Dear Jim:

I hope you don’t think I’m being too informal by calling you Jim instead of Mr. Crane, but I feel that I’ve been a loyal fan (a often critic) of the Houston Astros  since they were called the Colt .45’s, back in the early 1960’s.

I admit that I stopped being a fan during the middle 1960’s when I was employed by Mr. P.K. Wrigley as a member of the Chicago Cubs baseball organization.

But that was a seasonal job before the days of big money and I was in need of 12-month employment, so I went back to being an Astros fan, but with mixed emotions whenever the Cubbies were in town.

I can understand that whenever a person makes a large purchase (and buying a major league baseball team certainly falls into that category) you want to get the most product for your hard-earned money.

But if someone were to buy General Motors, they wouldn’t want to get rid of the divisions that produced Cadillacs and Chevrolets so the price would be cheaper.

So why did you make former owner Drayton McLane dump Hunter Pence and Michael Bourn before the sale of the team was finalized? And last week’s trade of Carlos Lee to Miami was done on your watch, with you pulling all the strings.

Their replacements were all minor leaguers, at least two or three years away from being in the majors. These players all will be bona fide major leaguers some day, but by playing them now certainly cheapens the product you’re attempting to put on the field. And when minor leaguers attempt to compete against major leaguers, guess what happens?

The losses begin to pile up. These aren’t lop-sided blow-outs by any means, just an error here, a mental mistake there, giving the opponent four or five outs in an inning and the result is a game that Houston should have won that turns out to be a loss because of physical or mental errors.

It not only results in a loss in the division standings, but also it saddens the fans who pay premium prices to watch the team play an opponent on equal terms until inexperience takes over and a mistake causes the Astros to squander their lead and the opponent rallies to win the game they should have lost.

Going into the All-Star break, which began after Sunday’s 5-3 extra-inning loss to the Milwaukee Brewers, our Astros have won only once in their last 11 games. Their recent nine-game losing streak came close to being a franchise record for consecutive setbacks. And as the losses mount, the attendance at Minute Maid Park falls conversely.

Now Jim, I can’t point the finger at your manager Brad Mills for all of these losses—although his inept use of the pitching staff has caused quite a few of them—the brunt of the blame rests right on your shoulders for stripping the team of its bona fide major league talent.

And the sad truth is that as we read this column, your general manager Jeff Luhnow is out shopping your best starting pitcher Wandy Rodriguez, your ace closer Brett Myers and consistent reliever Brandon Lyon, looking for teams interested in obtaining any or all of these guys for more “minor league prospects.”

I heard Luhnow tell Astros’ radio announcer Milo Hamilton on Sunday’s pre-game show that the nine-game losing streak didn’t alter your “master plan” of rebuilding the team for the switch to the American League next year.

And that’s another thing you did that makes me sore—let Commissioner Bud Selig strong-arm you into agreeing to play in the American League beginning in 2013 by lowering the selling price of the team by a few million dollars.

That’s just another example of you not giving a Tinker’s damn about us long-time Houston Astros fans. We’re National League fans, too, and could care less about learning to watch our team play with a designated hitter every game. It’s bad enough when we’re on the road during Interleague play.

And the Astros’ record on the road is an atrocious (9-32). Again the main reason for many of those losses is the inexperience of playing baseball away from home that normally gets cured during the minor leagues.

The same is true of why the team cannot win an extra-inning baseball game. They have lost all eight extra-inning games which can be directly traced to the bullpen and the lack of major-league-caliber relief pitchers. The Astros’ bullpen has a pathetic 5-17 record.

Sunday’s 5-3 loss to Milwaukee is a perfect example of the inexperienced bullpen to which I refer. Starting pitcher Jordan Lyles threw a beautiful game and skillfully protected a 3-1 lead until Mills decided to pinch-hit for him in the bottom of the seventh inning, although Houston had no kind of rally going at all and the youngster had thrown less than 100 pitches.

Every runner that scored for Milwaukee in the last three innings got on base by virtue of a walk. What kind of pitcher protects a lead with a base-on-balls?

I could go on and on about the Astros’ hitters leading the major leagues in strikeouts, the team having the worst record in the majors (33-53), having the fewest homers and many other shortfalls.

But I hope that you, Jim, help Luhnow find some bona fide major leaguers and make some trades in that direction. Otherwise, next June you’ll have the distinct honor once again of having the No. 1 pick in the 2013 major league draft after your team crashes through that 100-loss barrier for the second straight season.

KWICKIES…Several Southeast Texas athletes have been left out in the cold by the surprise announcement by Lon Morris College that the school has shut down its athletic program. The college had been struggling financially and decided to curtail athletic activities when it couldn’t meet its payroll and filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy last week. Lon Morris is the oldest junior college in Texas. Former West Orange-Stark Mustang standout Wilson Washington, who just completed his freshman year at Lon Morris, is hopefully looking to transfer to another college football program.

Sunset Grove Country Club golfer Oliver Seastrunk fired a hole-in-one Friday on the 143-yard No. 12 Par-3 hole. Seastrunk used a seven-iron to accomplish the feat which was witnessed by Dewey Scott, Ray Pousson and Richard Sims. It was his second career ace, with the other occurring on the very same hole three years ago.

Former Houston Cypress Falls standout lefty Scott Kazmir (no relation) is trying to make a comeback after signing a huge bonus contract with Tampa Bay right out of high school and was an opening day starter and an All-Star by age 22. He has pitched the last eight years in the major leagues before falling on hard times. The 28-year old Kazmir suffered a drop in his velocity which was in the upper 90’s and was released by the Los Angeles Angels’ Class AAA team with an 0-5 record despite the organization still owing him $14.5 million. He is back in Houston trying to make a comeback with the independent Sugar Land Skeeters of the Class A Atlantic League.

Rookie left-handed golfer Ted Potter, Jr. fired an eagle and birdie on the final two holes to tie Sunday’s Greenbriar Classic leader Troy Kelly and force a sudden-death playoff. Potter made a four-foot birdie putt on the third extra hole to win his first PGA Tour victory and a nifty $1,098,000 payday. The win earned Potter a chance to play in the British Open which begins July 19 and also in next year’s Masters.

JUST BETWEEN US…A tip of the Korner Kap to Orange’s Earl Thomas and the free football camp he hosted (and financed) for several hundred youngsters Friday and Saturday at Dan Hooks Stadium on the West Orange-Stark High School campus. The Seattle Seahawks All-Pro free safety returned to the stadium where he was an All-State player for the Mustangs before moving up to the next level at the University of Texas where he made first-team All-American for the Longhorns. One of the assistants working with Thomas last weekend was Kerry Bennett, another former Mustang and Stephen F. Austin standout football player, who signed with the Washington Redskins but had to give up the game due to a severe knee injury. Other NFL players on hand at Dan Hooks Stadium last week included Michael Griffin, recent draftee Kheeston Randall and Danny Gorrer.