I'm back home for the Christmas Holiday, and it was startling to wake up Thursday morning and walk into the kitchen to find this article in the sports section of the Chronicle. Apparently, the whole "Drayton would consider selling the Astros" story-line has some legs to it. The revelation that the team was almost sold to Houston businessman Jim Crane in 2008 was somewhat startling, considering what a fixture Drayton McLane, Jr. has been with the Astros for the better part of two decades. To read the pseudo-obituary that Richard Justice penned was surreal, to be honest.
While all things, good and bad, must come to an end, I get the impression that most of us would be happy to see McLane sell the team and be on his billionaire way. Which is fine. I mean, the proof is in the pudding, and the Astros' pudding hasn't tasted good in a few years. To think, however, that Drayton's sole objective in buying the Astros was to turn a profit and speak to genteel civic luncheons is misguided. As much as we jump all over him for failing to sign draft choices or allowing the somewhat egregious signings of Carlos Lee, Woody William, Kaz Matsui, et al, I can't help but look past that and to the big picture of baseball in our city.
When Drayton McLane bought the club in 1992, the Astros had reached the playoffs a whopping total of three times in thirty seasons. Their home ball park was the Astrodome, and while we all love the place, it wasn't the greatest place to play or see a ball game. Attendance was minuscule, and the team was a distant third in popularity behind the Warren Moon led Oilers and an up and coming Rockets club. As Justice notes, the Astros were sold for $117 million in 1992, approximately on par with the San Francisco Giants. With the club valued at nearly four times that amount in 2009, McLane the businessman surely has to be pleased at the return on his investment.
As fans (ok, we're all beyond being called fans...super-fans?) we don't particularly care about the profitability of the Astros, beyond any effect it has on the product on the field and our record in the NL Central. Bottom line for the front office means a completely different thing than the bottom line for fanatics like us. Of course, winning on the field usually leads to winning at the box office. Which is truly the confusing part of the Drayton McLane saga for me. For such a savvy businessman, he has seemingly lost his way in determining what will best help his on field product these past few seasons. Attempting to compete by signing veteran free agents and neglecting the backbone of any baseball team- its farm system- has obviously cost Drayton in the short and long run. Surely he has to have realized that.
Now, with the Texas Rangers having gone through one of the more harrowing sales in sports that I can remember, it seems appropriate to consider Drayton McLane's sports-mortality. When ultimately his eulogy is given, I would like to think that fans will remember him for being the man who ushered baseball into relevancy in the collective mind of Houston sports fans, and gave the community a team they could be proud of. He may be a control freak to an extent, and we may not always agree with his hires, fires or in-betweens but if winning is the ultimate measure of a team, an organization and an owner, Drayton McLane has been a success. I told DQ just this past week that I don't care if the Astros never employ a sabermetric idea, as long as they get back to winning games and contending for playoff spots. Looking at the game objectively allows us to have a different appreciation for the decision making process of an organization, which by and large is a good thing.
Often times though, we neglect to mention that baseball is as much about emotion, the emotion of fans, players, coaches and ownership, as anything else. From what I can discern, emotion was lacking in 1992 surrounding our Astros. Their fanbase today is many times over what it was in the early 90s, due in no small part to McLane's ownership. We may get upset with him, but at least there is a palpable feeling towards the team, which I cannot say for certain was the case years ago. In wishing Drayton a fast exit from our lives, let's not be too hasty to dismiss his role in improving baseball in Houston.