The Astros are for sale, the scoreboards are coming down. Busy day at the ballpark.
It was anything but a typical workday on Friday at Minute Maid Park, which might be the biggest understatement of the offseason considering club owner Drayton McLane made it official — his team is up for sale, and he’s hired an investment bank to find a buyer.
How long this will take is anyone’s guess. Could be months, could be years. Drayton said it took about four months for him to finagle a deal with the previous owner, John McMullen, in 1992, but other sales of teams have taken much longer.
So for now, we wait. There are few answers just yet, considering we don’t know who out there is seriously interested in buying the team or if they will be able to come up with the money to seal a deal. One question was answered during the press conference, however, one that a lot of you have expressed in the last few hours. The team will operate under the guise of business as usual, so if you’re expecting the payroll to be stripped down to $40 million with no effort to build a team for 2011, don’t. The show goes on.
“We’ll see where the market is,” McLane said of the pending sale. “There’s no rush to do this.”
McLane was reflective and forthright during two meetings — first with the entire Astros front office staff, and then with the media. He’s owned the team for 18 years, during which the Astros enjoyed their best years as a franchise — six playoff berths, four division titles and one World Series appearance.
Ownership has been a family affair for the McLane crew — Drayton, his wife, Elizabeth, and his sons Drayton III and Denton. Drayton has talked about the business of baseball with his sons since they were in high school, but now that they’re both in their 30s and raising young families, Drayton realized it’s time to move on. Neither son has expressed an interest in making baseball ownership a career, and with that understanding, the elder McLane made the decision to sell the club.
Press conferences are designed to answer pointing questions from the media, but there were a couple of off-the-cuff poignant moments that stood out as well. It was very moving to hear Drayton mention the late Neil Hohlfeld, who covered the Astros for the Houston Chronicle during McLane’s early years as owner. McLane identified Hohlfeld as the one who taught him the nuts and bolts of the business of baseball with a firm hand, while having no problem admonishing Drayton when he stumbled.
“I made several public speeches (in the early years) and if I said something inaccurate about baseball, Neil would pull me aside and say, “get it right.”
McLane said Hohlfeld was his baseball “mentor.” Classy move.
Drayton also told a funny story about when he bought the team in 1992. Rumors were floating around that a family from Temple, Texas — “maybe some country bumpkins,” McLane joked — was buying the franchise from McMullen. Houston Post reporter Kenny Hand was sniffing around, trying to get ahead of the story. The McLanes were listed in the phone book, so Kenny looked Drayton up and gave him a call. Hand quickly learned there was more than one Drayton McLane living in Temple.
McLane’s dad, Drayton McLane, was in poor health and had a nurse taking care of him, so when the phone rang at 10 a.m. on a Saturday, it was the nurse who picked up.
“Kenny asked, ‘Is Drayton there?'” McLane (the Astros owner) recalled. “The nurse said, ‘Is it really important? When we wake him really quickly like that, he has a hard time getting up and focusing on the conversation.’ Kenny said, ‘How old is he?’ The nurse answered, ‘Ninety-two.'”
Realizing he had the wrong Drayton McLane, Hand called another number. Drayton (the owner) was at work, and his wife was at the beauty salon. The sons, as is the case with most teenage boys, were sleeping.
The phone rang, and one of the slumbering boys answered. So Hand tried again.
“This is Drayton McLane.”
“And how old are you?”
In addition to McLane announcing he was selling the team, activity on the playing field at Minute Maid Park was also busy. Around 9:30 a.m., the cranes began the process of removing the old scoreboard for the new one, which will be installed sometime in January. The new video board will dwarf the old one, and additionally, a new scoreboard will be installed in left field. Here are the early images of what is sure to be a winter-long project (with some photos from the press conference tacked on at the end):
Steve Greenberg of Allen & Company will search for a buyer. Greenberg surmised the process could take six to 12 months, or longer.
Drayton conducts an interview with FS Houston’s Greg Lucas.