Houston Astros: How To Build a Rivalry with the Texas Rangers
The commissioner, new ownership and pundits tried to sell a rivalry between the Houston Astros and Texas Rangers as the best part about the Astros moving to the American League West. Most fans are against the move and only the most naive of fans would buy a rivalry between the two teams. So, what needs to happen for a rivalry to happen?
Here, we will look at the common characteristics that rivalries have across sports. Then, we will see if the Astros and Rangers can use those to build a rivalry that work for each other. One thing is for sure: It takes more work than most think.
Obviously, this is the factor that the commissioner is counting on. This is why he had a rivalry series in interleague where teams played their closest "rival." Unfortunately, the commissioner is not a historian.
Yet, the Mets and Yankees aren't that big. The two LA teams aren't really rivals and the same could be said of the two Bay Area teams. The two Chicago teams really aren't a big rivalry either.
I think you are getting the idea. Proximity doesn't create a rivalry; it only makes it more interesting if it already exists.
Unfortunately, one of the biggest ingredients in a rivalry cannot be manufactured. Ironically, the Houston Chronicle's Richard Justice decried the Aggies moving to the SEC because it would end this great rivalry. Yet, he was on board with the Astros leaving. No one could ever accuse him of being consistent in his opinions.
All good rivalries, whether they be baseball, basketball or football, need time to fester. Any good Red Sox or Yankees fan can tell you what happened in 1978, 2003 and some will even point back to 1919. You cannot speed up the clock. Rivalries must be organic; they cannot be created in a lab.
Games That Matter
The Astros and the Braves are rivals. Are they particularly close together geographically? Not particularly. Are they in the same division? Nope.
Simply put, they are rivals because they have played a ton of important games. They have matched up in the regular season when both teams were fighting for a playoff berth and they met four times in the playoffs.
Of course, it is all the better when you remember that both teams won two playoff series against each other. We are getting ahead of ourselves though. The Silver Boot didn't really matter all that much because there was nothing at stake. It is similar to the Cowboys/Texans annual preseason game. Bragging rights are nice, but bragging rights and an important victory are doubly nice.
You can have proximity, time and games that matter, but if one team is always winning it really isn't much of a rivalry. When you consider the best rivalries in sports (Alabama vs. Auburn, Ohio St. vs Michigan, Lakers v. Celtics, etc.) you see one thing in common: Each side has a relatively even chance of winning.
The Cardinals and Astros met in two consecutive NLCS. Both teams took one series from the other. In the 16 years of the Central division, the Astros won four division titles and two wild-card berths. The Cardinals won most of the others. The two teams combined to win more division titles than the other four teams combined.
Now, that's a rivalry.
After we get past the necessary ingredients we get to the ones that only enhance a rivalry. Most Houston fans don't hate the Cardinals in any real sense. Most fans on both sides have a respect for each other. This is admirable and preferable for some, but it doesn't feed a really good rivalry.
Now, when you look at the great college football or basketball rivalries and you see people foaming at the mouth.
The same is true of rivalries in the NFL. Above, you see Dallas Cowboy QB Tony Romo. He represents a team that most Houstonians hate. As those in my family would say, if it were a battle between the Cowboys and the Texas Department of Corrections we would root for the convicts. At least they can be rehabilitated.
Any good San Francisco Giants fan or LA Dodgers fan would say they same about the other side.
The Astros' rivalry with the Cardinals might be more entertaining because more of the games have mattered, but the rivalry with the Cubs is more emotionally charged. There were tense moments between Michael Barrett and Roy Oswalt, but most of the bad blood goes back to 2008.
Commissioner Birdbrain picked the geographically "neutral" Milwaukee for the Astros to play their home games against the Cubs following the aftermath of Hurricane Ike. Milwaukee is about 100 miles from Chicago. The Cubs fans loaded the park and were particularly rude in "welcoming" the home team.
Needless say, it's easy for the Astros fans to get their hate on when the Cubs come into town.
This is closely connected to being evenly matched, but sometimes evenly matched teams don't play close games. It happens a lot in college when rosters turn over every year.
For the Astros, this would explain rivalries with the Braves and Mets. Those three teams were arguably involved in the two greatest postseason games in history in 1986 and 2005. Both contests went well into extra innings and had dramatic endings.
Those kinds of contests are burned into your memories and serve to feed fuel to the fire. The Astros and Mets haven't played a meaningful game in more than 20 years, but many Astros fans continue to hate the Mets. The Game 6 from the NLCS is the main reason.
All great rivalries have great players and great coaches in big moments. Lance Berkman owned the Cardinals and then became one (see the next slide). Chipper Jones and Albert Pujols got the best of Houston nearly every time. Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams battled it out every year in Boston and New York.
Pick any great rivalry and you can pick great players associated with them.
Of course, Berkman is a not a traitor in the real sense. He wanted to come back to Houston and was turned down by Ed Wade. Still, he could have signed anywhere but St. Louis or Chicago and we would have been alright. Seeing him in a Cardinals uniform holding up the World Series trophy was difficult to see.
All great professional rivalries eventually have players switch sides. Terrell Owens taunts Cowboys fans by standing on the star as a 49er and then becomes a Cowboy a few years later. These kinds of scenarios give rivalries that extra little oomph they need.