MONEY FOR NOTHING

Why the Astros' current proposal for fans in 2020 doesn't add up

Photo by Elsa/Getty Images.

For several months, there's been a lawsuit pending by some Houston Astros fans demanding that the team refund money spent on tickets during the 2017 season because the Astros were caught cheating. That ain't never going to happen. That's ancient history.

This week, that lawsuit was expanded to insisting that the Astros refund in full money spent on 2020 season tickets because, just accept it, those tickets are worthless because of the COVID-19 crisis. This part of the lawsuit makes sense.

"The Astros refuse to refund season ticket payments for the entire 2020 season in the face of the COVID-19 coronavirus … with full knowledge that the full slate of Astros 2020 home games would not be played in front of fans at Minute Maid Park," according to the complaint.

I don't have an Astros bank statement in front of me, but my friend at MLB.com says the Astros sell about 25,000 season tickets (I think that's a little high) at an average price of $70 per game (sounds about right).

I'm not an arithmetic wizard – I was absent that day, but let's Cap'n Crunch the numbers. That's $70 (ticket price) times 25,000 (tickets sold) times 81 (number of home games) equals $141 million total take from season tickets. That's a rough estimate.

The Astros current position is, they're willing to refund season tickets for 33 games, the number of games that would have been played through May 31 – if the purchaser contacts the team by May 22. So let's subtract $57,750,000 for 33 games from the Astros' total season ticket haul. That leaves them holding onto roughly $83 million to keep in the bank gaining interest, invest in projects, overpay a .270 career free agent, or whatever. If the U.S. economy comes back from the dead, as President Trump insists it will, that $83 million plowed into the stock market could become … hey, I thought there wouldn't be any math on this test. Ticket buyers also could ask for credit on next year's tickets. The Astros would love that.

This is like when Britney Spears (or a bunch of acts) announces she's performing a concert in Houston that's more than a year away, but tickets go on sale 10 a.m. this Friday. She easily could sell $1 million worth of tickets. Who's holding onto that $1 million for more than a year? That's a lot of, as Dire Straits would say, money for nothing.

This is like the Rodney Dangerfield joke, where he borrowed $200 from a loan shark, paid him $50 a month for 10 years and still owed him $10,000. United Airlines called, they're telling the Astros to lighten up on their refund policy.

The Astros are willing to pony up refunds for 33 games. There are several scenarios for the resumption of the 2020 baseball season. Not one of them has 25,000 fans, plus single-game ticket buyers, packing Minute Maid Park. Even if a limited number of fans are allowed to return to stadium – there is a far-fetched plan that would include social distancing - the Astros still should offer refunds for all tickets purchased. Some fans justifiably might feel uncomfortable attending events with large numbers of people. Or they have health issues that would make attending games unwise. Would the Astros ticket office make them produce a note from their doctor? That's insane.

Just chalk up 2020 as a ghost year, refund every ticket if the purchaser wishes, build up some good faith with fans, and start from scratch in 2021. Baseball will still be around. The fans will still be here. Life will go on.


Tennis, anyone?

I know tennis isn't the most popular sport with readers, but I was emotionally moved by Reilly Opelka's speech after winning a TV-only exhibition tournament (no fans in attendance) last week. Opelka told viewers that he was happy to win the event, and commented that it was Saturday … which meant he could hit a Chick-fil-A for dinner on his way home. It was probably the most normal thing a tennis pro has ever said in a victory speech.

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The Astros suffered a heartbreaking loss to the Yankees Thursday. Composite image by Brandon Strange.

After an impressive two-game sweep of the NL-best Mets at home earlier in the week, the Astros took to the road to begin a four-game series with the league-best Yankees on Thursday night. To little surprise, the series started with a bang (no, not a trash can bang) in more ways than one, confirming that this series should be a must-watch this weekend.

New York's comeback proves no lead will be safe

Right from the get-go, the loud Yankee Stadium faithful had their chance to rain boos down on Jose Altuve before showing some pleasure as he led off the series by being hit by a pitch. They were quickly, though only temporarily, quieted as Altuve would come in to score two batters later on a three-run blast by Alex Bregman.

Three-run homers seemed to be a theme, as New York would get one of their own to tie the game off the bat of Giancarlo Stanton to tie the game, then Yordan Alvarez continued his dominant June by pushing the Astros back in front by three with another three-run bomb in the third, making it 6-3. That lead held through to the bottom of the ninth, where instead of holding it, Ryan Pressly issued two walks to set up the fourth homer of the game to tie things again before Aaron Judge would get a walk-off single to complete the impressive comeback.

Not only will we get to sit back and watch the slug-fest between Yordan and Judge this weekend, but it looks like with Alex Bregman swinging well again to round out the top of Houston's order, the Astros may be getting closer to their full power. So far in June, these two teams sit third and fourth in on-base percentage, with the Astros at .351 and the Yankees right behind at .350. That means we should continue to see scoring opportunities on both sides that can tilt momentum one way or the other as these lineups try to battle against the opposing pitcher.

How will the aces fare

Verlander vs. Judge, and Cole vs. Alvarez, need I say more? Although we won't see Justin Verlander go up against Gerrit Cole in the same game in this series (they should go head to head next Thursday, however), they will pitch on back-to-back days, with Houston's ace going Friday night and New York's on Saturday afternoon. Verlander is coming off his worst start of the year, a three and two-thirds inning outing where the White Sox put up seven runs, four earned, against him and knocked him out early to give him his third loss and increased his ERA from 1.94 to 2.30.

The last time he faced the Yankees was in the Bronx in the 2019 playoffs, in ALCS Game 5, where he went seven frames while allowing four runs, all on two homers in the first inning, which is all New York needed to grab the 4-1 victory to make it a 3-2 Houston lead in the series, which the Astros would go on to clinch in Game 6. So, with the double dose of bad taste in his mouth, it will be interesting to see if he can use that as the fuel to get back to the phenomenal form he's had this year or if the Yankees try to jump on him early like they did nearly three years ago.

Cole, meanwhile, is fresh off of two quality starts in a row against the Rays, where he allowed just one run on six hits with nineteen strikeouts over 13.1 innings of work. He's had his share of strife this season, though, including a seven-run shelling by the Twins earlier this month, along with a start in April where he couldn't make it through two innings against the Tigers. He's had success against his former club, most notably a complete-game shutout in Houston last July with twelve K's and holding the Astros to just three hits.

If the series opener was any indication, we are in for the treat of a playoff-caliber matchup, if not a potential ALCS preview that we may see in October. The Yankees showed why they have the best record and are the hottest team in baseball on Thursday night, but the Astros were only a good outing from their closer away from having a relatively lopsided win. The rivalry is real; the competition is close, and we get to enjoy the show.

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