So what’s the biggest sports story in Houston at the moment?
How about what to call the baseball team that just went 56-106, hasn’t signed a single great new player (sorry, Jack Cust), and is about to make an unpopular move to the American League?
Astros fans, you’ve just been trolled.
We say that with all due respect to new owner Jim Crane (pictured), a forward-thinking, rule-nothing-out, no-sacred-cows businessman—the total opposite of his predecessor Drayton McLane.
At a press conference devoted to fan-friendly changes (lower ticket prices, new food policies) and uniform designs for the fiftieth anniversary, Crane responded to a question about the Astros changing their name, saying:
We’re going to do a study on it. We’re going to study the information, both from our fans and from all sorts of marketing people. I’m not saying we’re going to change. We haven’t made a decision. If the change is going to come, it’s going to come next year.
His response gave fans and Houston media no choice but to take the idea seriously. After all, we’ve seen this movie before: the 2013 switch to the American League was dismissed as an unimaginable rumor by many when it first came up last summer.
Crane reminded fans that the team changed its name one time before without a lot of fuss. “We had the Colt .45s and everybody liked that one,” Crane said. “So you can imagine how upset they were when we switched that.”
Well . . . changing after three years isn’t quite the same as changing after 47 years. Plus, with no Internet or Twitter in 1964, how are we to know if people were irrationally mad about it?
But our guess is there won’t be anything to get irrationally mad about this time either. In the end, Crane and the Astros probably just conducted the world’s cheapest, fastest market research campaign—eighty percent of more than 11,000 fans that responded to a Houston Chronicle poll said they wanted to keep “Astros.”
And according to the paper’s Zachary Levine, the team would have to pick a new name by April 6 of this year to have it ready for next season. Does anybody really see Crane getting the fan base excited about coming out to Minute Maid all summer if they know their hat is going to be obsolete? No way. He wants them coming out to Minute Maid all summer knowing that there’s going to be a ton of cool new 2013 merchandise (with new designs and colors) that still says “Astros.”
“They are the Houston Astros. That’s forever, OK?,” wrote MLB.com columnist Richard Justice (who left the Chronicle a few months back). “I’m guessing new Astros owner Jim Crane agrees with me on that one.” Justice continued:
I’m also guessing he’s thrilled by the response to his leaving open the possibility of a name change.
At a time when attendance is down and the team is being rebuilt, he has found out how deeply people in Houston care about their baseball team.
Based on conversations with club officials, Crane is already finding out that changing it would tamper with something the good people of Houston hold near and dear to their hearts. They’re not just the Astros. They’re our Astros.
Even now, at a time when the Astrodome has been allowed to decay to the point where it is almost beyond repair, no local politician can bring himself to say, “Tear it down.”
That’s because it’s symbolic of a time when Houston’s greatness was defined by its spirit, by large dreams and large deeds. To millions, that first moment of seeing the Astrodome rising up shiny and magnificent will live forever.
It stands there still, a reminder of a special time, one of the things that make Houston special. That’s how fans feel about the name Astros. It’s not exactly whether they love it or not. It’s part of who they are and evokes countless memories. It should not be tampered with.