Dear Mr. Crane,
Congratulations on your pending purchase of this fine baseball franchise that has now been around for nearly 50 years. You inherit a team with little to no talent overall on the roster, a thin but rebuilding farm system that's still not close to growing fruit and you overpaid for the team by about half. But I'm sure it's a really good investment!
Seriously, though, I think I can speak for all Astros fans when I say that we are very excited for the new era that you'll bring to the team. As I mentioned on the podcast last night (which you should totally download, Mr. Crane), the man you bought the team from, Drayton McLane, hasn't been a bad owner the past few years. He's left the draft alone, hasn't forced any panic trades or gotten involved with high-profile negotiations. But, years and years of ugly rumors and innuendo about his front office have left fans scarred. You bring an excitement that things may be changing, that the Astros might have a shot at not being mocked openly on the internet by national sites (which is all I care about).
So, I thought I'd write you this letter. I'm not going to preach to you or expect you to take me seriously. I, after all, write for a sports website. It's not like I'm Tolstoy or have the sway of someone like Richard Justice (him you should watch out for). I haven't even been around as long as lots of Astros fans, but I feel I have a pretty good handle on the temperature of the fan base at this point in time. What I'm trying to do is introduce us while showing you what the average Astros fan might appreciate in our new owner. I'll refrain from telling you how to organize your personnel or who to trade, because, well, that's what the rest of the articles on this site are for every day.
This...this is different. Without further ado, let's talk about your Houston Astros and their fan base.
Houston has great fans. They're just jaded. It's no secret Houston fans can be fickle. Years and years of losing can do that to you. First, we lost the Oilers. Then, the two Rockets championships lost their luster when everyone outside of Houston says, "Jordan would have won those too." Then, Albert Pujols broke Brad Lidge and Morgan Ensberg's broken hand ended the Astros chances for a World Series title.
It's been a tough road, but the fans are still there. They come on our site and are passionate about every loss, every play, every pitch that an Astros pitcher throws. They follow the game not just from Houston, but from Austin, South Carolina, even England and South Korea. To reach those fans, you have a simple but impossibly big hurdle. You need to win games.
That's all that matters in the end. Houston is probably primarily a football town, when the local team can lose and lose and still sell out a stadium. Houston can be a pretty rocking baseball town when the Astros are winning. Just ask anyone who was there for the playoff runs in 2004 or 2005. Minute Maid Park was charged with electricity. Put on a replay of the Jeff Kent Game and listen to the fans. You get that from winning.
But, we do understand it takes time to win. Don't go out and trade for Bobby Abreu or do something crazy just to get butts in the seats. We'll patiently wait for Jordan Lyles, J.D. Martinez, Jason Castro and the rest of the youth movement to get here soon enough. That's when you add the pieces to get us over the top.
Until then, you have plenty of options to boost attendance. I'm sure your people will come up with great advertising campaigns to market the team. I'm sure you'll give back to the community to generate that good will. Just don't mess with Alyson Footer and what's she's doing on Twitter. It's God's work, how she's working with new media and interacting with fans. I guarantee it's bought the team a metric ton of goodwill since she started.
If you want to reverse that attendance number, you're going to have to slash ticket prices. There are too many ways to watch a game now, which you should know, considering you're partners in a lucrative regional sports network. To get fans to drive to downtown, pay 10-20 dollars for parking, pay for ballpark food and a ticket, plus the gas there and back, it's a hefty tax on the 'ole wallet. Lowering prices or offering 1 dollar tickets or some other show of good faith will help until this team is interesting again.
But, you can't do it as a panic measure. You have to commit to it. Tell fans you won't raise ticket prices until the Astros post a winning record again. Tell them you will offer dollar hot dogs every Saturday until the Astros make it back to the playoffs. Show them you care now, and you'll be rewarded when the pennants come back.
A quick thing you can do to generate more good will is very simple. Retire J.R. Richard's number. I realize he was only great for a short time, but he was like a supernova when he was here. He made an impression on an awful lot of Astros fans and the tragedy his life took at the end of his playing days was heartbreaking.
Richard was an icon on those early teams and for fans who are teaching their kids and grand kids about the game. By retiring his number, you get to boost attendance with a special day some time, you get to sell more merchandise, and a lot of other clinical, unfeelingly capitalistic reasons. But, by acknowledging the past in that way, you're showing fans you are committed to this franchise, that you're as invested as they are.
Even if you're running this like a business (which you should), its these sentimental moves that mean the most in the long run. Just like the sign to Darryl Kile under the 1997 division champion pennant. His number doesn't have to stay up in the rafter, it could live under that 1980 banner, where it belongs.
Oh, and speaking of the past...Bring back the navy blue and orange. Hey, I said I wasn't going to suggest any crazy changes, but I'm a blogger. I'm not dependable in the least.
In his tenure as Astros owner, Drayton McLane oversaw five different uniform redesigns. He waited two years after buying the team before changing up the uniform and was immediately rewarded with a team that could have gone to the World Series (if not for that pesky strike).
The problem with the uniforms now isn't that they lack pizazz. They certainly sell well and look good around the ballpark, but they're missing something. Ask George about how the Rockets handled their own uniform problem. After switching to those wildly unpopular pajama-style unis after the '95 title, it took the Rockets years to change back to something more traditional, yet still its own design. They didn't bring back the mustard and red unis, but they embraced the old colors with the new.
That's all I'm asking here. You can create whatever design is new and will sell hats and uniforms. But, just take a look at that ballpark and see how many hats are the throwbacks, the ones with the simple star and "H" on the front. That's the design you should strive for. Simplicity with a good color scheme. I don't long for the days of those delightfully awful early 80's rainbow unis, but something with the traditional navy and orange stripes would be fantastic.
Also, lose the pinstripes. If you're not the Yankees or from Chicago, you can't pull it off.
For this last part, I thought about listing a bunch of things you shouldn't do (don't overpay for Cy Young winners like Doug Drabek, don't get burned by Drabek and refuse to sign Randy Johnson long-term, don't trade for Randy Johnson and Carlos Beltran and then refuse to re-sign them, don't get mad because you lost Carlos Beltran and give a giant contract to Carlos Lee), but I thought a simple rule would suffice.
Hire good people. Let them do their jobs.
It seems from what I've been reading about you in the past few weeks, that you prefer not to stay in the public eye. After all those years with Mr. McLane (which have been great), Astro fans need an owner who takes a hands-off approach publicly. That's not to say you shouldn't hold your employees accountable. I doubt you made your money doing things like that. No, just trust in yourself to make good hires and then trust those hires to do their job.
I know you were a collegiate pitcher. You therefore know the game more intimately than I ever could. Use that knowledge not to run the team like Jerry Jones or like Mr. McLane has done from time to time (*cough*Carlos*cough). Use it to keep those baseball people on their toes. Keep them from being complacent. Keep them honest, but let them work, much like Les Alexander does over there with the Rockets.
I'm sure you don't need me to tell you that, but we'd feel a lot better as fans if it were said. We've been burned in the past decade by some bad and dumb decisions. All we want is to hope that things will get better, that this club may mean something for us again. By simply buying this team, you bring us hope.
Don't let us down.
The Crawfish Boxes