MLB Should Have Protected The Rangers From Harvey-Related Reputation Damage

If Baseball doesn't want its franchises to look greedy, it should deprive them off the chance.
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The Houston Astros are coming back home for the weekend, compressing their scheduled three-game series with the New York Mets into two days, with a doubleheader on Saturday after everyone involved agreed to take Friday off so that the Astros, returning to their storm-ravaged city after a week away, might spend time with family, take care of business with their homes, or whatever else they need to do.

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“We feel that the Astros playing this weekend will provide a much-needed boost for our city,” Houston mayor Sylvester Turner said in a statement released by the Astros. “With all of the difficulties that many of our citizens are facing, the games will provide an opportunity for families to start returning to some aspect of normal life.”

So long as the mayor is on board, that should be good enough to snuff out a debate on whether the weekend’s games should have been moved, as the Astros’ series against the Texas Rangers was in the middle of the week while Harvey’s rains ravaged Houston. It was the shift of that series to St. Petersburg, Fla., that sparked what should have been avoidable controversy.

A short recap of what happened, without the back-and-forth that ensued as a result: the Rangers wanted to have the Astros come to Arlington, have Houston play as the home team, and give the Astros the revenue from the series, while the Astros wanted to go to Arlington, let the Rangers be the home team, then switch the site of the September series between the in-state rivals to Houston.

In a world where both sides having a valid case is increasingly rare, this is a time when both sides had a valid case. The Rangers should not have to turn a 10-day road trip late into the season into a 13-day one because a hurricane hit another city, nor turn a home series with tickets already sold into one with a few days’ notice. The Astros should not have to play home games in Arlington, and the desire to have 81 home dates instead of 78, even with the Rangers’ revenue promise, is reasonable.

The Rangers are both a baseball team chasing a playoff spot and a business. The Astros, with the American League West title all but wrapped up, are both a team representing a devastated metropolitan area and… a business. And that’s the important part here. The Astros are not Houston, and their displacement for one home series was not and should not have been used as an avatar for the city as a whole. Which, well, that’s not how it went down.

“The Texas Rangers Don’t Look Great Here,” proclaimed Deadspin on a piece by Emma Baccellieri. For CBS Local Sports, Tony Massarotti’s column was titled “Texas Rangers Look Small.” The biggest hammer came from the Houston Chronicle’s Jenny Dial Creech, whose column headline was “Rangers blow chance to show compassion, help out Houston.”

It’s understandable why this would be the reaction, especially since Reid Ryan and Astros brass did a better job getting in front of the story than the Rangers did. The Rangers are not, however, in need of public shaming to do the right thing, like, say, Joel Osteen. To that end, though the Rangers would do well to follow the example of the Oakland A’s and donate a portion of their take from the Astros’ still-scheduled visit to the cause of getting Houston back on its feet.

Good on the A’s for that, and good on everyone else, from other teams and leagues to individuals far and wide, for chipping in to help the victims of Harvey. That includes Major League Baseball, which announced a joint donation with the MLB Players Association of $1 million to relief efforts.

Nice as that is, it’s Major League Baseball that is to blame for the Rangers being put in a position to look like heels in this scenario. This is not the first time that severe weather has caused games to be moved, and in fact the most recent time it happened was 2008, when an Astros-Cubs series was shifted to Milwaukee because of Hurricane Ike and Chicago pitcher Carlos Zambrano threw a no-hitter. Baseball needs to have a better plan in place for dealing with hurricane-impacted series so that it’s not a matter of negotiation between teams.

Not just hurricane-impacted series, but blizzard-impacted series as seasons stretch earlier and earlier, and any sorts of disasters that might leave a stadium unusable, because at times like these, the last thing anyone should want is argument over how to proceed. There are six retractable-roof stadia in MLB – in Houston, Miami, Milwaukee, Phoenix, Seattle, and Toronto, with one on the way in Arlington. Then there is the pure dome in St. Petersburg. Maybe take Toronto out of the equation because of the logistics of moving games internationally on short notice, but MLB should see to it that not all of the teams who call those semi-domes home are playing home games at the same time, always leaving space in case of emergency.

Give the affected team the option of taking what the Rangers offered here – playing as the home team, keeping the associated revenues – or moving to one of the alternate sites. That’s what the Astros wound up doing anyway, but if MLB had a real policy for a problem that surely will occur again, it could have been done without anyone looking bad.

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