April 24, 2013 5:11 AM

Houston Astros: Bush league in shiny new uniforms

It’s early, but not too early to recognize that Major League Baseball has a problem. Competitive balance in Major League Baseball has become a joke, to the detriment to everyone who loves the game. The Houston Astros are proof of that theorem, and the Seattle Mariners can also be used to illustrate Commissioner Bud Selig’s gross negligence in managing our national pastime…. There’s one set that practically makes my argument for me. Yankees 3B Alex Rodriguez ($29 million) and 22 other players in MLB will make more this season than the Astros’ entire Opening Day roster ($18.7 million). There’s no logical or reasonable explanation for such a disparity.

On Monday night, I watched on television as the Seattle Mariners played the Houston Astros in Minute Maid Park. It was a bit of nostalgia for me (Minute Maid Park is one of the few things I miss about Houston). It was also a sad reminder of the sorry state of Major League Baseball in general and the Astros in particular. A few weeks ago, at Oregon Sports News, I wrote about the sorry state of the Astros. The team has a new owner (Jim Crane) with a new philosophy on developing talent (hint: it’s on the cheap), and so the Astros began the 2013 season with a team payroll that’s less than what 23 PLAYERS will make this season.

As with most any business, if you want talent, it comes at a premium. Because of Crane’s frugality, the Astros are fielding a team that would struggle in the AAA Pacific Coast League. Despite the subpar product on the field, Crane’s still charging those who attend Astros games Major League prices. To their credit, Astros fans know when they’re being sold PBR at Cristal prices. It was evident Monday night as the camera panned the thousands upon thousands of empty seats at Minute Maid Park. The place was virtually empty (even though the Astros announced attendance was 23,207…roughly 50% of capacity). The seats behind home plate were almost completely unoccupied, and I have a difficult time believing there were more than 7-8,000 fans in attendance.

Teams like Kansas City and Minnesota can at least credibly argue that they’re “small market” teams. The Astros can’t use that crutch. The Houston metro area is home to eight million people, and Houston is the fourth largest city in the country. The Astros play in Minute Maid Park, one of the finest stadiums in baseball. They have the ability to fill Minute Maid Park, because they’ve regularly done it in years past. During the “Killer B’s” years (Craig Biggio, Lance Berkman, Jeff Bagwell), the Astros frequently played to a full house. They routinely averaged two million fans per season, all while having a payroll that in MLB terms was decidedly “middle class.” In 2005, they brought the World Series to Texas for the first time. “Small market?” Not hardly.

Jim Crane has gutted the Astros and put an inferior product on the field because the Lords of the Game- specifically Satan

The Astros have about the same chance of winning a World Series championship as I do being elected Queen of England…and that’s exactly what’s wrong with Major League Baseball these days. MLB allows Jim Crane to put a AAA team in major league uniforms while he charges Astros fans major league ticket prices. Judging by the Astros abysmal attendance so far this season, not many Astros fans are willing to be duped.

When I was still living in Houston, the Astros routinely drew 25-30,000+ per game. Now they’re reduced to inflating attendance numbers, evidently to hide the truth that the Astros can’t draw well without major league talent. It’s sad, and it shouldn’t be allowed to stand…but the Lords of the Game care less for the integrity of the game than their profit margins.

For my money, Minute Maid Park is the best baseball stadium in the country. It’s depressing to see it populated by so many empty seats on game days, but it appears that this is what Major League Baseball has devolved into- a league where teams with deep pockets in large TV markets aggregate the most high-priced talent. The days when Kansas City and Minnesota could reasonably be considered World Series contenders are behind us, which doesn’t bode well for the game’s future- not that the Lords of the Game really care.

Houston deserves better.

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This page contains a single entry by Jack Cluth published on April 24, 2013 5:11 AM.

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