Jim Crane is getting a good hard look these days. Whether it’s him, or his investors, Major League Baseball (and likely, Bud Selig) is not comfortable with conducting a vote to approve the sale of the Houston Astros from Drayton McLane to Crane.
The question is, why now? Or more correctly, why did it take so long?
It would be lie to say that I am the one that brought certain aspects of Crane’s background to light, and thus, that is the reason for the delay (see Why Jim Crane Could Become Baseball's Most Controversial Owner). After all, the Houston Chronicle reported about Crane and his company’s discrimination claims by blacks, Hispanics, and women of child-bearing age as early as 2000. It wasn’t until searches against “Eagle Global Logistics”, Crane’s company, that that, and later war profiteering charges, by the Justice Dept. came to light.
But, the media, and possibly MLB, slipped on Crane’s background. After all, he was on the precipice of owning the Astros in 2008 when he backed out of the deal with McLane. He was part of number of suitors for the Chicago Cubs in 2009. And, last year, he quickly married up with Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban to be part of the bankruptcy auction process that had them pitted against a group assembled by Nolan Ryan and Chuck Greenberg to own the Texas Rangers.
The media failed.
I’m as guilty as the next. Crane was simply referred to as a “Houston businessman”. No due-diligence was done by the media that would have brought some of the unsavory aspects of Crane and his company to light. His company not only was charged with discriminatory behavior, but was also found to not investigate complaints of sexual harassment and destroyed documents that were to be retained as part of Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) investigation. Crane reportedly said to subordinates not to hire blacks. “Once you hire blacks, you can never fire them,” Crane reportedly said.
But, if there’s something that should give those watching the baseball industry thought, it’s this: according to league sources, these aspects – part of the public record – were not fully brought to light until my investigation of Crane for Forbes. As sources indicated to me, until a deal is nearly completed, the league does not begin their investigative work. As one executive said, “If we conducted the process on every suitor involved in the bidding process, we’d expend all our resources. We are thorough in due-diligence for those in the final stages.”
Maybe this should be thrown into the current discussion.
The dealings with Frank McCourt have cast a shadow over the view of ownership. McCourt has a history of litigiousness that is coming forward through his steadfast efforts to retain control of the Dodgers.
Jim Crane is not Frank McCourt, but it should be noted that his businesses have been in federal court on more than one occasion. In fact, from 1991 till 2003, Crane’s businesses have been part of 130 federal cases. Whether that has been part of the due-diligence process by MLB, or whether it is a factor of any weight, remains to be seen. However, given that the Crane deal is leveraged to the point of putting the Astros out of compliance with MLB’s debt service rule, and what has occurred with the Dodgers, ownership may see this as one more straw on the camel’s back.
Drayton McLane has now said that the league will approve Crane in a week to 10 days. He said over two weeks ago it would be 10-14 days for the approval to go through. That may, or may not happen. But, this much seems certain: deep looks at who is in line to purchase the next MLB club needs to take place. Whether it is the media or the league, the case of Jim Crane will have a lasting impact on the vetting process.
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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, and is a contributor to Forbes SportsMoney blog.. He is available as a freelance writer. Brown's full bio is here. He looks forward to your comments via email and can be contacted through the Business of Sports Network (select his name in the dropdown provided).
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