My Reply to the Astros' Statement About the Cancellation of the Wives' Gala
"There's such a thing... as manners. A way of treating people. These fish have manners." -- Jerry Maguire
There is no easy way to disband an event like the Astros Wives' gala, a fantastic annual spectacle that's simultaneously raised over $4 million in 23 years for the Houston Area Women's Center while shedding a light upon the need to address an insidious subculture of domestic and sexual abuse in our society.
When you're Jim Crane and you decide that this event will no longer take place, there will be backlash, especially when you have a "goodwill equity account" that looks like a homeless man's credit report.
And make no mistake, after a seemingly endless string of public relations gaffes, that's the situation in which Crane and the Astros have put themselves.
With a television carriage stalemate that has driven fans to a new, heretofore unseen level of apathy (didn't think that was possible), with the Monday resignation of a team president who either fired or prompted the resignation of practically everyone who was in the building less than two years ago, and with a team on pace for 41 wins (You forget that there's an actual baseball team fronting this mess sometimes.), it's not like the Astros have given themselves any room for benefit of the doubt.
Indeed, there's no easy way to dissolve the Astros Wives' gala, however, there is a right way and a wrong way.
I'll let you guess which one the Astros chose.
On Monday, KHOU broke the story that there would be no Astros Wives' gala in 2013, which would also mean there would be no six figure check for the Houston Area Women's Center, a safe haven for many victims of domestic and sexual abuse through the years and the beneficiary of the generosity of the gala event.
Instead, the Astros have chosen to focus the energy of their foundation on the funding of inner city baseball and softball fields, and the teaching of life skills to at-risk youth in our inner cities through their charitable programs like Community Leaders, the Astros Urban Youth Academy and the Astros RBI Program (Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities).
To be very clear, much like helping fund services for abused women and children, providing financial and functional resources to help give underprivileged kids a better chance to succeed in life is a noble and good cause. Jim Crane's plan is to raise more than $18 million for the foundation over the next five years, and for that, he and those involved should be commended.
However, owing an explanation to Astros fans, supporters of the Astros Wives' gala, and the Houston Area Women's Center, Crane's Astros just couldn't help themselves. They had to bust somebody in the mouth on the way out the door.
It's what they do.
The carefully-crafted full statement from the Astros' Foundation Executive Director Meg Vaillancourt is right here:
We have great respect for the vital work done by the Women's Center and are proud of the past support championed by the Astros Wives for the organization. As we discussed with the Houston Area Women's Center (HAWC) executives before the season began, we hope to continue to support the centers clients in other ways now that the prior sponsoring organization of the gala is no longer active. Clearly the decision by the Astros Foundation to adopt a strategic focus on at-risk youth in our community in no way reflects the value we place on the Women's Center.
The Gala was never an Astros or Astros Foundation event; it was previously hosted by a prior Wives organization, which is no longer active because there are no current Astros wives involved with the organization. From the last state filing we viewed, there was only 1 person listed as director and her husband is no longer with the Astros, having departed from the team last year. The other person listed on the publicly available tax forms on file was a paid consultant, who received a portion of fees raised by the Gala each year.
As with most MLB teams, the current Astros wives are very generously working with the official team charity, the Astros Foundation, the Astros nonprofit that seeks to harness fans and sponsors interest in baseball to make positive changes in our community for at- risk and low income youth. Most charities seek to make a greater impact by choosing a strategic focus. This past off season, the Astros Foundation selected a strategic focus: to serve at-risk youth through our cornerstone youth baseball and softball programs.
One of our charitable cornerstone initiatives is the Astros Community Leaders Program, a $18 million investment over 5 years in revitalizing public youth ball fields and supporting youth baseball and softball programs and life skills development, as well as providing special events at those inner city fields and hosting youth teams and volunteer coaches from those programs here at Minute Maid Park. We also will be organizing community service projects with our partners and the youth served at these fields. The improvements to these ballparks are funded by the Astros Foundation and our sponsors at no cost to the city or taxpayers.
The Astros Foundation also funds youth baseball and softball programs for low income or at-risk youth at our Urban Youth Academy in northwest Houston in the Acres Homes section of the city. Funded by the Astros Foundation, UYA provides free baseball, softball and life skills development to children age 7 to 17, with many special events and programming hosted at the Academy by the staff, which are paid by the Astros Foundation. These programs are supported by the team charity's fundraising. Going forward, we plan to expand our team charity's programming and help open the doors to additional opportunities for at-risk youth served by both of Community Leaders and Urban Youth Academy programs.
To avoid any confusion, the party planner for the Women's Center gala, whose fees were paid from the proceeds raised by the Gala, was informed that her services would longer be needed on several occasions, starting as far back as last year. When we learned this had not been communicated to the Women's Center, we met with the HAWC executives and explained in detail our reasoning. The HAWC executive director and Board representatives said they understood the gala was not ever an Astros Foundation event and respected our decision to select a strategic focus for our team charity.
While we were in the process of deciding on our new strategic focus, the Astros Foundation also reviewed details of the Wives Gala and its budgeting, culled from recent publicly available tax returns. We learned that in recent years, in our opinion, it appeared far too much of the funds raised by the gala seemed to go towards expenses, rather than to the charity.
As a best charitable practice, it is common to expect some 70 percent -- or more whenever possible -- of funds raised should go towards the charitable purpose people intended in supporting the event. In the case of the Gala, in recent years, it appears that a little more than half -- and at least in one recent year, less than half - of the funds raised actually went to the Women's Center. It disturbed us that such a large portion of the funds raised specifically for the Women's Center were allocated to pay for the party and/or fees. That was not a standard the Astros Foundation wanted to continue, especially as we had chosen to make an impact by selecting a strategic focus: now serving at-risk children and teens through our youth baseball and softball initiatives.