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Jim Crane Speaks, But Did It Help or Hurt Him in Securing the Astros? PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Maury Brown   
Friday, 09 September 2011 12:19

Jim Crane spoke publically to the Houston Chronicle for the first time yesterday since the mid-May press conference to announce the sales agreement to purchase the Astros. Crane approached the Chronicle in an attempt to address some of the issues swirling around his stalled approval by the league’s owners. It was a needed move, that on one hand, addressed direct issues around the EEOC, war-profiteering and divorce issues, while on the other hand, may have done more harm than good in the eyes of Bud Selig and the league’s owners due to Crane’s comments about being impatient.

On the EEOC investigation involving discrimination (see this 2000 article from the Houston Chronicle for details), Crane said that all of them were unfounded, even though over 200 claims were not fought. According to Crane, it was a matter of business economics, not that they were valid.

“The company ended up settling a small group of claims only because the board felt that it was more economical for the shareholders to go ahead and pay out a small number on cases that we could probably have litigated and won,” Crane said. “I didn’t want to pay the claims, but when it costs $3 million to try them and $900,000 to pay them out, it’s a business decision at that point.”

But, there is at least one aspect of the EEOC investigation that needs some clarification when in the context of Crane’s comments yesterday.

“I was never personally accused of discriminating against anyone, and I have never discriminated with anyone,” Crane said. “The way this is reported is that I’ve had issues with minorities and blacks, and that’s just not the case.”

But, there were claims made directly about Crane. From the 2000 Houston Chronicle article:

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.

On the Justice Department fines that were levied against Crane’s companies regarding war-profiteering, as mentioned in the Forbes piece, Crane and his company have always said it was rouge employees.

“There was not one executive in the corporate office that knew anything about this,” he said. “Once these things were validated, the company sat down with the Justice Department, paid a fine — a big fine — and we terminated the two individuals,” Crane said yesterday to the Chronicle. “Never had the company had a policy or procedure to overcharge or by any means do any war profiteering.”

And while I was not the one to initially report on his difficult divorce from his first wife, it is likely that in running a story yesterday that spoke of the Houston Press story from 2000, Crane decision to speak to the media was largely driven from it.

“They were living in Colorado, and I tried to monitor them as best I could from here and tried to stay involved in what they were doing,” he recalled. “They weren’t performing up to what I felt their potential was. Their mother was moving to California and didn’t let me know their whereabouts, so I thought it was best that they go under my guidance. I sued for custody and won.”

[…]

“They were living in Colorado, and I tried to monitor them as best I could from here and tried to stay involved in what they were doing,” he recalled. “They weren’t performing up to what I felt their potential was. Their mother was moving to California and didn’t let me know their whereabouts, so I thought it was best that they go under my guidance. I sued for custody and won.”

[…]

“It was where I was leaving to go back to California, and Jared and I were saying bye, and I think Mom just blew it out of proportion,” said Krystal Crane-Thompson, now 27, as she and her brother sat at a table in their father’s office. “I think she was just upset seeing Jared and I saying goodbye to each other.”

“It was basically an argument,” said Jared Crane, 28. “It was all verbal; there was no physical confrontation ever.”

“The way our mom did, trying to put us in the middle of it, was not right, but I think Dad always did a good job of trying to keep us out of it and separate,” Crane-Thompson added. “She let her emotions get involved with it a lot, and I think she’s sorry for that. We love both our parents, and we all have a good relationship now.”

As a matter of commentary…

Since before I ran the Forbes story, I attempted to contact Crane. He declined comment instead deferring to his PR rep who has a background in crisis management cases. Crane also declined comment for the Houston Press story in 2000. One wonders whether we’d be talking about these matters if Crane had proactively addressed them when they first surfaced?

In story after to story, the reporting done here on The Biz of Baseball has been about gauging the temperature of the owners on Crane. In the decade of reporting on club sales, I have been hard pressed to see so much that would a topic of conversation for the league and its owners as with Crane. However, Jim Crane is not a victim of the media. He is, unfortunately, a victim of timing.

If Crane were to have been closing the deal on the Astros back in 2008, or the Cubs or Rangers after, he would have likely been approved by the league. Crane said yesterday that he is “impatient” with the league process, but what he really needs to say is, he’s impatient with the league process after what Frank McCourt did to the collective psyche of MLB’s ownership brethren.

Crane can’t point to the media as being the impediment to approval. The ability to be approved is about the comfort of the league and its owners in how a new owner fits in and how each of the 29 individuals is feeling at that time. Frank McCourt has altered that view, and in that, Crane is somewhat of a victim.

And while Crane may truly never have been at the center of the EEOC claims, or the Dept. of Justice investigations, what may be at issue with the owners is his lack of being Harry Truman-esq.

Truman famously said, “The buck stops here,” a phrase indicating that as a leader, regardless of whether bad occurs from underneath you in an organization, as a leader, you are ultimately responsible. Crane hasn’t exactly communicated that.

When the discrimination charges were brought up at the mid-May press conference, Crane dismissed the matter.

“If you’ve done your homework on that, there really wasn’t a problem there,” Crane told ABC 13.

It’s one thing to say that you are not at the heart of such issues. It’s something entirely different to dismiss them entirely. As a matter of PR, is MLB going to be comfortable with someone wholly dismissing the matter? What would Truman have said?

And, finally there’s this. Crane, in the midst of bad timing due to McCourt; in the midst of awaiting consensus from the owners; in the midst of the baggage that has come through his companies, is impatient with the amount of time it’s taken to approve him.

“We have a contract with Drayton,” Crane said yesterday to the Chronicle. “When that expires, then it expires. The contract goes through November 30. You know, that’s a pretty standard process when you sign a deal like that.”

In gauging the owners and Bud Selig, what Crane has ostensibly done with his comments is poke the bear in the eye. Selig (and possibly some of the owners) will undoubtedly be upset at Crane’s comments regarding the process, and in that, his comments yesterday may have done more harm than good.

In Why Jim Crane Could Be MLB’s Most Controversial Owner, I bookended the report with two things. It’s worth repeating here as it’s at the heart of all that Crane’s background and the league come down to.

Owning a Major League Baseball club has a gratification and ego element that, for some, far surpasses a corporate takeover or merger. To buy a team means entering a rare fraternity where you become part of baseball’s incredible lineage. For some, there may be a passion for the sport that has been with them since childhood — a dream of owning something coveted.

But, ballclubs are also unlike other businesses in other ways. They are community assets. The team name is synonymous with the city that hosts it. There is, quite simply, an unquantifiable value to them. They are, for better or worse, a representation of the city itself. From ESPN, to the sports sections of local and national papers, the club is tied to the host city.

So, with that, their owners and executives are held to a higher standard.  They too, become a representative of the community, not too far removed from elected officials.

[…]

[In] a case of the past possibly being a cleansing agent for the future, with so many eyes focused on Crane due to his past dealings, it’s likely that he will work extra hard to distance himself from those unattractive elements with the Astros.

Quite simply, the Astros are not a global corporation – the size of the staff is fractional by comparison. The league is held up each year as having a high level of women and minorities at the executive levels of not only the clubs, but at the league level. In that, Crane is likely to be made to understand the unwritten law that being part of Major League Baseball means playing along with that dynamic.

And finally, while Crane may be the head of the Astros at some stage, ultimately, he will simply be one of 29 other owners lead by the Commissioner/CEO of the league in Bud Selig. He will not be at the top of the heap, but rather need to work toward pushing the league’s agenda forward. Crane will be an extremely visible man in Houston, and one of 30 cogs in MLB’s pecking order.

Since Day One, I have contended that Crane will be approved as the owner of the Astros. His ability to wait this out, and be proactive with the league in how he will work to erase the bad that has come prior in his companies has to be the focus. It is not one thing. It is not the Forbes report, or any other prior stories. It is how they are viewed collectively and how each owner views each element. Crane needs to hold onto that if he wishes to remain in the game of owning an MLB club. Sports is a different business than most any other business. Patience is a virtue.

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Maury BrownMaury 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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