After a year of denials, Astros owner Drayton McLane admitted Tuesday he was on the brink of selling the city’s major league baseball club to Houston businessman Jim Crane after the 2008 season.
Crane, who also put in a bid for the Chicago Cubs earlier this year, was one of the losing bidders for the Texas Rangers on Tuesday night and could not be reached for comment.
A little more than a year ago, Crane was on the verge of buying the Astros to the point where McLane now admits that a handshake deal was in place.
“We had a tentative deal,” McLane told the Houston Chronicle.
According to a person with intimate knowledge of last year’s discussions, the negotiations between McLane and Crane cratered beyond repair after McLane had settled on a price and asked Crane for the money.
Crane, who owns Crane Capital, was the former founder and CEO of Eagle Global Logistics. Crane Capital owns Houston-based Champion Energy Services and Crane Worldwide Logistics.
McLane, a billionaire from Temple, has owned the Astros since he purchased them and the Astrodome lease for $117 million from Dr. John McMullen in November 1992. In April, Forbes magazine estimated the Astros’ value at $445 million.
Shortly after his 16th season with the club, McLane was approached by Crane.
“I don’t want to sell, but when people call, you listen,” McLane said Tuesday.
When approached by the Chronicle a year ago, McLane denied he was close to selling the Astros. Now, McLane admits that he and Crane had a tentative deal before Crane backed out.
According to people close to McLane, the Astros owner was furious that Crane backed out because of the economic downturn. Some observers have wondered if Crane could get enough votes from the other major league owners to purchase a team.
“He called one day and said he was no longer interested in buying the Astros,” McLane said. “In a lot of ways, I was relieved.”
Since McLane bought the club, the Astros have reached the playoffs in 1997, 1998, 1999, 2001, 2004 and 2005. In 2004, they won a postseason series for the first time in franchise history. They brought the World Series to Houston for the first time in 2005.
In failing to land the Rangers on Tuesday, Crane was edged out by Chuck Greenberg, a Pittsburgh attorney whose ownership group includes Astros and Rangers pitching legend Nolan Ryan and the family of current Rangers owner Tom Hicks. Having been given the exclusive negotiating rights to purchase the Rangers, the Greenberg group is expected to pay more than $500 million, twice what Hicks paid for the American League franchise in 1998. Ryan will remain the club’s president.
Crane was helped on the negotiations with the Astros and Rangers by former Rockets president George Postolos, who also could not be reached through messages and an e-mail to his offices.
McLane and his elder son, Drayton McLane III, were in Houston on Tuesday for the Astros’ annual staff Christmas party . At that luncheon, McLane gave his famous “Keep charging, we’re going to be champions” pep talk to about 120 Astros employees.
On Friday, McLane will hold his annual Christmas dinner for top Astros executives.
McLane says that the Astros aren’t currently on the market.
“But,” he said, “nothing lasts forever.”