New Astros Owner Scores With Nod To Past

Say this for new Houston Astros owner Jim Crane. He knows how to repair images quickly.

After a protracted purchase last summer, where allegations surfaced of war profiteering and discrimination at his previous company Eagle Logistics, Crane found himself the owner of the Astros. That same team had also damaged its own image with a 106-loss season and the trades of two star players in Michael Bourn and Hunter Pence. Oh, and 50 years of history were being tossed away when Major League Baseball forced him to accept a move to the American League as part of his approval as the new owner.

That's why as soon as Crane took charge of the Astros in November, he started fighting what seemed like a dreadful uphill climb about his new franchise. Fans were angry about the move to the AL, they were wary of Crane and his new regime and tired of all the losing over the past few seasons.

Crane hasn't fixed everything, but by hiring Jeff Luhnow as general manager and repeatedly reaching out to fans, he's slowly winning support. Want more evidence?

Look at what Crane did with the latest "scandal" to befall this beleagured club. Word leaked right around the time Houston held its annual FanFest at Minute Maid Park that the throwback Colt .45's jerseys Houston would wear during the season would not feature one crucial element.

No gun.

Apparently, Major League Baseball decided kids could be too traumatized by seeing a weapon on the chest of their favorite ballplayers. "Why won't anyone think of the children?" they cried. And so, the Colt .45 for which the club was named was sentenced to remain on the shelf. The club would still wear the old uniforms, sans bad influence.

You never know what will set off public reaction, but that same reaction grew and grew as people couldn't believe MLB would make the decision to throw away so much history. Also, they thought the gun thing was silly. Maybe it was all about the gun, but what Crane did next was a masterful PR move.

He deflected it back on MLB commissioner Bud Selig.

In a letter sent to a season ticket holder, Crane said he understood the frustration with no gun appearing on the jerseys, that he agreed with fans and that it was MLB who made it a requirement and took it out of the club's hands. In one fell swoop, he blamed the same people Houston fans were only so happy to gleefully rip once again.

This same Selig forced them to move to the AL, right? And gave the 2008 playoff spot to his old club, the Brewers, by moving those Hurricane Ike games to suburban Milwau...er, Chicago. For fans to see their new owner take a stand against Selig? It was a breath of fresh air.

In an even bigger coup, Crane's stance and the unpopularity of MLB's decision snowballed to the point that MLB kicked the decision back to the Astros this week. According to Zachary Levine, the team will make a decision on the uniforms Friday. If I were a betting man, I'd bet the team will announce the guns would officially be back on the jerseys, just like the original Colt .45's wore.

All of a sudden, Crane is the hero who saved more Astros history from being savaged by the Man From Milwaukee. Houston rides again, complete with sidearm on the jerseys.

Crane did something similar when he seemingly slipped up in answering questions back in January. In answering a question about what changes he's considering for the club, Crane said everything was on the table, including the nickname, "Astros." After he said it, another firestorm set off with fans supporting the old nickname almost overwhelmingly.

Just like with the Colts situation, Crane again turned to fans, gauging their reaction and issuing a statement a week later saying the name "Astros" was here to stay. Again, it didn't take much and it may have never actually been considered, but by listening to fans and then announcing there would not be a change, Crane bought a ton of goodwill.

The sad thing is his Astros will need all of it. The current roster may be better than last year's abysmal team, but there's a chance it could be just as bad. Larry Dierker told fans at FanFest that he didn't expect this year's squad to lose 100 games, because "it's really hard to lose that many."

Even if that loss total doesn't top 100, this team won't be making a playoff run in 2012. That means fans will need something more than name changes and uniform fights to stay loyal as the summer drags on.

Think of this offseason as Phase 1 for Crane and Co. Phase 2 begins in the regular season and brings with it an entirely different set of expectations. Crane may have won Phase 1 and started to improve where the club sits. That will mean little and less, though, unless he continues to improve the club this summer.

For now, though, fans have a champion who cares about their history. For now, that may be enough.

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