A First Goodbye To Drayton McLane

added 11/21/2010 by Dr. Bill McCurdy

(This column is reprinted with permission from Dr. McCurdy's blog, the The Pecan Park Eagle.)

As our entire little baseball world knows by this time, Drayton McLane, Jr. has now announced that he is putting the Houston Astros up for sale after eighteen years of family ownership. The news came officially at a press conference conducted personally by Drayton Friday at Minute Maid Park in downtown Houston.

McLane: makes announcement
(c)Associated Press

That press conference itself speaks volumes. This was no corporate announcement, no impersonal and cold statement about an impending change in control of our National League baseball club, and no basis for concluding that this change will be one for the better. No, this press conference was conducted by the flesh and bone, mind and spirit, body and soul owner and leader of the Houston Astros, the one and only Drayton McLane. Jr.

There will never be another one like him in Houston's baseball future - and there may never be another individual face and voice that speaks so strongly and visibly for the ownership of the Houston Astros. Given the general cost of things these days, and the current flow of ownership patterns, the next "face" of the Houston Astros is most likely to be the talking head of some corporate or syndicated group and be subject to a number of controls that presently do not not impinge upon the public utterances of Mr. McLane.

We are going to miss Drayton McLane, Jr. as Houstonians in ways that have yet to register this early in the game of change. For me, it is close to a feeling of saying goodbye to a distant old friend upon the early news of his impending retirement.

Drayton and I are close in age. We were in college separately at Baylor and Houston back in the 1950s, coming of age in different Texas cities under different economic circumstances, but both invested in the values of that earlier period, even though we were not destined to meet until much later in life.

I met McLane in 2004, while I was involved as a volunteer in a project that pertained to the preservation of Texas baseball history. Drayton was both engaged and supportive of our goals and even took it upon himself to address a number of historical preservations at Minute Maid Park that are very important to the story and legacy of the Houston Astros. The retirement of Larry Dierker's uniform #49, Jimmy Wynn's #24, Jeff Bagwell's #5, and Craig Biggio's #7 have all taken place on Drayton's watch since the club moved downtown in 2000.

It is our hope that the club's unofficial plans to create an onsite museum honoring local baseball history will continue in some form in spite of the now impending sale of the franchise. Such a move would send a strong message to whomever the new buyers turn out to be that Houston is a city that cares about its history with the game - and that this historical cord is the real binding force behind our fans' abilities to offer strong support for the Astros. Kill that caring - and a new owner could be left with only casual fan support during pennant-contending seasons only.

I think of Drayton McLane, Jr. as a remote friend. We don't travel in the same social circles, nor do we inter-commerce, but we each are products of the same earlier Texas era, and we both care about history, Houston baseball, and particularly, the Houston Astros. That's a lot of common ground to cover. When I hear from Drayton by e-mail, with a comment about something I've said or written, it's always welcomed and invariably upbeat.

During his eighteen year ownership period (1992-2010 and counting), Drayton McLane, Jr. has taken the Houston Astros into their new downtown ballpark at Union Station (2000) and presided over the club's first and only pennant and World Series appearance (2005). He has received praise and criticism, both for being a tightwad and a spendthrift with certain players, but he has never surrendered his contact with the fans in the ballpark and his salesman's encouragement that we are all responsible for making Houston a champion.

Stories of Drayton's expectations for his employees are now the stuff of legend. Word on the street is that game days were times in which anyone with any hopes of "moving up" often showed up at the ballpark at dawn and stayed until midnight. However exaggerated that claim may have been, the disappearance of certain Astros employees over the years suggests that burnout and attrition cleared several names from the administrative "prospect" list.

It occurs to me that buying a major league sports franchise is a lot like getting yourself elected President of the United States. Both are apparently instant routes to public hatred - and you may find yourself condemned in both cases for what you do and what you fail to do. The difference-maker is that the owner of a sports franchise finds redemption in winning a championship. Winning the World Series would make all Houston Astro fans happy.

American presidents, on the other hand, don't have a single thing they could deliver that would make everyone happy. Even if we had full employment, a robust economy, no racism, and affordable health care, there would still be large groups of people out there, unhappy about something.

Well, we aren't losing a president, nor an owner who delivered that "one-win-pleases-all" World Series victory, but we are losing the only owner whoever got us to a World Series and I, for one, am going to miss him.

Take care, Drayton, and please stay in touch. Your personal welfare remains important to many of us.

(Editor's note: Drayton McLane took the time to reply to Bill's column. We provide that below:)

Bill,

Thank you for the thoughtful blog. I must confess that I am guilty of an elevated work ethic, but I must clarify that it is exaggerated that I expect my employees to work 12-18 hours a day. During the season when there is a home game, they might come in around 9:30 a.m. and some of them stay until the game ends. They do this because they have a high work ethic, enjoy their job, and they take pride in customer service. That's why we have very little turnover, and an overabundance of people trying to get their foot in the door. We have great people who truly care about the fan experience and they deserve the recognition.

Thanks as always for your support!

Drayton

(We at Astros Daily also wish the McLane family all the best going forward and hope the new ownership chosen will represent the Astros and the Texas spirit as capably and compassionately as Drayton has done.)