On March 25, Jim Crane, the Houston businessman who has made attempts to purchase the Chicago Cubs, the Houston Astros in 2008, and most recently, the Texas Rangers, was on the cusp of (yet again) purchasing the Astros.
And while that report said that Crane was “close”, both Astros owner Drayton McLane and the chief representative of the company brokering the sale, denied the airfreight magnate was about to close the deal.
“It’s not true we have a deal,” said Steve Greenberg, managing director of Allen and Company. “It’s premature to say anyone is the leading candidate. Having said that, Jim Crane has all the qualifications.”
While Crane may have the financial qualifications, there has always been – be it through the Cubs or Rangers sale – rumblings that he does not hold favor with MLB’s owners. Or more correctly, Crane may not have the backing of 75 percent of the league’s owners when a vote to approve the transfer of the sale would occur.
The reasons mentioned in the past have centered on Crane backing out of the 2008 sale of the Astros at the 11th hour, something that was said to clearly upset McLane, and raised eyebrows with the league’s 29 other owners.
But, research into Crane’s past shows that there might be other reasons that the league’s owners may have questions about his character.
In 1997, complaints were filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission regarding Crane’s Eagle USA Airfreight and its position on hiring blacks and women of child-bearing age. The EEOC finalized a scathing 104 page report (most EEOC reports are said to run 3-5 pages), found that to be true, and added that Crane’s company conducted a practice of paying “female and minority employees less than white men who do similar work; did not investigate employee complaints of sexual harassment; and destroyed evidence that the company was instructed to retain as part of the two-year EEOC investigation,” according to a Houston Chronicle article from 2000.
According to the Chronicle story, the following are some of the allegations that were made by the EEOC against Eagle, followed by the company's response where one was given:
Eagle President Jim Crane told his subordinates not to hire blacks because "once you hire blacks, you can never fire them." On other occasions, Crane explained the reason he wanted to keep blacks out of the company was that his top managers are bigoted and they would mistreat the minorities, "giving them no choice but to sue Eagle."
Witnesses also said Crane did not permit the company to advertise job openings because he did not want to create a paper trail of unhired qualified minorities.
To discourage blacks and women from applying, Eagle managers refused to let female and minority applicants enter its secured facilities to fill out job applications. Eagle disagreed with that assessment.
Crane also warned managers not to hire women of child-bearing age because their productivity would be low. And top company officers told employees that women aren't suitable for management positions because male managers won't work with a woman.
In 2001, the EEOC and the renamed Eagle Global Logistics settled the case for $9 million, with $8.5 million going to back pay and damages that were allocated to the class members, which consist of African-Americans, Hispanics, and female employees employed by Eagle at any time between December 1, 1995 and December 30, 2000, and former applicants who sought employment at Eagle during the period December 1, 1995 to December 31, 2000. In addition, Eagle paid $500,000 to establish a Leadership Development Program, a program intended by Eagle and EEOC to benefit minorities and women by preparing them for leadership roles in employment at Eagle.
At the time, Crane said that he was behind his employees, while denying any company wrong doing.
"This settlement represents our real commitment to our employees, and, specifically, our ongoing commitment to a productive work environment free of discrimination,” said Crane in a statement. “Eagle does not and will not tolerate discrimination or harassment in the workplace on the basis of race, age, national origin, gender, nor does Eagle tolerate retaliation against those who might complain of discrimination. While we continue to deny the EEOC's allegations, we feel that it is in the best interest of our Company and its future to resolve this matter at this time in a productive, forward-looking manner. In this regard, and in an effort to provide educational and development opportunities to qualified current and prospective female and minority employees, Eagle has proposed as a part of this resolution with the EEOC, the creation of a Leadership Development Program. Through this Program, we hope to increase the pool of qualified individuals within Eagle for potential advancement at the Company. We also hope to provide meaningful work experience for female and minority students in high school and college in an effort to encourage them to pursue careers with Eagle or other employers in the transportation industry."
That was then. Eagle is not the Houston Astros (or for that matter the Chicago Cubs or Texas Rangers). But, when added to Crane’s backing out of the 2008 deal for the Astros, it could potentially raise questions regarding his character.
This isn’t to suggest that Jim Crane is the modern-day Marge Schott. What it does suggest that when you couple the EEOC report, along with some other prior history, and backing out of the 2008 sale, baseball (and fans of the Astros) may have questions about how a Jim Crane owned Houston Astros might function. That may, or may not be, the reason for the delay. But, it is a matter that could be in play. With MLB juggling other concerns with ownership (Dodgers and Mets, while recently dealing with the Rangers), every aspect of a potential owner is going to be under the microscope.
Click to donate
to Autism Speaks
SPECIAL BUSINESS OF SPORTS NETWORK REPORTS:
Maury Brown is the Founder and President of the Business of Sports Network, which includes The Biz of Baseball, The Biz of Football, The Biz of Basketball and The Biz of Hockey, as well as a contributor to FanGraphs and Forbes SportsMoney. He is available for hire or freelance. Brown's full bio is here. He looks forward to your comments via email and can be contacted through the Business of Sports Network.
Follow Maury Brown on Twitter
Follow The Biz of Baseball on Twitter
Follow the Business of Sports Network on Facebook