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Drayton McLane: A Good, But Not Championship, Owner

An in-depth look at Drayton McLane, the man who turned around the Houston Astros organization.

It’s sad how things are ending for Drayton McLane. Before McLane bought the team in 1992, Houston Astros baseball was historically irrelevant and uncompetitive. They had just two playoff teams in thirty years of existence. I’m not sure what the math on that is, but it’s probably not a good percentage. But in McLane’s seventeen years at the helm, McLane brought six playoff teams (and would have been seven if not for the 1994 strike) to the city of Houston. McLane not only put Astros baseball on the map, he also made the Astros baseball a force to be reckoned with. 

In mid-November, to the joy of most Astros fans, McLane announced his intentions to sell the team. McLane is entering what is presumably his last year of Spring Training, pending on how long the transaction takes.

There are a lot of McLane haters out there. There’s good reason for that, and I’ll get to that later. But we, as a fan base, have been blessed by having a good owner. Not a championship owner, but a good owner. McLane has always been willing to spend, and a lot of owners aren’t like that. When the Astros needed a bat, McLane went out and signed Jeff Kent. He then went out and traded for Carlos Beltran. He then gave a contract to Carlos Lee so big that Lee could not possibly spend it all on food. Actually, scratch that. But that’s beside the point. When the team needed to shore up its’ pitching, McLane went out and signed two future hall-of-famers. Andy Pettitte and Roger Clemens, controversies aside, were integral to the success of the Astros just a few years ago.

During his tenure, McLane was not shy with money; he dished out dough for the Astros needs.  We had an owner not blindsided by profit; we had an owner committed to winning.

But what a double-edged sword that turned out to be—commitment to winning. McLane was happy to spend dollars on the team; but he wanted to win so much so that his voice had to be heard. And this is the reason McLane was a good owner, but not a championship owner. He ran the Astros like a business, and not like an investment.

Let me explain that analogy a little bit. If McLane had treated the Astros like an investment (like all successful baseball teams do) then he would have hired baseball personnel to make baseball decisions. And he would have left it at that. Sure, owners can analyze how well they’re employees are doing, and sure, it’s their place to fire them if things aren’t going as planned. But McLane just got a little too much into the baseball side of things, and such a mindset has forced many good men out of this organization.

McLane is not a baseball expert. He made his money selling fruits and vegetables. Maybe he could’ve helped the Astros dietary needs, but McLane, even as the owner, should not have been anywhere near any baseball-minded decision. The Red Sox don’t do that. The Braves don’t do that. And the Cardinals don’t do that. Historically good teams leave baseball decisions to baseball personnel.

But McLane ran the Astros like a business, and he was the boss. He had to mointer and okay everything; and if things weren’t okay, he told his personnel how to make them okay. It’s no wonder that the Astros have downgraded from Gerry Hunsicker to Tim Purpura to Ed Wade. McLane just finds a puppet that’ll fit his hand.

It’s been nearly four months since Drayton McLane put the Astros up for sale, and it’s been nearly four months since the Astros have made any headlines. Bill Hall and Clint Barmes were both acquired, but such deals were made to make this team more marketable to possible suitors. The only major news that has surfaced surrounding the sale is that Mark Cuban has no interest in bidding for the Astros. Any excitement that was spurred from McLane’s November announcement has since settled; Astros fans are in preparation for what could be a long season.

But I believe McLane will sell this team to the right man. If there’s anything McLane has been passionate about, besides Christianity, it’s winning. I understand McLane will do what’s best for him and his family, but for the past two decades, the Astros have been his family too. And we should be treated as such.

Bring us a good owner, Mr. McLane. We deserve one.

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