It wasn’t supposed to be like this. For Drayton McLane and Jim Crane, the sale of the Houston Astros was to be a smooth-sailing process. Although MLB protests such actions until sales are approved, a mid-May press conference was called by McLane to announce the $680 million sale to Crane, and since then, it’s been in a holding pattern.
But, why? The answer is far more complex than some have portrayed it. The answer is really about one of “comfort” and that has ebbed and flowed over time. Here’s the latest, plus some aspects that have not been widely reported that are part of the factors in Commissioner Selig and the owners mindset on Crane.
Frank McCourt Casts a Shadow
Rightly or wrongly, what is occurring with the bankruptcy of the Los Angeles Dodgers is key to how Jim Crane is being judged. The view of what is, and is not, the profile of an owner, has changed with the dealings around McCourt. As we’ll see, there’s some parallels between Crane and McCourt that are playing a factor.
The Forbes Report on Crane
It was not new news, but the report on Forbes (see Why Jim Crane Could Become Baseball's Most Controversial Owner) brought fuel to several owners that might have been looking for a reason to not approve Crane. Information to the Business of Sports Network indicates that the war profiteering aspects of Crane’s business caught some off-guard. That, on top of discrimination claims, a class-action lawsuit, and an EEOC investigation, hasn’t helped.
Crane’s Bitter Divorce
It wasn’t on the economic scale that Frank and Jamie McCourt’s divorce was, but Crane’s divorce from his first wife Theresa and their nasty child custody battle was enough to make the press in 2000.
Words were exchanged with [Crane’s current wife] Franci -- Theresa says he was defending his mother while the stepmother was savaging her. It escalated to yelling. Then Jim hit his son, either with an open hand or fist. A scuffle followed. Attorneys for Jim described the incident as Jared attacking his father, spitting on him and wrestling him to the floor "while yelling and screaming obscenities at both adults." The father told him to apologize to Franci.
Police were summoned, apparently by Jared, although an officer took no action. Jared went to his room, stuffed his backpack with belongings and kept right on going out the back door. He stayed at a friend's house, then flew to California to be with his mother and sister. There were more sharp arguments in telephone conversations with Jim before he returned to Houston.
People get divorces, but if there’s one thing that the owners are always looking to avoid, it’s being in the press for the wrong reasons. In speaking to those close to the negotiations to get Crane approved, they say they are well aware of Crane’s prior divorce actitivity.
Crane’s Businesses and Litigiousness
Frank McCourt was known for heading to court before he was an owner in Major League Baseball. Crane’s businesses have been in court…. plenty. In fact, over 15 years, Crane’s companies were in Federal court 130 times.
Chuck Greenberg Exits the Rangers
In a case of “let’s make sure we understand who is owning better”, the surprise exit of Chuck Greenberg from the Texas Rangers has relevancy. While there was nothing that hurt the owners directly, it was an awkward moment when it was discovered that a few short months after Greenberg and Nolan Ryan won the auction to purchase the Rangers, the two had strikingly different management styles. The owners want to make sure that they understand every aspect of any new owner going in when the Rangers situation is piled on top of the current situation with Frank McCourt. The word for the day might well be described as “skitsh”
Could Crane Be Forced to Back Out?
While there’s been plenty of talk that MLB could reject Crane as an owner, what is becoming a larger issue is Crane being able to hold his ownership group together. The large group that has investments as low as $25 million in the deal, could become fragmented over time. For MLB, instead of rejecting Crane, the deal could wither on the vine.
Is MLB Holding the Deal Up to Push the Astros into the AL?
There’s been a lot of talk that the vote to approve Crane is being held up due to his heel digging on moving the Astros to the American League. But, in talking to those close to the situation, the feeling is that if the deal falls through or Crane is rejected, that he could possibly use that as talking point. Those close to the matter say that the league is not pushing for the move to the AL and that it is not a factor in determining when, or if, a vote to approve Crane is taken.
Is the Vote Coming this Week, as McLane Said?
Drayton McLane has said more than once that the vote to approve Crane is going to take place any minute. First it was a 10 days to a week from when MLB announced that the vote was being delayed, and now he’s saying that it could take place this week. But, in talking with sources close to the matter, no vote is slated early this week; a short one due to the Labor Day holiday.
That doesn’t mean it won’t happen. Of course, it doesn’t mean it will, either. Determining the comfort level with the owners and Commissioner Selig is a tricky, and often changing matter. Crane’s approval (or rejection) will be based on how each of the 29 other owners are feeling from one day to the next. Selig won’t move unless he feels good about the approval and that all the votes are there. Clearly, this one is not “sailing through” as some others have, in the past.
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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, and is a contributor to Forbes SportsMoney blog.. He is available as a freelance writer. Brown's full bio is here. He looks forward to your comments via email and can be contacted through the Business of Sports Network (select his name in the dropdown provided).
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