Prior to 1997 the World Series was the only time teams from the American League and National League squared off against each other. That simple fact aided in enhancing the mystique of the Fall Classic. Ironically this year’s World Series pits the Astros most bitter rival, the St.Louis Cardinals, against the Texas Rangers, the Astros “manufactured” rival since the advent of interleague play. Rivalries are created on the field of play, not in a boardroom. That being said, it WAS realignment that facilitated the Astros-Cardinals rivalry. If Houston is moved to the American League the rivalry with the Rangers would certainly escalate.
The Cardinals-Astros rivalry developed into a heated one in the late nineties. Starting in 1996 both franchises experienced tremendous success, their standing atop the division rarely threatened by other clubs. From 1996 to 2006 the Astros and Cardinals combined to make an astounding 13 playoff appearances. In that eleven year span Houston played into the month of October six times while St. Louis made seven post season appearances of their own. During that span the Chicago Cubs made a pair of October cameos (1998 & 2003) and the rest of the teams in the N.L. Central were shut out. That is why I view the Cardinals as the Astros true rival. If the Astros are moved to the American League that rivalry will cease to exist. But a Rangers-Astros rivalry could turn into something big. I’m talking Dodgers-Giants or Yankees-Red Sox big.
Could an Astros-Rangers rivalry develop into one of epic proportions? Potentially, yes. Right now the competition for the Silver Boot is nothing more than a novelty. But if the Astros move to the American League West those games will take on new meaning. Unfortunately right now the Rangers are arguably the best team in the American League and the Astros are definitely the bottom feeders of the N.L. More bad news- interleague win-loss records and recent All-Star game results would suggest the American League is superior to the National League. For the last eight seasons American League teams have won more interleague games than their N.L. counterparts. Since the introduction of interleague play the A.L. has won twelve of the 14 All-Star games that didn’t end in a tie. As a fan of the National League, I have always had trouble understanding why. How can a team with 25 athletes consistently lose to a team that employs 12 guys who rarely bat and one who probably doesn’t even own a glove? Apparently specialization is a key to success.
But how long will it take the worst team in the National League to become anything more than a doormat in the American League? The Astros have a 7-23 interleague record over the past two seasons. Houston has always been a National League city with a philosophy that stressed the importance of pitching and defense. Some drastic changes would need to be made to compete with the hitting oriented American League teams. Owner-in-waiting Jim Crane doesn’t appear to be in a position to increase payroll. So the losing could go on for a while. I’m not sure Astros fans are patient enough to weather a long dry spell. The majority of Astros fans oppose a move to the American League. Some have even gone as far as saying they would no longer support the team if such a move was to occur. At first I was one of those in the majority. But now I am beginning to waver a bit. Upon closer examination, I think the move may not be the worst idea ever. It could speed up the rebuilding process. Ownership would need to work hard to put a decent product on the field or risk losing fans.
I can’t stand the Designated Hitter and I enjoy a 1-0 game much more than a 9-7 game. But the harsh reality is, the DH is here to stay, and so is interleague play. I also think the players union wields enough power to eventually bring the DH to the National League. So that particular point of contention could soon become irrelevant. So why not go ahead and make the move? It’s something to think about. It didn’t take long after realignment for the rivalry with St. Louis to develop. If the Astros can put together a decent team within a couple of years it just might work out.
At this point, all I ask is that a decision is made sooner rather than later. The sale needs to be approved or denied immediately. A determination on which team, if any, will be moved to the A.L. has to be made immediately as well. The current state of limbo is crippling to any efforts to improve the team.
As for the World Series, I can’t see any reason why a true Astros fan would want to root for the Cardinals. So join me in backing the Rangers. It may be our last chance. If a formal announcement sending the Astros to the A.L. West is made, then we can start hating the Rangers.