When Bud Selig decided to move the Houston Astros to the American League West, ruining 51 years of National League history, he stressed the importance of a geographic rival. It was his belief that the Astros were the only team in the six-team NL Central without a rival, and that was due to their geographic isolation from the rest of the division. Back in March when he reiterated these statements, I decided to stay quiet and just accept that what was done is done and there was nothing I could do about it. Now that we are nearly a month away from the end of the season, I go back and look at these statements in the “late” Brian T. Smith’s article, and my blood boils and I turn angry enough to kick a cat!
I’m willing to admit that geography may have some effect on the creation of a rivalry. When you look around college sports, there are years of hatred between Oklahoma and Texas, Michigan and Ohio State and Auburn and Alabama. You take a look around professional sports and find rivalries between the Cubs and Cardinals, Yankees and Red Sox, NY Giants and Eagles, Packers and Bears and Devils and NY Rangers. But how much of that has to do with the familiarity of the opponent or some on-field incident from the past, as opposed to just geographic proximity?
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY SportsMany of sports’ biggest rivalries take place between teams with no common boundary. There’s no denying the rivalries between USC and Notre Dame or the Cowboys and Redskins. These teams have been rivals for half a century or more, and that has much more to do with their familiarity with each other in meaningful games than geography. Over the years, these teams, as well as the ones mentioned earlier, have had epic battles to win divisions, conferences, national titles and world championships. That is what creates a rivalry.
To deny that the Houston Astros had legitimate rivalries in the National League is a joke. The Astros and Dodgers developed a heated rivalry during the early 80s when they battled it out for the NL West crown. Houston had met the Atlanta Braves five of the last six times the Astros made the playoffs, with Atlanta owning the Astros during the mid-90s before the Astros knocked the Braves out of the playoffs in 2004 and 2005. During the early 2000s, the Astros and Cardinals had season-long divisional battles that would carry on into the playoffs. In more recent years, the Astros and Cubs were a closer rivalry because neither team wanted to be the cellar dweller of the NL Central.
What the Astros’ fans have now is what feels like a rivalry with the Texas Rangers, but really it’s only one-sided hatred and jealousy of their closest opponent. The Rangers and their fans don’t see the Astros as a rival at all. They see the Astros as the cute little team with no payroll and no hope for success in the American League. Rangers’ fans get amped up for the Angels and A’s because either: those are the teams that they play regular, meaningful games with, or because they have ex-Rangers players on their team and the team and fans feel betrayed.
Thomas Campbell-USA TODAY SportsYou want to have a rivalry that gets the sporting world’s attention? Start by fielding a competitive team. Start taking enough games from the Rangers and Athletics to ruin their playoff hopes. That’ll piss some folks off. Next, sign away some of their free agents. Imagine how butt-hurt Rangers and A’s fans would be if the Astros beat them with Nelson Cruz, Colby Lewis, Bartolo Colon and Grant Balfour. Finally, cause some on-field drama. Adrian Beltre hits a bomb from his knee in his first plate appearance? Next time he comes up, throw up and in on him. When Chris Carter hits a 500-ft home run off of A.J. Griffin, have him throw his bat towards the A’s dugout, walk all the way to first base, and then start doing his best Pedro Cerrano “Marbles” motion in the direction of Griffin.
This is the way that rivalries are created. I don’t care if Bud Selig decided to move the Astros to Ft. Worth (or whatever city neighbors the “Baseball Town”). Until the Astros can send a message to the rest of the division, they will be nothing more than the lame, little, ginger stepbrother that everyone likes to bully.