It's fair to say that no Houston sports team owner got off to a worse start with fans than Jim Crane. There was the forced move of the Astros to the American League. There was the CSN Houston debacle. There were social media blunders. Crane had actually had a deal to buy the Astros from Drayton McLane several years earlier before backing out on the deal. Fans just didn’t trust him.
But the biggest issues the fans had with Jim Crane were not of his creation: The team was bad, and he was not Drayton McLane.
No owner of a Houston sports team has ever bought into as bad a situation as Jim Crane. Les Alexander bought a Rockets team on the brink of a championship, and that has yet to return to that level of success. Drayton McLane bought a team from John McMullen that was stacked with talent in the big leagues (including two future Hall of Famers) and in the minors. John McMullen purchased a playoffs-ready Astros club that was also loaded with talent. Bob McNair got an expansion franchise and has lived off the expansion team excuses ever since.
But not Jim Crane.
The Astros he purchased had essentially been gutted. Houston's farm system was regarded as one of the worst in baseball. Crane was forced to accept the move to the American League as part of his buying the team, and the CSN Houston deal was dreamed up by McLane and Alexander. And for some reason, the people of Houston really liked McLane though he had destroyed the team.
Crane made a bunch of avoidable mistakes when he took over, but none of these actually had anything to do with the baseball team. For all the errors he made on the business end (which have been largely corrected by bringing on Reid Ryan to be the team president), his stewardship of the actual baseball team has made him the best team owner in Houston.
He hired Jeff Luhnow as his general manager in 2011 and let Luhnow bring in the people he wanted. He didn't panic when the team was losing 100-plus games a year and order Luhnow to blow up his plans and go chasing after free agents.
Crane hasn't demanded credit for turning the Astros around. He doesn't step in front of every microphone like Drayton McLane. He sits back and he lets his people work and he lets them earn credit for doing their jobs well.
The Astros are 60-29 and return after the All Star Break on Friday. The lineup is staked at every position, and the team's center fielder, shortstop and second baseman started in the All Star Game. The team is scoring runs at a record pace, and appears to have a blast out while doing it.
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Sure, the Astros haven't actually won anything yet. Sure, there are people who will probably never forgive Crane for playing golf with President Barack Obama. But isn't it refreshing to have a guy like Crane owning this team? He lets his employees do their jobs, and the players handle their games.
Think about it: He's not out advocating unpopular political opinions. He is not constantly on camera, sitting behind home plate and talking to some politician or rich person, nor does he make a point of arguing about officiating.
The Astros have been transformed under his ownership, and his guys are earning national recognition. His general manager’s radical plan for rebuilding the franchise has paid off, and the Astros may be the most dangerous team in baseball.
It’s said that a good manager puts his people in the best position for them to succeed. And without a doubt Jim Crane has done that with the Astros. This Astros team would not be possible without the hirings he made, without the free agent signings he approved, without his buying the team.