By Steve Silverman
(CBS) Take a look at the American League standings. There’s something very wrong going on.
I’m not talking about an 0-2 start by the New York Yankees or a 2-0 start by the Cleveland Indians. (The former is cause for celebration and the latter is a fluke.)
No, there’s something much worse going on. Take a look at the American League West standings. Notice the interloper in that grouping with Seattle, Los Angeles, Oakland and Texas. Notice the Houston Astros.
Somehow, the Houston Astros are an American League team. The Astros had played National League baseball since 1962, but they have been transferred to the American League.
This is as wrong as it gets in baseball.
For some reason, Bud Selig and the Major League Baseball Players’ Association wanted to put 15 teams in each league. That means that every team can’t play every day unless there’s some form of interleague baseball every day.
That’s what the schedule will give us this year.
Interleague baseball was a salvation for the game when it began in 1997. Finally, there could be some legitimate competition between the two leagues. Fans of one side or the other were able to see two-to-three weeks of legitimate competition between the two leagues and then come to the conclusion that one side was better than the other.
It was very satisfying to middle-aged fans who had grown up arguing with friends about the legitimacy of the competition in one league or the other.
The novelty of interleague play was probably the best part of the innovation.
Interleague competition had never been part of baseball prior to 1997. For the first five years or so, it was so new and so fresh that it was like a sweet breeze on a sweltering summer day.
But then it became routine. It was no big deal for the Cubs to go to the south side or for the Orioles to go to Philadelphia.
Interleague baseball provided a break from games against league rivals for two or three weeks. When it was going on, it captured fans’ attention, but when it was over, it was time to get back to games against traditional rivals.
Playing interleague baseball every day shoves it down your throat and diminishes it at the same time.
The Astros’ move from the National League to the American League came at the same time new owners purchased the Astros. Selig told prospective owner Jim Crane that the Astros would become an American League franchise when he bought the team from Drayton McLane in 2011.
Moving the Astros from the NL to the AL was painted as the logical by Major League Baseball; it is anything but.
One of the arguments was that the Astros had a true rival in the Texas Rangers, and the move would put them in the same division.
If that’s the case, the Cubs and White Sox need to be in the same division and so do the Yankees and Mets along with the Dodgers and the Angels.
Don’t stop there – put the Dallas Cowboys and the Houston Texans in the same division in the NFL.
If a team had to move, it should have been Selig’s old Milwaukee Brewers. The Brewers started life in 1970 (after one year as the Seattle Pilots) as an American League team, and there they remained through the 1997 season before they were moved to the National League. (Another travesty.)
There is no hue and cry about the Astros switching leagues. One of the few major leaguers who had a problem with it was Lance Berkman, who started his career with the Astros and played there from 1999 through 2010.
While he has since played with the Yankees, Cardinals and now the Rangers, he is a Houstonian and he considers himself an Astro.
As the team was being sold, Berkman despised the move. He said that when his playing days are over, he doesn’t want to come to the ballpark and watch American League baseball.
“I think it’s a travesty,” Berkman said in 2011. “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.
“It’s a shame, I think, that Bud Selig is probably going to make that be sort of a condition of the sale. I don’t like it. Even when I retire and live here in Houston, I don’t want to go watch American League baseball. I’d like to have a National League team.”
Interleague baseball every day ruins the best innovation that baseball has had since the designated hitter was first used in 1973.
Putting the Astros in the American League makes no sense at all.
Baseball purists and traditionalists, I’m talking to you. Send the Astros back to the National League where they belong.
Steve Silverman is an award-winning writer, covering sports since 1980. Silverman was with Pro Football Weekly for 10 years and his byline has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Playboy, NFL.com and The Sporting News. He is the author of four books, including Who’s Better, Who’s Best in Football — The Top 60 Players of All-Time. Follow him on Twitter (@profootballboy) and read more of his CBS Chicago columns here.