Unfortunately, Houston Astros owner Jim Crane is the best major sports owner in the city.
When you ask Astros fans their feelings on owner Jim Crane, you’ll probably get some mixed responses. My own feelings on him are mixed as well. He’s certainly not a bad owner, but I wouldn’t necessarily call him a great one either. But the sad state of Houston sports makes him far and away the best major sports franchise owner in the city.
With all due respect to the Dynamo and Dash, soccer’s never really been my thing, so I’m not including them in this. It’s a shame the Comets aren’t around anymore, because they were something special for a while. But as far as major sports goes, in my estimation, we have the Astros, Rockets and Texans. And it’s not even a legitimate competition for best owner among these three.
Tilman Fertitta built up a lot of good will in this city for all the money he poured into the University of Houston athletic department. It seemed like good news when he bought the Rockets, but the wheels have come off rather quickly. There were already questions about Fertitta’s willingness to spend money, but the last couple of months have been a PR nightmare for him.
Coach Mike D’Antoni and GM Daryl Morey both abandoned ship, and now stars James Harden and Russell Westbrook both want out. This is turning into a huge mess and could result in the Rockets having to rebuild. Either way, it’s a drama that will probably continue to play out for awhile.
The Texans have been wobbly for a few years, but have become an absolute dumpster fire ever since Bob McNair passed away. Janice McNair is technically the owner, but Cal McNair is the one calling the shots. For some reason, he allowed Bill O’Brien to amass a ridiculous and undeserved amount of power, and the resulting moves O’Brien made have set the franchise back years.
They’ve largely wasted J.J. Watt’s brilliant career, and they’re doing the same to Deshaun Watson. McNair at least finally fired O’Brien (so O’Brien can’t trade Watt for a bag of peanuts), but I have no confidence that he’ll bring in the right GM and coach. The recent firing of well-respected VP of Communications Amy Palcic due to “cultural” issues only added to the perception that the Texans are a complete joke of an organization.
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Winner By Default
Considering the competition, Crane is indisputably the best. He was smart enough to bring in Jeff Luhnow and let him build the team from the ground up, and that resulted in a championship and a sustained run of success. He’s been more willing to spend money than probably any owner in Astros history, as I really don’t think Drayton McLane would’ve opened his wallet to this extent. We also can’t forget how John McMullen wouldn’t pay Nolan Ryan after the 1988 season, which led to Ryan finishing his career in Arlington.
Speaking of Ryan, that’s now a black mark on Crane’s tenure. He got both Nolan and son Reid involved in the organization, but threw that away late last year by replacing Reid Ryan with Jared Crane, which evidently spurred Nolan Ryan to bid adieu to the Astros once more. Frankly, I don’t care what the circumstances are — when you can have Nolan Ryan as part of your organization, you do it.
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The events of the past year haven’t reflected well on Crane, and the Ryan exodus was only the start. His handling of the sign stealing scandal’s fallout may have looked alright initially, but now it looks absolutely gutless. The Astros were made into a scapegoat for what everyone within the game knew was a pervasive problem, and Crane allowed it to happen.
Not only that, but he willingly took the punishment and seemed to even welcome it. He fired Luhnow and manager AJ Hinch, neither of whom were anywhere near being the most at fault. Hinch already has a new job, and Luhnow is suing the Astros, claiming Crane negotiated with MLB in regard to what punishments would be doled out.
I don’t know what avenues were available to him, but Crane has let his franchise be dragged through the mud and be a public whipping boy for opposing fans to get “drunk on schadenfreude,” as ESPN’s Jeff Passan put it. The Astros reputation has been tarnished for doing something that has been happening in some form for decades, and that many other teams were doing at the same time.
But Crane won’t stand up and defend his team, and that part is unforgivable. That’s why I say it’s sad that he’s clearly the best owner in major Houston sports, because fans deserve better than that. But considering the competition, I suppose it could always be worse. At least the team is still winning.