A TDIAH Review Of The McLane Era

added 05/21/2011 by Bob Hulsey

With the change of ownership, This Date In Astros History can serve as a useful timeline to reflect on Drayton McLane's almost two decades of running the ballclub.

In some ways, it has come full circle. A fresh Texas-based owner bought a young team in 1992 after the previous owner had taken the franchise to new heights but, for various reasons, needed to get out.

Now, history seems to be repeating itself which should serve as a challenge to Jim Crane. Roy Hofheinz helped to land the expansion franchise and built the Astrodome. John McMullen took them to their first division titles. Drayton McLane took them to their first World Series. So Crane ought to be the owner who takes them to their first Worlds Championship.

No pressure, Jim.

To review what McLane has done in the pasr 20 years, let's let TDIAH do the talking (with additional comments in italics):

1991 -

Feb 15: Potential buyers of the Astros, Ben Love and six others, approach Nolan Ryan of the Texas Rangers to own a share of the team. The group includes Drayton McLane. Ryan declines, citing that an active player cannot also be a team owner.

1992 -

Jul 24: Astros announce an agreement has been reached for the ballclub to be sold to a group led by Drayton McLane Jr.
Dec 1: Doug Drabek, a former pitcher for the University of Houston, signs with the Astros as a free agent.
(Note: The Astros ink pitcher Greg Swindell three days later but, after the two pitchers fail to live up to expectations, Houston will not get a major free agent again until infielder Jeff Kent signs after the 2002 season.)

1994 -

Feb 4: Astros unveil new uniforms that do away with orange as a team color, rainbow stripes on the jersies, and the "H" on the cap. The new look will feature midnight blue and metallic gold with a flying star on the caps and jersies.
Mar 5: Astros owner and HSA president Drayton McLane slams the idea of a new downtown domed stadium, claiming the Astrodome can be refurbished for half the cost. McLane also complains that the $33 millon dollar estimated payroll for the Astros for 1994 is too high.
Mar 16: A poll conducted for the city of Houston at the request of Astros owner Drayton McLane shows 56 percent disapprove of building a downtown domed stadium primarily for the NFL Oilers and the NBA Rockets. Mayor Bob Lanier backs away from supporting the proposed stadium, which sets the scene for the Oilers' later move to Nashville, TN and the creation of a baseball-only downtown facility for the Astros.
(Note: Jeff Bagwell becomes the first N.L. MVP in franchise history but the season is interrupted by a players strike that cancels the postseason and drags into next year.)
Nov 23: Montreal Expos president Claude Brochu blasts Jeff Bagwell's new seven-year $47 million dollar contract, calling the move "a mistake" by owner Drayton McLane. The players strike is still ongoing and the move is seen as counterproductive to labor talks while McLane announces that, in spite of Bagwell's new deal, he will be forced to cut payroll for the ballclub next season.

1995 -

Nov 10: Gerry Hunsicker is named as General Manager. Drayton McLane also announces that the team will continue to play in the Astrodome in 1996 but will be sold to out-of-town interests if attendance does not increase.

1996 -

Feb 2: Speculation that Houston would become a member of the Canadian Football League ends when the Baltimore Stallions announce they will relocate to Montreal. Astros owner Drayton McLane toyed with the idea of bringing a CFL team to the Astrodome as a replacement for the departing NFL Houston Oilers.
Nov 5: Houston voters approve a new baseball-only stadium to be built downtown, with a slim 51% of the vote. Astros ownership had threatened to leave Houston as the NFL Oilers are doing, if the stadium was not okayed.

1997 -

(Note: The Astros make the playoffs for the first time in 11 years, under rookie manager Larry Dierker, but are quickly eliminated by the Atlanta Braves in the playoffs.)
Oct 30: Five years to the day after officially acquiring the ballclub, owner Drayton McLane, Jr. is on hand for groundbreaking ceremonies on a new downtown stadium. It's tentatively named the "Ballpark at Union Station" where the former train depot was located. The stadium is funded in a number of ways and the sale of naming rights will be part of the process.

1998 -

(Note: The ball club sets a team record with 102 wins but lose in the first round of the playoffs to San Diego.)
Dec 10: Efforts to bring Texas legend Roger Clemens to the Astros collapses in spectacular fashion when General Manager Gerry Hunsicker blasts additional contract demands made by Clemens' Houston-based agents during a press conference at the winter meetings. Owner Drayton McLane says he still hopes to make a deal but decides to stand with his negotiators. Ten days later, Clemens withdraws the trade demand but later invokes it when a deal is arranged with the New York Yankees.

1999 -

Feb 23: Architects for the new downtown ballpark propose to Astros owner Drayton McLane a train engine to be placed upon the left field wall. Builders announce the new field is almost halfway complete.
(Note: The Astros win their division for the third straight year but lose again to the Braves in the first round of the playoffs as the Astrodome bids farewell to the tenants that it was named after.)
Nov 4: Astros hold a fashion show. Larry Dierker, Vern Ruhle, Shane Reynolds, Billy Wagner and Jeff Bagwell debut the new uniforms that will be worn at Enron Field. Gone are blue and gold in favor of black, brick and sand. The logo has also been modified, eliminating the slant to the star and making it thicker.

2000 -

Mar 30: Enron Field officially opens with a 6-5 exhibition win over the A.L. Champion New York Yankees, paralleling the feat that occured when the Astrodome opened in 1965.
(Note: The ballpark is eventually renamed Minute Maid Park after Enron's collapse and the re-selling of naming rights.)

2001 -

(Note: The Astros bounce back to win another division title but are turned away again by the Braves in the playoffs.)
Oct 18: Larry Dierker resigns as manager, ending a five-year run that can be argued as the most successful in team history. His winning percentage (.553) is tops for the franchise. His 448 wins rank second to Bill Virdon. The good news was four division crowns in five years. The bad news was a 2-12 post-season record.

2003 -

Nov 3: In an anticipated salary move, Houston trades closer Billy Wagner to the Philadelphia Phillies for righthanded pitchers Brandon Duckworth, Taylor Buchholz and Ezequiel Astacio. Wagner had opened the door to be traded after criticizing the ownership for not making the moves he thought would bring a pennant to Houston.
Dec 11: Lefthander Andy Pettitte signs a three-year deal with Houston for $31.5 million.
(Note: After Pettitte lures Clemens out of retirement to pitch for the Astros, Houston makes the playoffs as a wild card the following season, finally conquering the Braves in the division series and taking the Cardinals to seven games before bowing out one game short of their first N.L. pennant.)

2004 -

Nov 1: Gerry Hunsicker resigns as General Manager after nine seasons. Assistant GM Tim Purpura is promoted to replace him. Hunsicker had overseen five teams that reached the National League playoffs.

2005 -

Oct 19: CELEBRATE! For the first time in 44 seasons, Houston is champion of the National League! Behind series MVP Roy Oswalt, the Astros claim the N.L.C.S. with a 5-1 triumph in Game Six. Houston will face the Chicago White Sox in the World Series.
Oct 28: Thousands attend a victory rally near City Hall to celebrate the Astros' first pennant in their 44-year history. Getting swept in the World Series did little to dampen the enthusiasm. Owner Drayton McLane says "give us one more year" to bring a Worlds Championship to Houston.
Dec 19: Owner Drayton McLane presents to star pitcher Roy Oswalt a $200,000 Caterpillar bulldozer to fulfill a promise he made before Game 6 of the N.L.C.S. Oswalt's strong performance catapulted the Astros into their first World Series as he pitched two of the four victories over St. Louis.

2008 -

Sep 13: Hurricane Ike, a massive Category 2 storm, crashes into Galveston Island doing damage throughout the upper Texas and Louisiana coasts. Minute Maid Park survives with little damage but Houston fans learn that a key three-game series with the Cubs delayed by Ike will be moved to Milwaukee.
(Note: Several criticize McLane for allowing Milwaukee - a short drive from Chicago - to be used as a "neutral" site. He gets one of the games rescheduled back to Houston at the end of the season but the dispirited team plays poorly after the debacle, ending any hopes of another miracle finish.)

2010 -

Jan 11: News leaks out that an investment group headed by former US Olympic Committee chief Harvey Schiller is interested in buying the Astros from Drayton McLane, Jr. McLane has given them a 30-day window to exclusively negotiate a deal but no offer materializes.
(Note: It had also been reported a year earlier that Crane had a handshake deal with McLane to sell the team in 2008 but had backed out of it. That was the first time McLane had acknowledged any interest in selling the ball club.)
Nov 19: Owner Drayton McLane announces that he is officially seeking a buyer for the franchise and has hired a firm to locate an acceptable offer. While investors had inquired of McLane in the past, their offers always fell through. Although no certain timetable was given, the process was expected to take between six months and a year.

2011 -

May 16: The Astros formally announce the sale of the ballclub to a group of investors led by Houston shipping magnate Jim Crane. The reported cost is $680 million dollars, the second highest amount to date for a Major League franchise. The sale awaits the approval of the other owners before becoming official.

I hope Drayton McLane gets a chance to enjoy a long ride off into the sunset. He's done many great things for the franchise during his time as owner. It didn't end the way we all might have liked but the great thing about baseball is there's always tomorrow and now it will be Jim Crane's turn to lead the Astros into the future and, hopefully, take them to heights they've never seen before.