Friday, January 27, 2012

Not-so-much 'Stros

There's no astronauts any more. There's almost no Astrodome any more. Even Astroworld, which had nearly nothing to do with outer space, is a prairie again. So WTF does anyone want to be called "Astros" anyway?

“We’re looking at the name,” (brand-new Astros owner Jim) Crane said. “I said earlier that the Astros will be here, but we’re looking into that, too.”

This is a reversal of what Crane had said about the Houston name the day Major League Baseball approved his bid to purchase the team from Drayton McLane: “Astros are here to stay.”

“We haven’t said we’re going to do that, so don’t jump to any conclusions,” Crane said. “But sometimes change is good.”

Hell, I'm so old I remember when small businesses in this town were all named after the team. Astro Dry Cleaners. Astro Brake Repair. Astro Insurance. That kind of self-identification goes way beyond exploding scoreboards, groundskeepers dressed for a moon walk, and even orange-and-yellow rainbow unis.

Hey look! It's Roger Metzger! Ah shit, never mind. . . .
The day MLB completed the transfer of power from (Drayton) McLane, Crane hinted strongly that he’d be swift and decisive about how to proceed with the baseball operations. He said he’d be making a few moves right after Thanksgiving, and he followed through with the dismissal of team president Tal Smith and general manager Ed Wade. When it came time to find somebody to run the baseball operations, Crane landed a well-rounded executive – (Jeff) Luhnow – who helped build the St. Louis Cardinals into a World Series champion. Luhnow is trying to marry advanced data analysis with old-fashioned, boots-on-the-ground intelligence to make the Astros relevant again.

Crane caused a bit of a stir with his admission on Monday that the Astros name might be subject to review. But is it a bad thing that he wants to at least explore all plausible options? With a move to the American League having been foisted upon Houston starting in 2013, with the team coming off its worst season in history, there is no time like the present to consider just about anything.

A uniform change would seem to be a given, what all the merchandising opportunities that would come with it. Teams change uniforms all the time, and the brick red and pinstripes have not conjured a lot of good feelings lately. A name change would be a considerably more radical undertaking – one the franchise has already experienced once.

Yay! You get to buy the new gear, and all those $150 jerseys you bought with names like Berkman and Oswalt and Pence can go on E-bay and be sold to the hoarders collectors as 'retro'. If you're one of the poor saps with 'Clemens' or 'Pettitte' on the back, sorry; you're still SOL. Believe me, most of 'em will be worth more if they change the name of the team and not just the colors and the stripes and the logos. Win-win!

See, it takes a real smart guy, a guy who didn't grow up here -- who grew up a Cardinals fan, for Pete's sake -- to come to Houston, make a shitpile of money, buy a baseball team and change everything about it. Jim Crane understands that people don't move to H-Town to retire. You people reading this are not Jim Crane's target market. He knows he's in competition with the Dynamos, and the Dynamos are way ahead of him.

Jim Crane, smarter than you because he's richer than you, understands that kids don't grow up playing baseball any longer. Keep in mind that the baseball academies are in Venezuela, not Iowa (or New Hampshire). Jim Crane knows just enough about Houston to know that we bulldoze our history around here, not preserve it.

It should be obvious to everyone by now that Jim Crane doesn't give a flip about anything relevant to his new baseball team but the money he's going to eventually be making. That's why he cut prices on the seats and the beer this year... and why he's going to cut the payroll even more than Drayton already had.

The last and only thing left for the quaint Astros fans among us to decide is how much of our money we are going to give him. This year, next year when they change leagues, and most importantly the years after that when the NL and the Astros and any lingering resentment become a distant memory. Ten years from now it will be like a faded black-and-white of your grandparents; an anachronism, like watching the game through a knothole in the fence, an afternoon World Series, and starters that go nine innings every fourth day. Jim Crane's in it for the long haul, and I don't mean another World Series appearance. At least until his lawyers can find an 'out' in his Minute Maid Park lease.

How much of our money will we give to Jim Crane because of how much we love the idea of baseball. Not baseball the way they'll be playing it in MMP for the next few years, not the Astros... not even "our" team, the Houston What's-Their-Names, for that matter. How much are we willing to pay to cling to our warm childhood recollections.

What's the going rate on nostalgia these days? Jim Crane's about to set the local market.

(apologies to Kuff for appropriating enough of his blog post title to motivate a claim of plagiarism)

Update: Jim Crane hears you.

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