Is Drayton McLane Really the Best Astros Owner Ever?

Categories: Baseball, Sports

john mcmullen.jpg
John McMullen, former Astros owner
Sometime this month the 29 MLB owners will approve the purchase of the Houston Astros by Jim Crane. Drayton McLane, the man selling the Astros, will be referred to as the greatest owner in Astros history. The man who turned the team into a winner. Who took them to the World Series. The man who got a new stadium built and who made sure that heroes like Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell were honored.

But in the midst of the tributes, it needs to be asked: Is Drayton McLane really the best owner in Astros history? I know that seems to be the accepted opinion, but is it true?

Let's look at some history. McLane purchased a team that was going through a massive rebuilding stage started by John McMullen and enacted by general manager Bill Wood. The team McLane purchased included a former rookie of the year, Jeff Bagwell. Craig Biggio and Ken Caminiti were emerging as stars. Steve Finley and Luis Gonzalez made up the heart of a good outfield. Pete Harnisch and Darryl Kile were two parts of the rotation, and Shane Reynolds had seen some limited time in the majors. The farm system was stacked and was an envy of the majors.

Nearly 20 years later, Jim Crane is buying a team undergoing a massive rebuilding stage urged on by McLane and put into action by general manager Ed Wade. The team that Crane's purchasing includes an overweight, overpaid left fielder/first baseman, Carlos Lee, and a couple of pitchers that couldn't be traded because of bad contracts. There's some young talent on the team, but the supposed young star around whom the team was to be built, Brett Wallace, has been sent back to the minors. A minor league system that many people consider to be one of the worst in baseball.

The 1992 Houston Astros were a team on the verge of greatness, and over the next 15 years, the team, still living off of the work done by Wood, went to the playoffs six times, made the NLCS twice and made the World Series. The team that McMullen owned only made the playoffs three times, playing in the NLCS twice and losing in two of the most memorable baseball playoff series of all time.

John McMullen is still hated by Houston baseball fans. He fired Tal Smith after the team made the playoffs in 1980. He let Nolan Ryan leave after the 1988 season because he thought Ryan was washed up and not worth the money. He fired Gene Elston and released Jose Cruz and Alan Ashby. He was a carpetbagger who never tried to fit in. He wasn't happy with the Astrodome, and fought to have the county make improvements.

Drayton.jpg
Soon to be former owner Drayton

Yes he did all of those things. But he also hired smart baseball people, with guys like Tal Smith, Al Rosen, Dick Wagner and Bill Wood. He put money into the farm system and into overseas scouting. He saved a team that had been left to flounder in bankruptcy.

Drayton McLane is loved by Astros fans, though many hate what has become of the club lately. McLane, after all, was the owner when the team went to the World Series. He brought Andy Pettitte and Roger Clemens home to Houston. He devoted the 2007 season to Craig Biggio's quest for 3,000 hits. He built a magnificent new ballpark in downtown Houston with huge video screens and a hill and a choo-choo train.

Of course, he trashed the farm system and killed the Venezuelan academy. He got rid of good baseball men like Bill Wood and Gerry Hunsicker and put clowns like Tim Purpura and Ed Wade in charge of the merchandise. He turned the stadium into a shrine for those afflicted by Attention Deficit Disorder. The farm system is a joke. And the team is on the way to its first 100-loss season in franchise history.

McLane's mingled with the fans and gone on the radio. He courts the media and tells corny jokes. He's a Texan, not one of those carpetbaggers.

The Drayton McLane era is almost over. A team that was in great shape and full of young stars and possessing a fantastic infrastructure when he purchased the team has been nearly destroyed. The future was bright in August of 1992. In August of 2011, not quite so.

So who was the greatest owner in the history of the Astros? Maybe that answer's not so obvious after all.

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8 comments
Sancho
Sancho

Drayton is not the best Astros owner ever, but he isn't the worst either.  I agree with Hill that if Drayton had stuck with Gerry Hunsicker and the other baseball guys rather than trying to get involved himself, he would have been hands-down the best Astros owner and one of the best baseball owners ever; however, his insistence on getting rid of the real baseball people and becoming involved in the baseball operations of the team was his downfall. 

Also, his ultimate decision to squeeze as much money out of owning a team as possible without actually having an interest in winning was another nail in his coffin- basically he became more interested in making money than in doing what it took to maintain a winner.  Seemingly every decision for the last 7 years has been based solely on money rather than how it will affect the club's record.  Drayton's penchant for hiring incompetent yes men (Tim Purpura, Ed Wade) to run his franchise is also a strike against him.

All told, Drayton started off as one of the best owners ever, then got too involved in the baseball part of everything, got greedy, and gave up on trying to be a winning franchise and became one of the worst owners in baseball while turning his franchise into a laughingstock.

mollusk
mollusk

If all you want to do is to cut payroll, then buy out El Cabròn's contract and waive whoever else you can, and if possible make trades that make sense.  Trading actual decent players for a pack of gum is just counter productive.  You don't trade your way into a farm system, you have to grow it.  You get guys out of other farm systems because they don't have room to grow where they are.

And the stuff that made us despise McMullen towards the end (allowing us to forget that he also brought in Ryan with the first million buck contract in the first place, as just one example) is pretty much exactly what McLane is doing, the main difference being that McLane is better at advertising.

couldbefan
couldbefan

Is anyone held accountable for allowing the farm teams to go to pot?  Ed Wade is talking about the new prospects from the Phillies now becoming the Astros' top prospects.  Pray tell why didn't the Astros have at least a few equally good prospects?  I don't understand how people can say he's done such a great job?  If he had, we wouldn't be in this predicament.

bitch
bitch

Unfortunately, by default Drayton almost has to be deemed the best owner – new stadium, team's best on-field era, etc. But he's also a CEO / used car salesman and far from ever being a baseball man. He's like the company owner we all know who has no clue what's happening in the trenches, no true understanding of the day-to-day business. Instead he makes trouble when he thinks he's doing good and sugarcoats everything. Plus, he must have always throught the fans were stupid.

DJ
DJ

Drayton is by far the worst owner in franchise history.  Just go by the campfire rule and your article sums that up better than I could.  Hopefully Crane can tune out the mainstream media and realize what an outstanding job Ed Wade has done given the circumstances.

Hill
Hill

If McLane would have stuck to shaking hands and kissing babies instead of sticking his nose in the way the team was built he would have been an A+ owner.  But he, like Jerry Jones couldn't help himself and appeared to be put off by other people getting credit.  So he fired Hunsicker and brought in a puppet.  Then put every dime he had trying to duct tape together the MLB team while completely neglecting the minors.  That is why they are where they are now.

It sucks.  He and the Astros had a great thing going from 96 thru the World series.   They even had a replacement for Bagwell lined up in Berkman, plus a top end #1 starter to build around.  But they couldn't cause the Farm system had gone to complete crap.

For his overall body of work which includes the fantastic park downtown I would still give him a B-.  But man, what could've been....  

JB
JB

Yes, just wish the contracts away!  That will work!

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