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Archive for November 18th, 2011

The Houston Astros have been relegated. After losing 100 games for the first time in franchise history, the team’s rapid descent in the N.L. Central has culminated in a transfer to the A.L. West. Talk about a tough crowd.

Drayton McLane and Jim Crane shake hands on a deal to sell the Astros. (Photo: Houston Chronicle)

Ironically, in a year during which the Astros were mostly irrelevant on the field, the franchise has become the linchpin for some of the most significant changes in recent baseball history. Luckily for major league baseball, former team owner Drayton McLane was anxious to sell because, otherwise, Bud Selig’s master plan probably could not have been implemented.

While purists often criticize Bud Selig for moving too fast, more casual observers accuse him of dragging his feet. In reality, however, Selig has been a master compromiser. Since his early dogmatic failures, including the 1994 World Series cancellation and the aborted attempt at contraction, Selig has accepted his role as a facilitator and successfully taken the middle road. Always willing to make a change, but not too much, the commissioner has made an art out of completely alienating no one.

By moving the Astros to the A.L. West, Selig has once again negotiated a master compromise. Now, baseball can move forward with its plan to expand the playoffs by adding two Wild Cards and pay lip service to both sides of the aisle. To a purist like me, the one-game wild card round is really nothing more than a de facto extension of the regular season that actually has the effect of making the division more important, and by extension, restoring credibility to the 162-game schedule. To more casual observers, however, baseball can market the expanded playoffs as a competitive balance initiative with the added benefit of an exciting winner-take-all segue into the real postseason. In that sense, the added wild card, and the abbreviated play-in game that will result, is really nothing more than a lead-in to October.

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