There it was again, in the July 11 sports section of the Houston Chronicle -- Astros owner Drayton McLane whining about all the money he has allegedly lost on the team since he's owned it.
The Astros "have lost $130 million since 1993, including $17 million last year," McLane was allowed to pout without fear of contradiction.
Now's not the time to go into a tedious bookkeeping argument about how easy it is to "lose" money in baseball, especially when you have a deal like McLane had at the Astrodome. "Non-baseball" revenue, gimmicky accounting methods for depreciating the value of players and a host of other three-card-monte routines make it easy to look like you're in the poorhouse. Independent observers have had no trouble rating the Astros as among the more valuable franchises in the majors.
For the moment, let's be like the Chron and take McLane at his word. He lost $17 million last year. He's also, not to put too fine a point on it, a fucking billionaire. Forbes magazine tabbed his net worth at $1.1 billion in its most recent survey of the 400 richest Americans.
Check our math, but $17 million is, what, 1.5 percent of $1.1 billion, right? Let's do some more figuring: The median income for a family of four in Houston this year is about $42,000, according to the U.S. Census. And 1.5 percent of $42,000 is $630.
According to the annual survey by the sports-business publication Team Marketing Report, it costs a family of four $162 to attend an Astros game at Enron Field. So if that family tried to go to just four games this year, it'd take a bigger bite out of their finances than what McLane's whining about.
We're sure there are huge flaws in our reasoning somewhere, but the point is the Chronicle consistently allows McLane to get away with his bellyaching. A quick search of the paper's sports-section archives shows one instance of referring to McLane as a billionaire. That was in a wire-service column by a Philadelphia sportswriter who said the Astros owner "has his hands in more pies than Braves owner Ted Turner."
We're sure someone got reprimanded for allowing such an egregious slander to slip into the paper, because it hasn't happened since. The epithet "billionaire" has instead been reserved on the sports pages for such villains as Eli Broad, who was trying to land an NFL franchise for Los Angeles instead of Houston, and Rupert Murdoch, who was spending money on his baseball team like -- well, like someone who had a billion dollars to spend.
But our Drayton, he's just a guy from Temple who does him a little supplyin' to the local supermarkets. And he's losing almost as much money as a family of four does trying to see the Astros a few times a year.
As long as we're on the subject of poor, abused sports-team owners, the Chron has added another gem to its ever-growing collection of Infamous Last Paragraphs about the Rockets. Throughout its campaign to get the city and county to build a new basketball arena, the paper has been offhandedly tossing in last paragraphs that seem to contradict much of its earlier reporting.
For months the paper has been vehemently assuring readers that cities such as Louisville, Las Vegas, New Orleans, Baltimore and St. Louis were eagerly waiting to snap up the Rockets.
The Chron has been forced to admit that Louisville's efforts have been perhaps wildly overstated; in a last graf July 13 it slipped in word that, ummmm, all the other cities are long shots too.
"[W]ith the efforts of Rockets suitor Louisville, Ky. to attract the team hemorrhaging, and Las Vegas no longer an option, it is unclear where the team could go if efforts to complete the arena agreement here fail."
"Las Vegas no longer an option"? When did that occur? Search the archives using "Vegas" and "Rockets" and "arena" and you only get stories listing Louisville and Vegas as "front-runners." Did the Chron somehow write -- and bury -- a story eliminating Las Vegas that somehow didn't use those three words?
This last graf is right up there with the April 26 effort, a by-the-way comment that "Other cities mentioned in the past as possible contenders to attract the Rockets, such as New Orleans and Baltimore, are now unattractive, sources close to the team have said."
Since when did O. Henry start writing for the Chron?
We Interrupt This Program
Great moments in television (a continuing series): It's about 11 a.m. on July 10. Channel 2 breaks into regular programming for Breaking News. A Middle East peace agreement? A plane crash? A lame and pointless police chase?
No. Viewers instead were treated to LIVE! pictures of a horse that had gotten itself stuck in a drainage pipe. A horse.
Activity in Houston slowed to a crawl as residents dropped everything to watch, pray to their God and give a perhaps too-long-delayed hug to their own horses. We guess.
On July 6 the federal government's Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a report with the startling news that Houston was the nation's worst major city when it came to immunizing children. Only two of every three children here are properly immunized, the report said, compared to a national average of 80 percent.
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The Chronicle stuffed the story inside, running a brief non-bylined wire story with some local quotes about how Houston officials are really, really working hard on the problem. The bizarre headline: "Immunization Rate Among Worst: Despite Study, Official Says City Working to Avoid an Epidemic." (Gee, one would hope so.)
The importance of the report got an upgrade the next day, when it made the front of the Metro section. Kind of. The story that day: An outraged spokesman for George W. Bush railed against a Democratic Party ad calling attention to the study through a satirical "travelers' warning" about conditions here.
"Dems' 'Warning' Called Insult to All Texans," the headline thundered.
There's something insulting about all this, but we don't think it's the Democrats' ad.