Jim Crane's Wagon Queen Family Truckster

added 9/9/2011 by Bob Hulsey

Anyone who remembers the opening scene of the 80s comedy film "National Lampoon's 'Vacation'" can see what former car dealer and current baseball commissioner Bud Selig is trying to do to Jim Crane and his merry band of investors in the proposed sale of the Houston Astros.

For the exorbitant price of $680 million, Crane thought in May he was buying the antarctic blue super sports wagon version of the Astros with the fan favorite Hunter Pence option and the flashy Michael Bourn rally pack. Instead, Bud is making him buy a lemon.

The metallic pea Astros Wagon Queen Family Truckster special edition still has the payroll-guzzling Carlos Lee chassis with the Brett Myers engine that only gets four Ws to the season. Worse, it comes with the $5.5 million Brandon Lyon spoiler.

You think you hate it now, Jim, but just wait until you own it.

Seriously, I'd respect Crane a lot more if he just gave Bud the finger and demanded his money back. How could any allegedly successful titan of the business world tolerate the shabby treatment Selig is giving him, stalling an ownership vote while allowing Crane's name to be dragged through the mud as a racist, sexist war profiteer without anyone rising to his defense?

And worse, if some rumors are to be believed, part of the delay is to pressure Crane into agreeing to shift the Astros to the American League West. Doing so will lower the value of the franchise now and into the future. That MLB did jump up to swat down that rumor only convinces me more that the rumor is probably true. The denials seemed so awkward and illogical that it is hard to believe anyone other than Richard Justice could swallow such malarkey.

Want to give fans some good reasons not to come to Minute Maid Park or watch the new Comcast cable channel the Astros will share with the currently-in-lockout NBA Rockets? How about putting a 100-loss product on the field with a few expensive veterans only a Panamanian could love surrounded by players who would be in AA or AAA if they played for any other organization except possibly the Marlins.

Shift them to a new league with none of the rivals they have spent the past 50 years competing against, put more of those games on the West Coast and force them to accept the Designated Hitter rule full time. Once again I'd like to point out that the American League is already a bad draw when teams not from Boston and New York are visiting.

In short, the Astros that Crane sought to buy in May (in what looked even then as a truly questionable business deal) are now looking far worse as a winless franchise with no marketable players that is about to seriously alienate what's left of their dwindling fan base by switching against their will to an economically inferior league that plays an Arena Ball version of the sport.

And if Crane agrees to this without any reduction in price or demanding compensation, he can add "gutless" or "sucker" to the other undesirable labels being hurled at him, only this time it will be Houston's baseball fans doing the pitching.

The pull of an idyllic family summer retreat to Wally World is enough to make some take leave of their senses and agree to a horrific deal, topped off with a classic bait-and-switch. In the real world, what Selig is doing is called "fraud" and it should not be tolerated.

Crane, Selig and Justice will no doubt tell Houston fans, supposedly with a straight face, what a great deal this all is for the fans. Just like Clark Griswald's disbelieving wife, Houston fans will realize instinctively that they've been conned and their hopes for a winning team will lie flatter than Clark's trade-in for many years to come.

Drayton McLane, for his part, just wants the sale to be over with so he can get on with the rest of his life. I don't believe McLane bargained in bad faith. He's the guy caught in the middle.

Drayton's heart must have skipped a beat when he found somebody was willing to meet his overvalued price for the franchise, even if it was the same guy who walked away from a deal with McLane three years ago.

I don't have the foggiest idea what made Crane back out then but he's got some great reasons to back out now. If he doesn't, he deserves what he's about to get which will include abandonment by a strong percentage of the Astros' current fan base which he may never get back and certainly won't get anytime soon if he continues to put a 100-loss product on the field. He can ask Bud Adams how Houston fans feel about franchises that try to get by on the cheap.

Bob has no connection to Jupiter Chevrolet or the cars on any other planet.