In 2013, the Houston Astros will be switching from the NL Central to the AL West. While time has eroded most of the differences between the two leagues, there are still some customs and rules particular to the American League of Professional Baseball Clubs with which Houston will have to ingratiate themselves.
1. The Designated Hitter
Established in 1973, the DH rule allows a team to replace their pitcher in the batting order with a more formidable hitter. Well, the “formidable” part is just a friendly suggestion by the author, and may not be feasible for the 2013 Astros. Perhaps they should just keep allowing their pitcher to hit, as part of a year-long Turn Back the Clock promotion. These promotions usually don’t turn the clock back only a single year, but the Astros don’t do most things like most baseball clubs.
2. Bullpen Death Matches
This tradition is said to date back to the 1908 Cleveland Naps. Clevelanders were (and are) well known for their thirst for blood, and spectators would (especially during particularly boring games) start goading players in the dugouts into fistfights, with promises of cash prizes going to the winner. When bullpens started being installed in stadiums around the 1940s, the blood-sport propositions moved to and remain there to this day.
3. No-Hitter Virgin Sacrifice
The origins of the No-Hitter Virgin are often debated, but many believe it began with the 1917 St. Louis Browns. On May 6th, Bob Groom tossed a no-hitter, the second in as many days for the Browns. It is said that manager Fielder Jones, intent on keeping the streak going, had an usher fetch the prettiest virgin from the stands for a sacrifice to the no-hitter gods that would be performed on the pitcher’s mound later that night. It did not work, as the no-hitter streak ended the next game, but the tradition still exists. Now, AL teams use this as a marketing tool, having Prettiest Virgin contests at fan fests before every season. The winner lives a life a luxury at the team’s ballpark for the season, and is released back into the wild if a no-hitter is not thrown by the home team.
4. Seventh-Inning Stretch
This tradition has less to do with the play on the field, but instead involves the fans in the stands. Oakland Athletics owner Charlie Finley, during the waning years of his ownership, decided to change things up at his club’s park, replacing the traditional seventh-inning stretch anthem Take Me Out to the Ball Game with the 1976 hit Lido Shuffle by Boz Scaggs. The song stuck and has been sung at every AL game ever since.
5. Third Base Must be Played by a Golden Retriever
As a partial resolution to a bitter labor dispute in the 1980s between the league, the players union, and the ASPCA, all third baseman on American League teams were required to be golden retrievers. This has led to a boost in the signings of right-handed slap hitters, as dogs, while perhaps replacement-level fielders, have no arms for which to throw the ball to the first baseman. This gives a great advantage to any batter who can hit it to the right side of the infield, basically guaranteeing them a base hit. In 1990, a rule was approved allowing the dogs to be rolled into the designated hitter rule, as the canines couldn’t hold a bat and tried to fetch every pitch thrown at them, sometimes mauling catchers in order to get the ball.
This is truly an exciting time for the Houston Astros, and ownership/management changes, as well as the move to the junior circuit, promises to bring them back into relevance sometime soon. I, for one, am particularly excited for the fights and the dogs, as it doesn’t get much more American than that.