Why Don't We Trust Jim Crane?

USA TODAY Sports

It started from the very beginning, the distrust of Jim Crane. It started when his name came up as a potential buyer of the Houston Astros. Houston doesn’t give Jim Crane the benefit of the doubt. Houston, it seems, enjoys the demonization of Jim Crane. During this week, as financial outcomes were questioned in the shadow of an article by Forbes, I’ve been wondering why the city of Houston doesn’t trust Jim Crane.

Did it start with the fact that he tried to buy the Rangers? After all, in Texas you’re either with the Astros or with the Rangers. There’s no shared sense of fandom because we all live in Texas. You’re Dallas or you’re Houston. He tried to buy Dallas' Arlington's team, but is that really something that would lead fans to always be suspicious of his actions? I don’t think so.

Maybe Houston is still angry that Crane ticked off Drayton McLane when he backed out of a handshake deal to buy the Astros in 2008. After all, McLane was an insanely popular owner in Houston, even while he strip mined the minor leagues and left the Astros in a situation that ensured losing seasons for years to come.

Perhaps the settlement with the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission by Crane’s Eagle Global Logistics in 2001 regarding racial and gender discrimination claims rubbed everyone the wrong way. But again, after a countersuit by Eagle, the EEOC ultimately returned $6 million of the $8.5 million initially set aside for the settlement, so it wasn’t what it once appeared and the company paid its penance.

Certainly none of those things is enough for fans to immediately conclude that Jim Crane is out to screw them at every turn.

I admit that there have been moves made by this front office that have irritated me to no end. Just as an example, that Community Partner signage out in left center field still drives me nuts because it blocks part of the windows that I love. I’m also not wild about the potential move of the Spring Training facility to another part of Florida, but that has more to do with the fact that it’s cheaper to travel to Orlando than it is to West Palm Beach and I like spending a week at Spring Training every year.

Even as decisions happen that I don’t agree with, I believe that Jim Crane wants to build an organization that wins. Why? Some of you will say that I’m just too Pollyanna and optimistic, but those who know me well will know better. Why would Jim Crane buy a baseball team if he didn’t have fantasies about being on the field after a fourth win in the World Series?

No owner buys a team to destroy it or for the status that saying "I own an MLB team" offers. Owners buy baseball teams for one of two reasons from my vantage point: they either love baseball or they see it as a good business investment. In the case of Jim Crane, a successful businessman with a net worth of around $2 billion and a former college baseball player, I’d say that both reasons were motivators.

The thing about ownership of a major league baseball team is that it’s not generally a position of authority in the same sense of most businesses. The decisions of baseball happen on one of two sides of the organization – there are business decisions and there are baseball decisions. And although the buck stops with the owner, there are very capable people with strengths in specific areas that make decisions in those realms.

I find it interesting that a man who hired Jeff Luhnow as General Manager – a move often praised by fans and analysts – isn’t given the benefit of the doubt. That move was, after all, a decision by Jim Crane alone. Twitter praises Luhnow’s every move with #InLuhnowWeTrust hashtags, so why don’t fans trust the guy who bought Luhnow’s plan lock, stock and barrel and gave him the reigns to rebuild a dying baseball club? Food for thought, certainly.

You can’t ignore the success that’s happening at the minor league levels thanks to the moves that have been made on the baseball side of the organization. The Houston Astros will likely be considered to have a top 3 minor league organization after this season. And as Astros fans have painfully learned in recent years, a team cannot survive on free agency alone - the minors are crucial to long-term success. And who hired the guy that has made all of this happen? Jim Crane.

But then there’s also the television problem. No, you can’t watch baseball on television in Houston if you’re a part of the 60% of fans that don’t have Comcast or one of the smaller carriers of CSN Houston and that is certainly a thorn in many fans’ sides. Given that the Astros are the primary owner of the regional sports network, an argument can be made that the distrust of Crane stems from greed that many feel has driven the pricing to a point where carriers are balking.

When Crane purchased the Astros, a part of the $610 million price tag related to the ownership of the new regional sports network. I wonder what the Houston Astros would have sold for without an RSN attached to the ownership? Would it have been closer to the $474 million that Forbes had valued the team earlier in 2011?

Crane is nothing if not a shrewd businessman. Despite evidence that he very much wanted to buy a major league baseball team, he wouldn't do it without intentions of making it as successful as all of his other business ventures and that includes making CSN Houston successful. We as fans may not like the delay in coverage of our team in every home, but any business-minded folk know that a deal has to go both ways and be beneficial on both sides to happen. Carriers can't lose money on it, but neither can the network, otherwise, what's the point of owning it? It's not meant to be a nonprofit. It's meant to be another revenue stream to feed the baseball organization.

There are a lot of questions in the thoughts above. I don’t have all the answers, but I think this is a valid conversation to have. Yes, there are things that fans don’t like that Jim Crane has done. There are also big moves that Jim Crane has made that will help set up the Astros as a winning baseball club for years to come. I think the jury’s still out on Crane in most peoples’ minds, but I have a feeling that sentiment about Jim Crane, like attendance at Minute Maid Park, will rise as the team’s winning percentage does, but in the meantime, it feels like Houston just doesn't trust Jim Crane.

Comments

I borderline LOVE Jim Crane. I love that he stays out of the baseball decisions, and lets Lunhow do his thing. I love that he sees the vital importance in building this team through the draft, and is willing to spend the money it takes to sign

These amateur players. I love that he basically says " I’m running the team and spending my money efficiently and I’m going to be patient and build a powerhouse despite all the critisicm."

I believe he will spend the money when it makes sense to. He will listen to Lunhow and his well paid and put together ( probably best in baseball ) analytical department and pay for players that will help this team.

Crane and Lunhow are joined at the hip, and if you believe in one then it doesn’t take much to believe in the other.

I feel the same

Me too.

I’ll take it a step farther. I think it’s mainly the fair weather t-shirt fans who distrust Crane. Us die hard fans are genuinely impressed with Mr. Crane and the organization he is building. Sure there were some mighty big wrinkles at the start of the process, but anyone who has ever built a business will tell you that there always are. It’s how you handle them that counts. Crane and Luhnow have done an excellent job so far.

Also

McLane was an insanely popular owner in Houston

I don’t remember this being the case at all.

I don’t either.

It's a Mad Mad Mad World

I think it’s because he came in and didn’t promise instant gratification.

Oh, there are the nutjobs out there who complain he’s a racist war profiteer (how does supplying goods and services to our military through a bidding process make one a war profiteer?), but mainly it’s a baseball thing. Well, and maybe a little bit of a money thing.

When Drayton took over, he started right in with that “Be a champion today” rah-rah stuff. He also went out and spent money right off the bat. Basically, it was him saying, “We’re going to win, and I’m putting my money where my mouth is.”

That’s all fine for the casual fan. And it might have even been the right philosophy at the time. But today the team’s needs are very different. We need to build from the ground up (who better than a guy who made his fortune in logistics?) We need to conserve our resources. We need to hold off on the “Win Now” rhetoric.

Crane came in and said, “We’ve got a blueprint and it’s got 2015 or even 2016 written all over it. Save now. Trade pieces. Build from the bottom up.”

While the smart fan looks at this organization and says, “Brilliant!” that casual fan—and there’s a lot more casual fans—says, “But I want it now!”

“But I want it now!” is why the Cubs continually fall apart. It’s why the Angels will implode on their own bloated finances. It’s why the Mets can’t put together a winning formula. Meanwhile, St. Louis is constantly relevant. The Braves are never far from the top. They understand you can’t build a championship and a consistent winner on a bed of sand.

And, unfortunately, we hear those casual fans too often. But the smart fan respects Crane and how he has directed Luhnow to do the right thing.

Sure, I think he’s done some stupid things. The spend-your-own-$10 million comment, though correct, was a dumb thing to say. I think he’s half the problem in the RSN deal. The other half is the other side of it, but the two sides together have been to inflexible to come up with a creative solution.

So you can count me in the “I DO trust Jim Crane” category. Hopefully that makes me a smart fan.

Umm… I mean making money off of war does, by definition, make you a “war profiteer”? No? You can decide if that makes him a good or bad person yourself, but it is what it is. (To quote an actual war criminal: call a space a spade. also before people lose it, I think Clinton and Obama, are war criminals too).

But do I think that means he can’t run a baseball team? Hell no. I trust that Crane will keep his word on building a contender and spending when he needs to spend (I’ll take the egg on my face if I’m wrong). Even if he won’t live up to the top-5 payroll promise, I still trust Luhnow and the baseball ops side can make it work. I’ve followed this team since I was born, lived through the highest of highs and lowest of lows, so there’s no reason to stop now.

The casual fans will come around, just like they always do. Just wait, in a couple years the Chron writ— I mean hacks that bash the Stros at every turn will write stories about how they knew all along they’d be good. Let them cry right now, some fan bases have been through worse for longer, but they’ll be back.

There’s a difference between profiteering and making a profit.

Profiteering, by definition, means that you are making an unfairly large profit because the buyer is in an emergency and can’t buy their goods anywhere else. Profiteering, in many (if not all) states is illegal. Making a profit is not.

Some people think that making any money off of war is unfair, but that is a moral decision that is not universally shared.

Hell, a lot of people think making profit at all is unfair, if it's not them.

Yes

And that crowd scares the hell out of me.

I won’t say which group I’m in on that (should be pretty obvious), but that’s fair enough.

Chron Idiots

There was an idiot who would comment in Chip Bailey’s fan blog all the time about how immoral Crane was for getting a military contract during wartime. I basically put the profiteering thing in to see if he’d rear his ugly head over here.

But, yes, we all have to have a little faith in Crane, and faith can be a frightening thing sometimes. I guess we’ll all find out if we have egg on our faces some time in mid-2015 or by Opening Day 2016.

I think that's really spot-on, BrianTodd.

McLane was an owner for the Casual Fan.
Jim Crane is the real deal. None of that “What have you done to be a champion today” stuff. I believe corporate America certainly has excesses, and that some times the mediocre game the system at that level to ensure their success. But it is undeniable, I think, that there are exceptional, dynamic people in corporate life whose achieve results in ways that makes our system work better. I think Jim Crane might be that kind of guy.

Crane

I see it as a simple case of if the major league team is winning, the owner is fabulous. If the team has the worst record in baseball for 3 years running, he’s a dirtbag.

Fair or not, the owner has the biggest target on his/her back. That’s just human nature.

Let's put it this way

If building a team the way Crane and Luhnow are doing it was easy—if they could do it without backlash from the paying public—the Astros wouldn’t be one of the first teams to go so completely “all-in” on a minor-league-based rebuild.

It’s not a path without risk, both on the PR side and on the baseball side. But I’m willing to give them a long leash to figure things out, just to see how this experiment goes.

Agreed. and Amen!

After living in Houston a bit I would say that average Houstonians have lingering skepticism of any owner after the whole Bud Adams thing. I guess it’s once bitten twice shy.

A+ Owner

Jim Crane has done a great job. Years ago everyone admitted the Astros needed to rebuild, but started freaking out once the process started. Crane bought the team and made his first great hire in Luhnow, stepped back and tossed Luhnow the keys. He’s allowing Luhnow to rebuild without interfering because fans are impatient. His second great hire was Reid Ryan, which made alot of disgruntled fans at that time happy. Ryan is well qualified and a true Texan. Next, he bought the Hooks double a affiliation, another great move. Did the Houston Astros make alot of money this year? I sure hope so! I want the ‘Astros’ business to be successful. Last, for the TV deal, the Astros currently have no leverage. But, you know who does? The Houston Rockets! I’m pulling for the Rockets more than ever so that they can bring the TV deal. With a successful Rockets team businesses, restaurants, bars, home watchers, etc will be clamoring for CSN.

For shizzle about the Rockets-izzle part ...

… there’s nothing like an NBA Finals appearance, nay NBA Championship, to get the hometown market hankering for the CSN.

much more good than bad to this point

I hate the ads in left field, I thought the 10 Mill comment was way too snarky for someone used to being in the public eye, and I felt betrayed after being told we would have a 40 Mill roster this year and it turned out to be 13. Having said all that, he hired the right people, and he’s on board with the right plan. The licklog will be in 2015 when he either does or does not spend money to add the pieces we need to be competitive.

I thought the 10 million comment was hilarious ...

… and is what cemented my faith and trust in Crane. And what is a “licklog”?

LOL, old peoplespeak for the be all-end all

when the rubber meets the road. Put up or shut up time.

when push comes to shove. OK, I'm out of options now!

lol thanks

View All Comments
Back to top ↑