After putting out feelers for the past couple of years about possibly selling the Houston Astros franchise he’s owned for the past 19 years, Drayton McLane Jr.  has expressed a desire to “move forward” and announced Friday that his team is for sale.

“Our family has loved being involved with the Houston Astros,” McLane said during a news conference at Minute Maid Park. “But it’s time to change and move forward.”

Although McLane and his wife Elizabeth have been fixtures around Minute Maid Park, the Saturday edition of The Houston Chronicle reported, their two sons, Drayton III and Denton, are not interested in taking over the team.

McLane appears to be serious about selling the team this time because he has hired the New York investment firm Allen & Co. to assist him in the sale of the ball club which is expected as potentially a $700 million to $800 million transaction.

According to The Chronicle, Steve Greenberg—a partner in the firm and son of Baseball Hall of Famer Hank Greenberg—said the sale will be a six-to-12-month process. McLane expects a long road to a deal as well.

“We have no buyer in mind today, but this is something we’re going to explore,” McLane said. The exploration is nothing new. A 2008 tentative agreement with Houston businessman Jim Crane fell through and a 30-day window with a group led by Great Court Capital of New York didn’t come to fruition in January.

The sale of the team should be enhanced because the Astros have agreed to launch a regional sports network with the Rockets and Comcast, which will be a major asset in the sale. They also have begun upgrades to Minute Maid Park’s scoreboard and premium seating.

McLane purchased the team and its lease on the aging Astrodome from Dr. John McMullen in 1992 for $117 million. Under McLane’s ownership, characterized by a hands-on approach and strong presence in the community, the Astros have gone to the post-season six times and made their first World Series in 2005.

Greenberg said that his first order of business is to identify a front-man among the prospective bidders for the purchase of the Astros. “It’s up to the leader to assemble the group of potential buyers,” Greenberg pointed out.

In Washington, D.C. Greenberg said the eventual owners of the former Montreal Expos were the remnants of two groups—the family of real estate developer Ted Lerner and a group assembled by former Braves, Hawks and Thrashers executive Stan Kasten, according to The Chronicle.

McLane’s solo ownership was a rarity for Houston’s baseball franchise. If you remember, the original Houston Sports Association that landed the franchise in 1960 was a partnership that eventually was whittled down to former Houston mayor and Harris County judge Roy Hofheinz, who envisioned the Astrodome, and oilman and developer R.E. “Bob” Smith, who provided the financing for Hofheinz’ dream of an indoor stadium.

According to The Chronicle, Hofheinz bought out Smith in 1965 after the two men had a falling out and was the sole owner before losing control to creditors in 1975. Shipbuilder John McMullen and a group of partners purchased the Astros in 1979.

McMullen, with a few minority shareholders including Vivian Smith—Bob Smith’s widow—and bank executive Jack Trotter, controlled the team until selling it to McLane in 1992 for a reported $117 million.

McLane is hoping to sell the Astros and its share of the new regional sports network that will launch in 2012 in conjunction with Comcast and the Rockets for $700 million to $800 million. However, the McLanes are mum on what they hope the price will be.

“I was taught in economics class that something is worth what somebody is willing to pay for it,” Denton McLane said. “Who knows what anything is worth these days. We’ll find out.”

One thing the new buyer won’t have to contend with is future payroll obligations when McLane completes the sale of his team. The Astros will be clear of whatever remains on Roy Oswalt’s contract and have only one year left on Carlos Lee’s $100 million deal.
McLane said that he will approach the off-season free agent marketplace as if he were going to own the team for another 20 years. “General Manager Ed Wade and I have talked about this, and he has the same mandate that he had before I told him about our plans to sell the team,” McLane clarified.

However, McLane plans to keep the 2011 payroll lower than last year’s opening-day figure of approximately $91 million. According to The Chronicle there is roughly $32 million committed to player base salaries in 2011, to go along with potential bonuses and the prorated portion of Oswalt’s $16 million salary with the Phillies.

The bulk of the remainder will go to the Astros who are arbitration-eligible, with starting outfielders Michael Bourn and Hunter Pence plus starting pitcher Wandy Rodriguez likely to push the payroll close to $60 million when Oswalt’s portion is included.

Add the rest of the arbitration-eligibles—newcomer Clint Barmes, Tim Byrdak, Gustavo Chacin, Nelson Figueroa, Jeff Keppinger, Matt Lindstrom and Humberto Quintero—and the minimum-salaried young players, and there will be little room left to come significantly under last year’s figure.

KWICKIES…The Lamar Cardinals ended their first football season since 1989 on a positive note by winning their final two games including a 44-6 walloping of Oklahoma Panhandle State Saturday. The Cards ended the season with a 5-6 record. Our McNeese Cowboys weren’t as fortunate Saturday, losing at Central Arkansas 28-24 and finishing second at 5-2 in the Southland Conference and 6-5 overall.

Former Houston Astros skipper Terry Collins will be named early this week as the new manager of the New York Mets, according to the Associated Press. Collins, 61, managed the Astros from 1994-96 and the Anaheim Angels from 1997-99 and was considered for the Mets job when Willie Randolph was hired before the 2005 season.

And on the other side of the coin, the Minnesota Vikings fired head coach Brad Childress Monday and named defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier the interim head coach for the remainder of the season.

Although his Seattle Seahawks lost 34-19 to the World Champion New Orleans Saints Sunday, Orange’s Earl Thomas picked off his fifth interception of the season and had eight tackles–six solo– to move into the team lead with 55 total tackles, 46 solo stops and five interceptions. Earl is a candidate for NFL All-Pro honors at free safety and the team’s website has a link where fans can vote. Let’s help him get the honor he deserves.

For the second week in a row the Houston Texans were defeated in the final 10 seconds of the game as the New York Jets scored a touchdown with 10 seconds remaining to down the Texans 30-27. Houston’s record dips to 4-6, with over half the losses occurring in the final period.

After trailing 10-7 at halftime, the Dallas Cowboys put up 28 points in the second half to smother the struggling Detroit Lions 35-19 Sunday in Arlington. It was the second straight win for interim head coach Jason Garrett, who is bidding to replace Wade Phillips on a permanent basis.

Florida-bred two-year-old colt Gourmet Dinner won the 8th Running of the $1 million Delta Downs Jackpot stakes race Saturday in Vinton. The horse went out at 20-1 and defeated the other nine entries in the 1 1/16-mile event, including Classic Legacy that was shipped here by noted trainer Bob Baffert who was in attendance.

JUST BETWEEN US…Four interceptions, two fumbles and a failed fake punt led to the demise of the West Orange-Stark Mustangs Friday night in their Region III area round of the state football playoff game that was won by Brookshire Royal 24-21. The Mustangs found themselves fighting back from an early 14-0 deficit that expanded to 21-0 early in the second half before the Mustangs’ offense woke up. Trailing 24-7 early in the fourth period WO-S scored twice and was moving toward the Falcons’ goal line when time ran out, ending the Mustangs’ dream of a third state championship.