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Old 11-16-2011, 05:44 PM   #1 (permalink)

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Report: Astros sale hinged on AL move

HOUSTON -- Major League Baseball told Houston businessman Jim Crane it would not approve his purchase of the Houston Astros unless he agreed to move the team to the American League, The Associated Press has learned.

Crane was forced to agree to move the sale along, a person familiar with the negotiations said Wednesday on condition of anonymity because no official announcement has been made by MLB or the Astros. Approval of the sale could be announced as early as Thursday at a meeting of baseball executives in Milwaukee.

Crane will receive a $70 million discount off the $680 million purchase price in exchange for moving the Astros to the AL in 2013, with Drayton McLane and MLB contributing $35 million each to the discount, an MLB official with knowledge of the talks said, according to the Houston Chronicle.

The MLB Players Association believes two 15-team leagues would create a more proportionate schedule and has urged baseball to make the switch. With schedules for next season already completed, the earliest such a move could take place is 2013.

Time is running out for approval of the deal: Crane has said that his offer, which was announced on May 16, will expire Nov. 30.

An MLB spokesman did not immediately return messages seeking comment, though commissioner Bud Selig addressed an Astros' move during a Twitter chat on Monday.

"For 15/15 realignment, Houston would be the team moving to AL West. Would create more fairness in baseball," Selig said via the Colorado Rockies Twitter feed. He also added that "15 teams in each league would necessitate interleague play every day but it will be better schedule overall."

The Astros currently play in the six-team NL Central. The AL West is the only league in the majors with four teams -- the Texas Rangers, Los Angeles Angels, Oakland Athletics and Seattle Mariners.

The Astros, members of the National League since they joined the majors as an expansion team in 1962, would be in a division with in-state rival Texas. But fans are unhappy that the other three teams are all on the West Coast, meaning many road games would routinely end past midnight Central time.

"I grew up an Astro fan and I look at the Astros as a National League team, but I understand the desire to balance out the two leagues,'' Rangers president and CEO Nolan Ryan told's Jerry Crasnick on Wednesday. "From our perspective, I like having them in our division, because it gives us another team in our time zone. We're disadvantaged that way, because so many of our games start at 9 o'clock and it hurts our TV ratings.

"And if both teams are competitive in a given year, I think it will create a good rivalry within the state. I think there are a lot of pluses from our perspective.''

McLane bought the Astros in November 1992 for about $117 million and put the franchise up for sale in November. He turned down an offer from Crane to buy the team in 2008.

The $680 million sale price is the second-highest in major league history, trailing the $845 million purchase of the Chicago Cubs by the Ricketts family two years ago. The $660 million sale of the Boston Red Sox in 2002 currently is second. Like the Astros' deal, the Cubs and Red Sox transactions included related entities.

A major selling point in Houston was the Astros' share in a new deal with the NBA's Houston Rockets to create a regional sports network that will begin airing Rockets games in 2012 and the Astros in 2013. Crane has said the team's 30-year lease at Minute Maid Park, which is owned by the Harris County Houston Sports Authority, will remain intact under his ownership.
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