A new baseball season has arrived, predictions have been made, players traded, cleats cleaned and the only team I’ve rooted for has changed leagues. The Houston Astros, officially made their American League debut this last Sunday. They won, 8 – 2, beating the Texas Rangers, their long standing bitter rivals…, no, no I don’t remember that. Anyway, the Astro’s season as a whole will likely resemble a cat cooking pancakes. On the upside, their new ownership has made great strides in rebuilding, trading for and drafting youth. It should result in a very competitive team in the long run. I can agree with this approach. It has succeeded for many teams. It is, however, concerning for the MLB to require the Astros change leagues. It takes baseball in a direction that fundamentally changes the game.

First, moving the Astro’s from the NL to the AL doesn’t make sense unless you buy into the Ranger’s vs Astro’s rivalry , you’re Bud Selig and insist geography was the main contributing factor, or your Bud Selig and this is the only ‘logical relocation’. More on Selig and his nonsense. I can understand if the players want the leagues even to make playoff chances distributed evenly. That make sense. But there is no ‘logical’ explanation to have moved the Astros instead of the Brewers. Lance Berkman,

“I think it’s a travesty,” [Berkman said.] “It’s a National League franchise. I think if they were going to do something like that, Milwaukee’s the choice to go back to the American League; they’re historically an American League franchise. “
via Houston Chronicle

Second, interleague play was introduced in 1997 as a new way for the two leagues to play one another prior to the World Series. Fans loved it and it was a great success for the MLB. It has slowly expanded to more and more games each year from this success. Now, Bud Selig insists the leagues should have an even number of teams. Historically, the leagues have had an uneven number of teams, mandating some teams play and some teams rest. Moving the Astro’s into the AL, puts 15 teams in each league thus an equal number of match-ups, 15 vs 15. Selig wants to make sure that no team goes unmatched during any given day. It should be noted the AL and the NL normally do not play one another during the regular season because they have different rules. The AL uses the designated hitter and the NL does not. Eventually, if the teams are playing enough, won’t the subtle difference be eroded away if the two leagues use the same rules? We’ll lose one of the styles of baseball. I don’t think that’s beneficial to the fans or baseball in the long run.

The two leagues are uniquely different. By moving the leagues to be more similar, Selig reduces part of what makes baseball, baseball. The oddities of the game. The autonomy of each team. None of the other sports have these traits. A great example of this are the different baseball stadiums around the country. Each team is allowed to construct and design their field as they see fit with a handful of guidelines. This creates very unique fields and quirks that add to the whole picture of baseball. Would Selig think it’s beneficial to force all future baseball stadiums and domes to have the exact same foul lines and fence lines? Do you think fans would be upset if the “Green Monster” in Boston had to be taken down or “The Ivy Wall” in Chicago or the weird hump that currently sits in center field of the Astros stadium? I bet the fans would be upset and I bet Selig would pay attention to the fan-bases. The fan bases cherish the lore of baseball.The lore and these little differences make the game. They give it it’s character.

Obviously, moving a single team to another league isn’t going to change baseball overnight but it will reduce some of what originally made it so beloved. The emphasis on the individual as part of a team. The unique differences between the teams, the fields and the rules they play under. Moving the Astro’s to the NL is a small step in finally doing away with what I refer to as ‘real baseball’. The DH is lazy. It’s financially driven and it changes the game. I’m ok with the American league playing this way. I think it’s a great counter to the National League style which is much closer to the baseball we play as kids. Everyone hits. Not literally, but the nine in the field are the nine to bat. They are individuals playing as a team. In contrast, the DH is a hired gun who shows up and leaves as his presence is requested. He doesn’t play in the field, he just bats. AL baseball is a more free market style of game and I think it is fascinating to watch when an NL team plays in AL team. The rules they have to adjust to and who they decide to be their DH and vice versa.

I tend to think moving the Astro’s is an entirely financial based decision, maybe it’s not? Maybe the DH hits more home runs and draws more fans, maybe he doesn’t. Is that risk worth it to homogenize the two leagues? Is the money worth it to alienate a league that is already fighting public disasters from the performance enhancing drugs debacle. It trivializes the whole game to assume that moving teams around will generate more fans or create more dynamic match ups. It fails to recognize how the game is played and what it means to be a fan of baseball.

Image via Deadspin