On Tuesday, my latest article for Forbes SportsMoney was published (see Why Jim Crane Could Become Baseball’s Most Controversial Owner), a expanded profile on Houston businessman Jim Crane, who after failed attempts to purchase the Astros in 2008, Cubs in 2009, and the Rangers last year, appears to be on the cusp of getting a hold of the brass ring of the Astros on a second swipe.
I have researched and published articles on all the recent ownership transfers. Thousands of words have pumped through The Biz of Baseball and Forbes on the topic. Examples can be found with How Thomas Ricketts Became the Final Bidder for the Cubs and How Chuck Greenberg Won The Texas Rangers to name but two.
The story on Forbes is mostly interesting for one thing: it’s amazing that myself, and Richard Sandomir of The New York Times (see Bias Case May Pose a Problem for Bidder) are really the only two that have reported on past dealings with Crane’s global-supply chain company and their discrimination and war-profiteering pasts via the sports angle (the Houston Chronicle reported outside of the sports section, and is cited in the points below).
Sports sections in the Houston market have been devoid of the report. Whether it’s a matter of just feeling it was not newsworthy or not, it should be noted that Champion Energy, a Crane Capital company, and the Astros are very large Houston Chronicle advertisers.
But, there was more to the Forbes article that didn’t get told.
Background on owners of sports clubs is important. Fans, civic leaders, corporations, media, all should have information on them – good or bad – to get a sense of who will be leading their civic asset. In this case, the Astros.
I detailed the discrimination against blacks, Hispanics, and women of child-bearing age, on top of war-profiteering as part of the Iraq war effort, charges of lack of fiduciary duty, the debt structure of the Astros deal, and then got commentary from a Crane spokesman. As I concluded, while all these aspects should certainly be a concern, nothing in it should lead one to believe Crane won’t be approved.
But, I said there was more, and here it is (all within the public record):
- According to the Houston Chronicle: “Crane showed no interest in investigating or disciplining a manager who told his subordinates that if more "coloreds" were shot, there could be more federal holidays.” (Houston Chronicle, “EEOC report assails Eagle hiring practices,” May 11, 2000)
- Eagle was accused of shredding subpoenaed evidence. “Former Eagle employees reported they were instructed by an Eagle lawyer to destroy subpoenaed documents that hadn't yet been produced and were ordered by a lawyer to create false evidence that would instead be given to the EEOC. “Job applications were purposely destroyed to impede the discrimination investigation. In McAllen, applications were shredded by the company's human resources staff in early 1988.” (Houston Chronicle, “EEOC report assails Eagle hiring practices,” May 11, 2000)
- Over 15 years prior to being purchased by Apollo Management / Ceva International in 2007, Crane and Eagle Global Logistics were involved more than 260 lawsuits, where Crane and Eagle initiated 64 lawsuits just on the Federal and State levels. (Public Access to Court Electronic Records, “EGL; Eagle USA,” See: http://pacer.psc.uscourts.gov/).
The larger question, one raised astutely by Craig Calcaterra of MSNBC (see The dirt on Jim Crane) was this: If Crane were in line to own the Astros (prior), Cubs, and Rangers, and now on the cusp of owning the the Astros (again), surely MLB knew of all of this.
I conducted several interviews with executives within Major League Baseball for the Forbes article. The issue of discrimination was known, but aspects such as the war profiteering, were not. That was concerning given Crane’s multiple attempts at ownership prior. The explanation was that deep due-diligence work does not begin until an exclusive arrangement is reached between owner and potential buyer. Part of the reasoning boiled down to clubs having control of vetting potential owners that could reach double-digits, beforehand. The league is really there to only make sure that the deal does not somehow place the club under extended debt duress, or that there is something so incredibly egregious that it would throw red flags with Commissioner Selig and the owners.
As I outlined in the article for Forbes, there are ways to say that Crane is ultimately not fully responsible for the actions of thousands of employees within his company (although the quotes within the Chronicle story attributed to Crane are damning). In other words, Crane should pass the league’s muster.
If these issues are the past, maybe the one thing that is most disturbing was the way Crane addressed the issue of discrimination within his company.
When asked about the discrimination claims during a press conference announcing the McLane had now entered into an exclusive agreement to close the sale, Crane dismissed the subject.
“If you’ve done your homework on that, there really wasn’t a problem there,” Crane told ABC 13. “We can address that later. But I don’t think it’s going to be a problem whatsoever.”
Saying “there really wasn’t a problem there” is akin to Nero playing his fiddle while Rome burned. There was a problem. Public Affairs 101 would have been to say, “There were problems that we pursued within our management ranks and I, and the rest of the Astros staff, will not tolerate such behavior during my tenure.”
So, Crane’s past will likely – hopefully – create an atmosphere in which the chance for such a culture to persist with the Astros is a non-issue. While MLB informed that a vote to approve Crane would likely be part of MLB’s quarterly meetings in August, a league spokesman said Tuesday that it was tough to say whether it would be July or August when the vote would take place, that it really depends on how complicated the deal is and what Commissioner Selig is comfortable with.
See Why Jim Crane Could Become Baseball’s Most Controversial Owner on Forbes SportsMoney
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Maury Brown is the Founder and President of the Business of Sports Network, which includes The Biz of Baseball, The Biz of Football, The Biz of Basketball and The Biz of Hockey, as well as a contributor to FanGraphs and Forbes SportsMoney. He is available for hire or freelance. Brown's full bio is here. He looks forward to your comments via email and can be contacted through the Business of Sports Network.
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