New Astros owner Jim Crane emerges as a realist, tells fans not to expect aquick fix
OK, so Jim Crane tried to step away from the microphone in his first press conference as the Houston Astros' new owner before anyone could even ask a question. Which brought about a playful rebuke from Drayton McLane, the man selling him the team.
"Don't leave," McLane screeched. "All this is just starting. This is the fun part right here."
Crane stayed, took every query in "the fun part" (the question and answer with reporters) and showed that he's not just going to spew empty happy talk at Astros fans. Even if it's his first press conference, even if, as Crane went out of his way to remind several times, he's not even officially the owner until Major League Baseball completes its approval process.
The 57-year-old successful businessman and baseball nut knows that he and his high-powered partners are buying a 15-25 team, the second-worst team in baseball record wise, for $680 million.
Even on day one, Crane is too much of a realist to dodge that truth. This team is in a bad way (on the field) and there is no easy road back.
"I won't stand here today and tell you we're going to improve it immediately," Crane said in a side interview, at least slightly removed from the frenzy of the main press conference show. Earlier in the press conference, Crane laid out the Astros' current reality with, "I don't think anybody in the room is happy where we're at."
When Crane didn't have every eye and TV camera in the room trained on him, he was more specific about what he felt the Astros need to focus on. "I think it starts in the draft," he said. "With what we do with the draft and how we approach those."
The 2011 MLB Draft is June 6-8 this year. Crane's ownership group isn't likely to be officially approved to take over by MLB by then (June 28 has emerged as something of an expected, tentative takeover date, sources tell CultureMap). But you have to believe that Crane and his hand-chosen CEO George Postolos — who Crane confirmed will have a prominent role in the organization Monday — will have plenty of input.
Whatever happens in this draft, it's clear that Crane is focused on player development and building up the farm system.
He all but dismissed the New York Yankees' model of relying on mega-dollar, free-agent signees to make up for mistakes in player development. Crane noted that while the philosophy has been successful for the Yankees, he's not sure that it would work in the Houston market. Especially with a bunch of high-powered partners who expect that this deal will (at least eventually) make them money.
"I can tell you right now, that my partners aren't going to be excited to keep writing check after check," Crane said. "We have to build this the smart way."
CultureMap first reported on Sunday that Crane's partners in the deal include Kinder Morgan co-founder Bill Morgan, Hines real estate empire CEO Jeff Hines and star trial lawyer John Eddie Williams. Those were confirmed by the Astros Monday afternoon. Oilman and Cal-a-Viespa co-owner (with his wife Terri) John Havens, businessman Doug Bauer, John Hauck & his TSI Holding Company, lawyer Greg Allen, Saracen Energy CEO Neil Kelley, Houston insurance power player Will Galtney, high-powered attorney Cary Patterson and CenterPoint Energy chairman Milton Carroll round out the principal investors. Energy trader Michael Gamson is also a smaller investor, sources tell CultureMap.
"Jim is truly honored by the people who've shown faith in him in this deal," Crane's wife Franci told CultureMap. "That's really been one of the overriding things that's struck him."
Before Monday, Crane hadn't said anything on the deal, or anything at all to reporters period. Few have pulled off a media silence so completely and effectively in the face of such interest. When Crane finally spoke, he talked of the fans as he was introduced as the owner who will replace the demonstrative/spotlight-loving McLane, who ran the Astros for 18 and 1/2 years and helped bring the franchise to its first (and still only) World Series appearance.
"First and foremast, you come first," Crane said of the team's fan base. "You are the customer ... Everything we do will be built around building a champion."
Just don't expect the new guy to tell you that it's going to be close to a quick or easy process. On day one of the Jim Crane era, one thing's already apparent: This owner doesn't believe in fairytales — or talking down to anyone.
For more on Crane, the scene at Minute Maid Park and why he'll be a very different Houston sports owner, read an exclusive CultureMap column.