- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 26, 2005

HOUSTON — It was the only question on everyone’s mind at the World Series yesterday, and it threatened to overshadow the outcome of Game 3 altogether.

Open the roof at Minute Maid Park or keep it closed?

OK, so perhaps there should have been greater matters of concern, such as how the hometown Houston Astros were going to bounce back from their 2-0 deficit to the Chicago White Sox in this series.

Few would have known it, though, based on all the attention thrust upon the giant steel and glass apparatus that has become the source of major controversy.

The Astros have been keeping the roof closed throughout the postseason, believing the extra crowd noise plays to their advantage. Major League Baseball insisted they open it for last night’s game to take advantage of a gorgeous fall Texas evening.

“In these type of situations, you try to be fair and be consistent,” commissioner Bud Selig said. “The thing that we said to all clubs with roofs is that weather is the determining factor. … We’re following the criteria that the Houston Astros set this year. Their criteria, not ours.”

Indeed, the Astros traditionally have kept the roof open when the outside temperature is below 80 degrees. (It was 61 degrees at game time last night.)

But Houston also was an impressive 40-18 home record this season with the roof closed, including 4-1 in the postseason. And with some of baseball’s loudest fans, the Astros were hoping to keep all that sound contained within an enclosed ballpark.

Which explains why they were not happy with the decision unilaterally handed down yesterday by Selig, MLB president Bob DuPuy and executive vice president of baseball operations Jimmie Lee Solomon.

“I think we’re at the losing end of it,” Houston third baseman Morgan Ensberg said.

Manager Phil Garner was diplomatic yesterday, saying his team would play under any conditions, but Monday he questioned MLB’s handling of the situation.

“We’ve played with it closed most of the year. I want to say about 85 percent of the time,” Garner said. “I find it strange that somebody would say we have to open it now.”

Why would MLB care whether the roof is open? The conspiracy theorists were out in full force yesterday, saying the roof was kept open to appease broadcasters from Fox.

Baseball officials, though, insisted that was not the case.

“The television networks and Fox had no bearing on this decision,” Solomon said.

There is some precedent for this kind of action. Four years ago, baseball forced the Arizona Diamondbacks to open the roof at Bank One Ballpark for the World Series against their wishes.

Upset over yesterday’s decision or not, the Astros found the hubbub over “roof-gate” pretty comical.

“We want it closed. We feel like we have a distinct advantage,” Ensberg said. “But I’m a 30-year-old man. I can handle this.”

No word on ownership

Selig said he continues to meet with prospective owners for the Washington Nationals, but he could not say when a final decision will be made.

“When we’re done with the interviewing process,” he said.

Asked about bidder Jeff Smulyan’s recent media blitz through Washington, Selig said: “This is America. They can do whatever they want.”

Guillen supports World Cup

White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen, a native of Venezuela, said he will allow players from his team to play for their respective home countries during March’s inaugural World Baseball Classic. And he hopes others follow suit.

Some managers, including the Nationals’ Frank Robinson, have said they are reluctant to lose their players for several weeks during the middle of spring training, fearing they might get injured.

Guillen doesn’t agree.

“I don’t think baseball and the players association or any organization should have the right to tell the guys no,” Guillen said. “If they decide they want to go, they have to go.”

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