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Drayton McLane's Legacy With The Houston Astros

Is Drayton McLane a good owner? Should we be glad that he's open to selling the Astros?

Admit it. As much as you internet surfers and writers out there like to beat on Richard Justice, you read all of his columns and blog posts, don't you? You may not respect his opinion, but you consume his writing, right?

Maybe you don't, but I see an awful lot of complaining about him pretty often around Houston sports sites. I know why, too. He makes these crazy statements. He flip-flops his opinion. He uses anecdotes and feelings to decide issues instead of hard data (like us nerds do). He's a classic old-school sportswriter.

He's still a pretty good one, too. I don't know about his opinions on basketball or football, but his baseball stories always have a ring of truth and make me look up to see what he's got to say. I may not agree with him, but I always notice.

The reason Justice can be so polarizing now is that he's a columnist. He's forced to pick a side and write about it. He sells papers and gets blog hits no matter if you're infuriated with what he has to say or agree with him. But, he wasn't always like that. In his former life as a beat writer, he was one of the best in the business. Both Tim Kurkjian and Peter Gammons swear Justice was the best beat writer around, by far. I don't want to get into stories about why that is; suffice it to say Justice knows his baseball.

Why is all this relevant? Because Justice wrote a blog entry last week that got me thinking really hard. It made me totally reevaluate my stance on someone in the Astros organization. Namely, it made me realize Drayton McLane wasn't the bad, meddling owner I had branded him as in my head.

It's an interesting study of a man who may be selling the Astros in the near future, and the only owner I've ever known for our hometown nine. Sure, I was alive before McLane bought the team, but not aware enough about sports to care who the owner was before then. Since then, I have at times thought Drayton was the biggest hindrance to the Astros success and that they couldn't win consistently with him at the helm. I thought his misguided notion that you have to compete every season was wrong-headed and railed against his meddling in the personnel side.

What Justice did was make me re-think that. First of all, do we give Drayton enough credit for getting Minute Maid Park built? It's a great place to watch a baseball game. I know I have a certain sentimentality to watching games at the Astrodome, but MMP is a much nicer experience than the Astrodome was from a viewing experience. He got this TV deal done, which should increase revenue for the team.

Thinking of all that, I decided that I only disagreed with his baseball decisions. I was fine with him as an owner, but I hated that he meddled so much on the personnel side.

Again, though, I considered that more. What has he really messed up on the player side? Well, plenty, but it was all money deals. He didn't pay Darryl Kile, Randy Johnson, Mike Hampton, Andy Pettitte, Jeff Kent, Carl Everett and Carlos Beltran. He forced the Astros to pay for Carlos Lee and Woody Williams. And that's pretty much it. That's a bunch of players he messed with because of the money, but only two of those came after MMP opened. Since then, he's had no trouble spending when he had to. He just spent unwisely, signing Lee instead of Beltran. (Yes, I know that Scott Boras had much to do with that, but I'm making a point).

At the same time, do we think about the trades he okayed during that time? He brought in Moises Alou, shipped out a bunch of people to San Diego for Derek Bell, had those two giants swaps with the Tigers, brought in Beltran, brought in Johnson, brought in Miguel Tejada and shipped out Roy Oswalt and Lance Berkman. He kept Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell in Astros uniforms, which we can all appreciate. Basically, he's not necessarily Peter Angelos. He just likes to negotiate his own deals when it comes to contracts. Does that make him a bad owner?

If you're making a blue print for what you want your owner to look like, what would it be? Mine goes like this:

  • Hires good, smart people
  • Leaves said people alone
  • Opens the purse strings prudently
  • Gives fans an enjoyable experience
  • Doesn't run off franchise icons

I think Drayton has done almost all of those. We can dislike him for the moves he made and for running of Gerry Hunsicker after the 2004 season, but I think I may like Drayton as an owner. As many of the commenters over at TCB have said recently, do we know the next owner will be the same? Will they be worse? It's hard to know, unless Mark Cuban buys the team...

Images by eflon used in background images under a Creative Commons license. Thank you.