There has been a flurry of articles over the past two days in which the topic of league realignment and the sale of the Houston Astros have intersected. The stories go that with the league looking to expand the number of playoff teams, they need to balance out the AL and NL, thus, one National League team needs to move to the AL. With the timing of the sale of the Astros, it’s been long said that they make the most sense as a candidate to move from the NL Central into the AL West.
That is certainly true, and the league would like to see realignment happen, but where the story has gotten distorted is where prospective owner Jim Crane fits in.
A prime example of this comes from FOX 26 in Houston (see Moving Astros to American League Important For Crane's Bid to Buy Team). From the article:
MLB sources told FOX 26 the fact that Crane has yet to agree to the request has kept him from being approved as owner.
The problem is, it’s not true.
A prior story here gets into some of the details, and Richard Justice of the Houston Chronicle said it well today, that it’s not one thing, “It’s a thousand paper cuts” that are preventing the vote for Crane. The issue of moving the Astros to the AL is not part of that conversation, and in fact, in talking to sources close to the situation today, the topic of realignment was never part of the discussion that stopped the league from taking its vote on Crane nearly a month ago.
The reasons the move to the AL West not being the sticking point are fairly simple when you think about it.
For one, Crane is unlikely to be the one to dig his heels in. The purchase of the Astros (this time, remember he backed out in 2008) is really his last best chance to land a team after missing the brass ring with the Cubs and Rangers. Crane is willing to walk away from owning an MLB club over moving the Astros to the AL? Really? That seems unlikely, at best.
There’s been talk that the television deal with the newly created regional sports network that has the Houston Rockets as partners would be diluted with a jump to the AL. The logic is that with the Astros in the AL West, the number of games in the Pacific Timezone will lose viewers that won’t be able to stay up late.
But that doesn’t hold water when you think about the deal that the Texas Rangers reached last year with FOX that is worth $1.6 billion and has a large up-front cash component.
And, from an RSN perspective, is the NL Central really that much better than late games for the AL West? The Cubs host a large number of day games in the Eastern Timezone which isn’t beneficial, and when you throw in that the Pirates aren’t exactly a ratings magnet, the jump to the AL West isn’t some monetary hit, if at all.
What’s at hand is what’s been at hand for a while: with 29 different owners you have 29 different perspectives; what is acceptable to one with Crane may not be for another. And that goes to matters ranging from the EEOC claims, war-profiteering, his divorce to his first wife, the debt in the deal, etc. Throw in that Drayton McLane was not happy with Crane for backing out of the Astros sale in 2008 (and that’s putting it kindly), and some owners will be asking, “If you disliked him so much before, why should we like him now?”
For McLane, the answer is obvious: he has $680 million reasons to want the deal to go through, regardless of how he might possibly feel about him. For the league, it’s more complicated as they have to deal with any potential issues post-sale.
It’s been said prior, but it’s worth repeating: Jim Crane will likely be approved as the new owner of the Houston Astros. He (and Drayton McLane) will likely to have to wait a bit longer, possibly until as late as the next quarterly owners in November. But, whether or not Crane decides he’s coming along for the “Astros to the AL West” or not, it’s not the issue that’s holding up his approval with the owners. That needs to move off the sports pages and be talked of as “just one other thing” in a long list of items being addressed with Jim Crane.
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Maury Brown is the Founder and President of the Business of Sports Network, which includes The Biz of Baseball, The Biz of Football, The Biz of Basketball and The Biz of Hockey, and is a contributor to Forbes SportsMoney blog.. He is available as a freelance writer. Brown's full bio is here. He looks forward to your comments via email and can be contacted through the Business of Sports Network (select his name in the dropdown provided).
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