational overhaul, many longtime Astros fans continue to criticize the club’s impending American League debut.

MLB commissioner Bud Selig said Tuesday he fully understands fans’ complaints and sympathizes with their pro-National League pull. But Selig told the Houston Chronicle the only “logical choice” for baseball was to relocate the Astros to the AL, and he believes fans won’t question the move five years from now.

“The American League is very attractive,” said the 78-year-old Selig, who plans to retire Dec. 31, 2014. “We had a division number of six (teams) in the National League Central. And all the National League clubs had complained to me for a long time: ‘Commissioner, this isn’t fair. The other (divisions) are either five, and one division only has four.’ … And it made no sense.”

[…]

Selig said the primary reason for the Astros’ AL relocation came down to simple geography. With St. Louis, Milwaukee, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and the Chicago Cubs in the NL Central, the Astros were the odd team out. According to the commissioner, the Cardinals, Cubs, Brewers and Reds have “tremendous” rivalries. The Astros did not, he said, because of their isolation.

“The teams left in the National League Central all had a geographical (base) – there was a relationship. Houston was sitting down there; there was no relationship,” said Selig, who stressed he made the decision in the best long-term interests of baseball. “And I understand they’ve been in the National League for a long time, and I’m sympathetic to that. But we had to move a team, and … the fact of the matter is when you looked at all the other things that could happen, the only logical thing was for Houston to move. … I didn’t have an alternative.”

I can think of at least three reasonable alternatives, none of which would have necessitated the need for all-season interleague play, as we will now have with an odd number of teams in each league. Note that the Cincinnati Reds get their traditional rival the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim as their Opening Day opponent. Baseball could have done any of the following:

1. Left things as they are. The divisions have been unbalanced since they were created in 1994, with the NL Central having a sixth team since 1998. Why did we hear so little about how “unfair” this was until there arose an opportunity to impose a condition on a somewhat sketchy new buyer? Every team in the NL Central has won the division at least once since 1995 with the exception of the pathetic Pirates, and the number of teams in the division is the least of their issues. I don’t buy the premise that there was a problem that needed to be solved.

2. Expand to 32 teams and go to four four-team divisions in each league. This would solve the balancing issue, and would make scheduling easier to boot. You could use it as an impetus to get rid of that silly interleague play altogether, since all that really does is vary each teams’ strength of schedule, which is a definite competitive liability for some teams each year, and make rainouts harder to make up. There’s plenty of money in baseball these days – the biggest problem is bottom-feeding owners – and no sign of that reversing course any time soon. I’d nominate Montreal as one expansion location, as that might help MLB make up for the grievous sin it committed against them a decade ago; I don’t have a clear favorite for a second franchise location, but there are plenty of potential sites. I can understand why the owners might not want to do this, but it’s surely a logical possibility.

3. Use divisions for scheduling purposes only and ditch them for playoff seeding. This is basically what the NBA does, where the top eight teams in each division qualify for the playoffs and winning your division carries no special benefit. MLB could simply take the four teams with the best record – or the top five, with #4 and #5 playing that one-game death match as they do now for the right to advance – and be done with it. This deals with the “unbalanced division” problem and almost certainly ensures that a team with a losing record cannot make the playoffs. It can’t dilute the concept of a “pennant race” any more than the three-division/wild card setup already has.

So there you have it, three logical alternatives to shifting (or shafting, depending on your perspective), the Astros. Maybe the league switch was the “best” solution by whatever criteria Selig and MLB had, and maybe it was the only solution that could get sufficient political support to actually happen. But it sure wasn’t the only logical solution. So happy Opening Day, at least for those of you who can see it.

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6 Comments

  1. Asn says:

    I think OKC could support at team, or another Southern team like Charlotte or New Orleans.

  2. mollusk says:

    Or he could have put the Brewers back in the AL, where they could have nice regional rivalries with the Chisox and the Twins.

  3. Byron LaMasters says:

    As a Rangers fan, I’m happy to see the Astros in the AL West (particularly this year!), although options 2 & 3 are intriguing. I’m not sure that Montreal could support a baseball team, but a 32 team league would open up some interesting possibilities. Another option would be the “NFL” playoff format with one-game playoffs for the wildcard round between 3-6 and 4-5 and first round byes for 1 & 2 (in a format with 4 division winners and 2 wildcards). I think that the intradivisional competition for the 1 & 2 seeds in each league would be good for the game.

  4. Linkmeister says:

    mollusk, any move which might disadvantage the Brewers would probably not be contemplated by Selig. While his family sold off its interests, I suspect Bud’s family ties to Milwaukee would stand in the way of him “disadvantaging” the team.

  5. Mike says:

    The Astros had a pretty good rivalry with the Cardinals for awhile, and they are not that far apart geographically. Geographically I think the Astros are closer match for the NL Central than the AL West – we are only 600-800 miles or so from Chicago / St. Louis / Milwaukee. We are thousands of miles from LA / Seattle.

    They could have moved Milwaukee back to the AL, but that would have hurt Bud’s team.

    Expanding also makes a lot of sense. I think San Antonio could support a team and a division with Houston / San Antonio / Dallas in it actually makes sense. Austin could probably support a team too but I think San Antonio should get the pro teams in the area since Austin likes college ball so much.

  6. I about puked reading that from Selig last week. The obvious choice of team to move was his team, The Brewers. Aargh! This is one of those mistakes by baseball that will probably never be fixed, like the DH and the anti-trust exemption.