James Robert Crane
- Born ~1954
Jim Crane became primary owner of the Houston Astros in 2011. He failed in bids to buy the Astros in 2008, the Chicago Cubs in 2009 and the Texas Rangers (along with Mark Cuban) in 2010. In May 2011, he led a group that purchased the Astros from Drayton McLane for $680 million.
One potential problem with the sale of the Astros emerged when the New York Times reported shortly after the sale that Crane's freight company, Eagle Global Logistics, had been cited by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission for maintaining a workplace hostile to minorities and for discouraging the hiring of African American managers. The company paid $2.5 million to the EEOC to settle the matter in 2000, but given Major League Baseball's own sensitivities regarding the treatment of African Americans in the past, and its current efforts to extend the legacy of Jackie Robinson and of baseball's role in the Civil Rights Movement, it was expected that this issue would come under close scrutiny before the 29 other owners approved the sale.
As part of receiving approval for the purchase of the Astros from MLB owners on November 17, 2011, Crane agreed to move the team from the NL Central to the AL West Division starting in 2013. He was offered some $70 million in exchange for his agreement, lowering the final purchase price to $610 million. The move created two balanced 15-team leagues in MLB, each with three 5-team divisions.
One of Crane's first moves as owner was to clean house in the front office. On November 27th, he fired both team President Tal Smith and General Manager Ed Wade. He replaced Smith with George Postolos, a former CEO of the Houston Rockets NBA franchise, who had worked with him in putting together his successful bid for the Astros, while Jeff Luhnow took over for Wade. He was acquiring a team in full rebuilding mode, and the changes continued into the 2012 season, with manager Brad Mills and two coaches being fired on August 18th. The team's first season in the American League in 2013 was equally difficult, as the Astros finished with the worst record in baseball under first-year manager Bo Porter.
After the 2013 season, Crane filed a suit against McLane and two media companies, accusing them of fraud in misrepresenting the value of regional broadcasts, leading to a loss of "possibly hundreds of millions of dollars". He had acquired 40% of Comcast SportsNet Houston when he bought the team, allegedly without having been made aware that the network only reached 40% of the city's television households, McLane having artificially boosted the value of the network. The Astros decided to end their relationship with the network in September 2013, pushing the network to file for bankruptcy.
After some lean years, the Astros had a period of sustained success starting with winning a division title in 2015. They won the World Series in 2017 - the first title in franchise history - then reached the 2018 ALCS and made it to Game 7 of the 2019 World Series before losing to the Washington Nationals. The organization developed a reputation for arrogance during that period, as they were forever bragging about how they had figured out the game in ways other teams hadn't. Chutzpah came down hard starting in the 2019 Series, when they were forced to fire assistant GM Brandon Taubman for making disparaging comments to women reporters, and then when they came under investigation by Major League Baseball for a sign-stealing scheme implemented during their successful 2017 season. When the allegations were found to be true, both GM Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch were suspended for a year while the team was fined $5 million and forced to forfeit its top two draft picks in both 2020 and 2021. As soon as MLB handed its verdict, Crane compounded it by firing both Luhnow and Hinch. He explained: "I have higher standards for the city and the franchise, and I am going above and beyond MLB's penalty."
Crane was a pitcher in college from 1973 through 1976, with a four-year record of 21-8 with an earned run average of 2.42. The ballpark at Central Missouri State University is named in his honor.
- Brian McTaggart: "Astros owner Crane on Luhnow, Hinch firings", mlb.com, January 13, 2020.