Deal should close this week on sale of Astros
As we have mentioned in two previous columns, the agreement between Drayton McLane and Jim Crane to transfer ownership of the Houston Astros should be complete, perhaps by the time this Korner hits the streets on Wednesday. A news conference Monday announced the transfer of ownership.
The news conference came three days short of six months after McLane and investment banker Steve Greenberg announced the team was for sale.
Of course after all the I’s are dotted and the T’s are crossed, the sale still has to be examined and approved by Major League Baseball, which normally takes upward to two months. “We’ve had an agreement in principle for a couple of weeks,” McLane told the Houston Chronicle last weekend. “It just takes time to finish the agreement.”
One of the complications in the deal that features a $680 million price tag is the negotiations involving Minute Maid Park, which is owned by the Harris County-Houston Sports Authority.
In 31 seasons before McLane, the Astros had been to the playoffs three times and had never won a post-season series. The year he arrived 18 years ago the Astros drew just 1.2 million fans.
Despite the fact McLane didn’t know the difference between a baseball and a beach ball when he purchased the team from John McMullen in 1992, he has been a much better-than-average team owner.
He hired good people, put a great product on the field and led the campaign to get the beautiful Minute Maid Park constructed.
“When I bought the Astros, I figured there would be four or five reporters there,” McLane confessed. “There were 200. I couldn’t believe it. This was my first lesson on how deeply people care about their sports franchises.”
McLane will not leave the team on top, but only five clubs have posted more wins than the Astros during his 18-plus seasons owning the team. And just four teams have been to the playoffs more than the Astros over the last 14 seasons, including the elite franchises –the Yankees, Red Sox and St. Louis Cardinals. The fourth is the Braves.
McLane’s leadership was at its best during the 2004 and 2005 seasons, two of the best years the franchise has enjoyed. We remember that both of those seasons started poorly, kind of like 2011 began.
Many of the hometown media advocated breaking up the team and rebuilding before the summer started. But McLane wouldn’t hear of it. He told them they should all work together and encourage the players and keep believing. It didn’t sound like the words of a genius, but the bottom line is that it worked and the Astros won their way into the 2005 World Series.
McLane was responsible for hiring Gerry Hunsicker, rated as the best general manager the Astros ever had. He made sure Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio spent their major league careers with one franchise.
Hunsicker signed Andy Pettitte and Roger Clemens and approved trades for Randy Johnson and Carlos Beltran and for a decade oversaw one of the top five franchises in the major leagues. McLane turned a $115 million investment in 1992 into a $680 million windfall.
But when McLane decided to put the team up for sale, he stripped the team of most of the high-salaried players, trading Lance Berkman and Roy Oswalt and pared the 2011 payroll down from $109 million to $82 million.
The deal was attractive to the 57-year-old Crane and his group of investors even though it will take several millions of dollars to reconstruct the Houston Astros into a competitive franchise once again.
Baseball has been a passion throughout Crane’s entire life while he was growing up in Missouri. He really learned how to pitch while attending Central Missouri in Warrensburg and became the Mules’ mound ace.
The right-handed Crane was 21-8 from 1973-1976 and his 18 strikeouts against Ohio Northern in the first round of the 1974 Division II College World Series remains the school record. He was twice a small-college honorable mention All-American.
So unlike McLane, he has a vast knowledge of what the game of baseball is all about. Don DeFrain, retired director of Central Missouri’s Department of Athletic Enrichment said of Crane, “Baseball is the central core to who he is and what he has become. He isn’t going into baseball just because he loves it. It’s going to be a business, and he will run it well and efficiently.”
Don Sanders, a former Astros minority owner during the John McMullen era, believes Crane will emulate another former pitcher—Nolan Ryan, president of the Texas Rangers and Sanders’ partner in minor league teams in Round Rock and Corpus Christi—in his style of ownership.
“Nolan watched what was going on, found out who he could trust, who got the job done, who didn’t get the job done, and it was well into his second year before he started doing anything,” Sanders told the Houston Chronicle last weekend.
“I think Jim is going to be a Nolan Ryan-type. Jim is smart, he is articulate, he pays attention and he knows baseball. He understands what it takes to have a successful operation as well as a winning ball club, and he will do everything within his power to hire the right people,” Sanders added.
Despite their current lousy record, never have the Astros traded ownership during a time of such stability on the business front. Crane is paying a premium for the ball club and McLane’s share in a new regional sports network.
So the start of a new era with the Houston Astros will probably begin early this summer, after major league baseball approves the deal.
KWICKIES…Former Orangefield all-state football and track star Garey Birt Peveto suffered a fatal heart attack while driving home from the state track meet in Austin last weekend. He was an assistant football coach and head track coach at New Waverly High School at the time of his death.
After a month of playoff games, the NBA is finally down to the final four teams participating in the Conference Championships. The Oklahoma Thunder overpowered the scrappy Memphis Grizzlies 105-90 Sunday to earn the right to face the Dallas Mavericks for the Western Conference championship while the Chicago Bulls went one up on the Miami Heat in the first game of the Eastern Conference finals 103-82 also on Sunday. The two winners of these best-of-seven series will play for the World Championship.
The top five all-time rushers in Dallas Cowboys history are 1. Emmitt Smith 2. Tony Dorsett 3. Don Perkins 4. Calvin Hill 5. Robert Newhouse.
Congrats to the four area baseball and softball teams still involved in the state playoffs. The Bridge City Cardinals won the rubber game against Smithville 10-2 Saturday in the Class 3A Area Round and will advance to take on Giddings in a best-of-three series beginning 7:30 p.m. today (Wed.) at College Park High in The Woodlands. The Silsbee Tigers won twice over Bellville Saturday 14-5 and 8-7 and will take on La Grange in a best-of-three series starting Thursday at New Caney High. The Buna Cougars will take on Central Heights in a doubleheader Friday starting at 5 p.m. in Jasper. The second game will begin 30 minutes after Game 1 ends. If a third game is necessary, it will be played at 2 p.m. Saturday also in Jasper. The Deweyville Lady Pirates beat Woodville in two straight games 3-0 Thursday and 2-1 Friday and will meet Mineola 7 p.m. Thursday at Hudson High School in Lufkin. Game Two is set for 4:30 p.m. Saturday at Hudson High with Game 3 to start 30 minutes after the end of Game Two if necessary.
Texas A&M selected former assistant Billy Kennedy as the new head basketball coach, replacing Mark Turgeon, who left to take the head coaching position at Maryland. Kennedy was introduced as the new coach on Monday. He was named Ohio Valley Coach of the Year twice in his five seasons at Murray State. His best season with the Racers came in 2008-09 when the team went a school-record 31-5, won the Ohio Valley regular-season and tournament titles and beat Vanderbilt in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
JUST BETWEEN US…The Lamar Cardinals scored three runs in the bottom of the ninth inning Sunday for a walk-off 5-4 win and a three-game series sweep over Texas-Arlington. The Cards whipped the Mavericks 10-5 Friday and 14-6 Saturday. The sweep moved the Big Red (28-23 and 14-16 in SLC) into a three-way tie for sixth place and gave them a good chance to be one of the eight teams playing in the Southland Conference Tournament with the winner earning an automatic berth in the upcoming NCAA Baseball Tournament. Lamar’s fate will be determined in the regular season’s final three-game series that begins Thursday against Stephen F. Austin in Nacogdoches.