The Houston Astros will soon be playing the American League and new owner Jim Crane is promising many other changes, too.
Baseball owners unanimously approved the long-delayed sale of the Astros from Drayton McLane to Crane on Thursday, a transaction that requires the team to move from the NL Central to the AL West in 2013.
As part of the Astros’ agreement to switch leagues, the sale price was cut from $680 million to $615 million, a person at the owners meetings in Milwaukee told The Associated Press. Crane said the reported money totals were ”fairly accurate.”
Crane, who flew back to Houston from the meetings for an introductory news conference at Minute Maid Park, said the transaction will be completed on Tuesday.
”We’re focused on bringing a winner back to Houston,” Crane said. ”We’ve got a lot of plans.”
McLane, current general manager Ed Wade and president of baseball operations Tal Smith did not attend Crane’s news conference, and Crane said he will be making staff changes after Thanksgiving.
”Starting Tuesday, when we get in the office, we’re going to review everything, not only the baseball operation, but the marketing operation,” Crane said. ”From soup to nuts, we’ll sit down with all the executives, ask them what they think we’re doing right, ask them what they think we’re doing wrong, and we’ll make some very, very quick adjustments.”
Crane said rebuilding the minor-league system is another top priority.
”Once we get that solid, that will certainly help the big team continue to move forward,” Crane said. ”Starting Tuesday, we’re going to get in the office and review everything. From scoop to nuts, we’ll sit down with all the executives and ask them what they think we’re doing right, and what they think we’re doing wrong, and we’ll make some very, very quick adjustments.”
Attendance has dwindled and the team has finished with losing records in the past five seasons. Last year’s 56-106 mark was the worst in franchise history.
The Astros will be the first team to switch leagues since Milwaukee moved to the National League after the 1997 season. Houston’s move was drawing complaints from fans on local radio call-in shows all day.
Crane thinks fans will eventually accept the switch.
”The fans are key, they’re buying the tickets,” Crane said. ”Over the long period of time, you can make a lot of arguments that the AL won’t be that bad. It does have some positives, and we understand the issues with that. We’re not going to try to look back, we’re going to try to look forward.
”When we get the team turned around and we start winning,” he said, ”hopefully, that will be in the rear-view mirror.”
The Astros joined the major leagues in 1962 as the Colt .45s. They changed their name three years later to honor the city’s connection to NASA and align with the team’s move into the Astrodome. Since 2000, Houston has played in Minute Maid Park in downtown Houston.
The franchise achieved unprecedented success with McLane as the owner, with six playoff appearances in a nine-year span, culminating in the team’s only World Series appearance, in 2005. In Milwaukee, Commissioner Bud Selig saluted McLane, who bought the team in 1992 for $117 million.
”Drayton should have a wonderful legacy of what he did for the Astros, got them a new ballpark and did all these things,” Selig said. ”He sure left a much better franchise than we he came in.”
But since franchise icons Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio retired, the team has moved into rebuilding move, trading stars like Lance Berkman, Michael Bourn, Roy Oswalt and Hunter Pence mostly for young prospects. Last year was awful for the Astros and many games had thousands of empty seats at the ballpark.
It will now be up to Crane to turn that around.
Crane founded a Houston-based logistics company in 2008 and is chairman and chief executive officer of Crane Capital, a private equity fund company. Two years ago, he attempted to buy the Chicago Cubs and last summer he tried to purchase the Texas Rangers, who will be a divisional rival soon enough.
In September, Crane expressed frustration at how long it was taking MLB to move on the sale and noted there was a Nov. 30 deadline. In 1997, employees of Crane’s former company, Eagle USA Airfreight, filed complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission saying there was discrimination. Eagle settled the case in 2005 for about $900,000.
Selig acknowledged the long vetting process.
”I’m very comfortable today telling you he has put together a good group in Houston,” the commissioner said.