Astros sale to Crane, move to AL approved
Houston to shift and join state-rival Rangers in AL West in 2013
MILWAUKEE -- Calling it a "historic day" for Major League Baseball, Commissioner Bud Selig announced on Thursday that outgoing owner Drayton McLane had sold the Astros to a group headed by Houston businessman Jim Crane for $610 million. Selig said that the vote of the owners was unanimous at their final quarterly joint meeting of the year.
After that the waiting dominos all fell.
As expected, the Astros will move from the National League Central Division to the American League West, effective in 2013, and MLB will add two more Wild Card teams to the playoff mix and a one-game play-in perhaps as early as next season. The Commissioner's Office and the MLB Players Association collaborated on those developments during the ongoing collective bargaining negotiations, which are about to reach fruition with a new Basic Agreement.
"This will prove to be what I think will be a very historic day for the sport," Selig said at a news conference immediately after the meeting. "In September of 1993 we added the Wild Card and to say that it has been remarkably successful would be an understatement. Today, we did several things that will contribute to our history for the next 20, 25 years."
The shift of the Astros into the AL West, a division that includes their state-rival Texas Rangers, will give each league 15 teams. All six divisions will then be inhabited by five teams. Houston had long been an NL market. The Astros expanded into the NL as the Houston Colt .45s, along with the Mets, in 1962 and are about to celebrate their 50th anniversary.
MLB will realign for the first time since the Brewers moved from the AL to the NL in 1998, ushering in the era of Interleague Play with those games primarily fit into the schedule during May and June. The new 15-15 format will necessitate playing an Interleague game virtually every day, Selig said. As far as whether MLB will go to a more balanced schedule rather than the current format of each team playing 18 games apiece against their four division rivals is still to be determined, Selig added.
Selig said he had been against losing the regular Interleague period, but eventually came around.
"I came to 15-15 a little slower than many of my colleagues," Selig said. "I worry about that. I love Interleague Play. Attendance was up 19 percent this year, almost 20 percent over the rest of the season. The fans enjoy it, which is all I really care about. So we'll have Interleague Play from Opening Day on and that's good. I've looked at the sample schedules and maybe that will attract people."
Crane's investor group consists of 45 people, including 10 principal investors. The deal includes $385 million in equity, of which Crane is contributing about 20 percent. The remainder came from $25 million commitments from investors and through bank loans. There will be an 11-person board of directors.Selig was careful to say that McLane, not Crane, was the person who accepted the pre-sale stipulation that the Astros move to the AL. Last May, when McLane and Crane came to agreement, the sale price was announced at $680 million. But when Crane was told the sale was contingent on the Astros changing leagues, he was granted a $70 million credit. That discount reportedly is being split evenly by MLB and McLane.
Crane said he wasn't concerned about the realignment just yet. He said he was more concerned with rebuilding a last-place club that had a 56-106 record this past season, by far its worst in franchise history.
"It became evident the move to the AL was an issue," Crane said during his news conference on Thursday. "We had a transaction that was done in May, and with that transaction, it was made very, very clear to us that anybody who owned the team would be doing that. And with that, we sat down with [MLB], and Dayton sorted it out."
Crane had been trying to buy an MLB franchise for the past two years. He and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban teamed last year to try and purchase the Rangers through a bankruptcy court auction, but he lost to a group headed by Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan.
"Our goal is to rebuild the Minor League system, and we'll continue to focus on that," Crane said. "Once we get that solved, it will help the big league team."
McLane, 75, is one of MLB's longer-term owners, having purchased the Astros in 1992. One of the few sole owners remaining in MLB, McLane said he was divesting himself of the franchise for estate reasons."We all have abrupt changes," he said. "I knew when both of my sons graduated from high school and went off to college that life was going to change dramatically. This will change my life dramatically. I went to Spring Training and 18 to 20 games. During the season I'd go to 70 to 80 games at home and a few on the road. I'll continue to watch them on TV and follow them on [MLB.com]." Crane's purchase of the Astros had been on hold since it was taken off the agenda at the last owners' meeting Aug. 18 in Cooperstown, N.Y. Baseball needed more time to vet Crane and his partners as the collective bargaining talks involving realignment proceeded on a parallel track. "This feels very good; I've been trying to get a team for a long time," Crane said. "For those of you who don't know me, I'm from Missouri. We're kind of stubborn in Missouri. I played for the Mules. We had to stick with it. I think now that we've got it done, everyone is very happy. I want to thank Drayton for all he's done in helping make the transition. He was a big part of getting this over the finish line." Also approved on Thursday was the transfer of control of the San Francisco Giants from Bill Neukom to Larry Baer, the club's president and chief operating officer, who becomes the voting member of the organization at all MLB functions. Neukom, a high-powered attorney, plans to retire at the end of the year. "I'll be more involved in the MLB dealings than I have been, and to some degree on the field with the baseball staff," Baer said. "I'll be responsible for our relationship with MLB. And we'll promote other people. It really is a nice story, to be part of a front office that worked very hard together and now to be our representative here. I'm very proud of everybody."
Barry M. Bloom is national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.