There was an item written over at Chron.com sports last week that I wanted to address -- yeah, I'm a little late, but I just read it. It was written by one of their fan bloggers, and in a decent post about some of the reasons why the attendance is declining, a statement was made in passing about the reputation of Drayton McLane being cheap had been proven to be a myth. This statement has become fact in the same way that that statement McLane is the best owner the Astros have ever had has.
But just as it's not a fact that McLane is not the best owner the team's ever had -- I've written that the Astros team McLane is often given credit for is actually the result of moves made, and put in motion, by John McMullen and his management team -- it's not a fact that he's not cheap. He's not Rachel Phelps cheap, but McLane is cheap, and that cheapness is evident every time a fan sets foot inside of MMP.
Has anyone ever seen a ballpark, anywhere, that is so laden with advertising? The "Fowl" polls and the Landry Crawford Boxes? The only space on the outfield wall that isn't plastered with advertising is the old-fashioned scoreboard in left field. No matter where one looks, there's advertising. If he could get away with it, one just knows that Drayton would slap advertising on the pitching mound and on Tal's Hill. I've been to a majority of the major league ballparks, and nowhere have I been assaulted with advertising like I am whenever I step foot inside MMP.
It's just as awful if you're not at the game. It's bad enough that Milo Hamilton never gives the score of the game, and doesn't even seem to care about talking about the game, but everything that's said during an Astros broadcast is sponsored. The lineups are sponsored. The umpires are sponsored. The pitching changes are sponsored. The highlights are sponsored. Even if Hamilton wanted to actually give a score every five or six innings, he couldn't the find the time because he's too busy reading an ad -- his sidekicks do manage to give out the scores of the other games, but then again, those scores are sponsored.
And only a cheap bastard like McLane would forbid fans from bringing in their own food. The Astros are the only team in the major leagues that forbids its fans from bringing their own food. So if you're coming to the game, and you want to eat or drink while there, you have to find a bank that's still willing to give out loans because even bottled water costs over four dollars.
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Yes, McLane gave huge contracts to Carlos Lee and Kazuo Matsui, and he gave big contracts to franchise mainstays Lance Berkman and Roy Oswalt. But in the `90s he decimated the team's international scouting budget and cut costs for scouting and player development. He let Bud Selig dictate the contracts he could give to players drafted in the amateur draft -- the reason that Drew Stubbs is playing for the Cincinnati Reds -- and dictated the team's draft decisions on which players could be signed to a cheap contract as opposed to actually doing that revolutionary thing of drafting the best player.
But forget about the over-abundance of advertising, and the broadcasts that are so sponsored that they don't discuss the game, and the concession prices, and everything else. It's well-known that Drayton McLane is a cheap bastard because he was more than willing to endanger the lives of players, families, management, and umpires just because he didn't want to lose the projected revenue from a game against the Chicago Cubs in September of 2008.
So what if a hurricane was quickly approaching the city and scheduled to hit the first night of the series? So what if MLB offered to pick up the costs to fly the Astros, the coaches, team management, and all of their families out of the way of the hurricane? Instead, McLane tried to force the Cubs and the umpires to fly into Houston and play a game on Friday, when the city was preparing for the arrival of the storm, then he was going to have them all sit around in a hotel until it was possible to play baseball again.
Repeat all you want that Drayton McLane being a cheap bastard is just a myth. Repeat it all that you want, but that still doesn't make it true. McLane's about as cheap as they come, and it's the Houston fans who continue to suffer as a result.