Richard Justice: Astros owner Jim Crane has earned the benefit of the doubt

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Bill Greenblatt/UPI/Shutterstock (12437426a) Jim Crane, chairman and chief executive of Crane Capital Group, Crane Worldwide Logistics, and owner of the Houston Astros, makes his remarks after being inducted into the St. Louis Amateur Baseball Hall of Fame in Maryland Heights, Missouri on Thursday, September 9, 2021. Crane, Maryland Heights, Missouri, United States – 10 Sep 2021

Richard Justice: Astros owner Jim Crane has earned the benefit of the doubt

   Jim Crane has earned the benefit of the doubt. In the end, it’s that simple. That’s what 11 years as the best team owner this city has ever had gets you, and rightfully so.

   If Crane fires Astros general manager James Click, it would be bizarre given the franchise’s success (three playoff appearances in Click’s three seasons).

   But Click’s departure is where things appear to be headed, according to reporting by well-sourced journalist Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic. Manager Dusty Baker is also unsigned beyond this season, so maybe Crane will keep them only if they put another World Series ring on his finger.

   However, if Crane and Click’s problems are a clash of personalities, as Rosenthal has reported, that’s a different animal. In that case, Click probably is out the door.

    What then?

   Crane would not do such a thing without a plan, and if that plan is he takes over baseball operations himself, then Astros fans ought to swallow hard and say, “Uh, okay, Jim.”

   Would Crane bring Jeff Luhnow back to the job he lost after the sign-stealing issues became public three years ago?

   It seems nuts no team has hired Luhnow, especially considering some of the people that have gotten jobs. Looking at you, Texas Rangers.

   Luhnow is Crane’s most important hire and the primary architect of the success that followed. Given how ugly their divorce was in 2020—“No, I’ll see you in court!”—that could be a long shot.

   Crane could also elevate a current member of his baseball operations staff to general manager and designate himself the decider, which he already is.

   He surely wouldn’t want to be involved in the day-to-day minutiae of running a baseball team, of which there are hundreds. Not having a general manager is illogical, and Crane surely knows it.

   He obviously has not trusted Click the way he trusted Luhnow and seems to have gotten more comfortable in baseball operations since pushing Luhnow to make the Justin Verlander trade in August 2017.

    According to Crane, Luhnow had hit a wall in his discussions with the Tigers and was not comfortable with either the money or prospects it would take to finalize the trade.

   Crane told Luhnow to make the deal, and he’d worry about the money. That trade pushed the Astros over the top and brought a World Series trophy to Houston and provided the rocket fuel for a lot of the success that  followed.

   Crane, emboldened, was also involved in the Zack Greinke trade, which didn’t work out as well. (If AJ Hinch hadn’t removed Greinke from Game 7 of the 2019 World Series, we’d see it differently.)

   (AJ, if you’re reading this I understand you had the game right where you wanted it by handing the baseball to your best reliever, Will Harris. I also understand that Harris made a nearly perfect pitch to Howie Kendrick, and that his banging a home run off the right-field foul pole was a one-in-a-million occurrence. But as you frequently say: “It’s a results-oriented business.” Let’s grab some Tex-Mex and discuss.)

  Anyway, next month will mark the 11th anniversary of Crane taking control of a mess of a franchise, and that part of this thing should not be forgotten.

   Crane has been the best thing that ever happened to the Houston Astros. They’d just lost a franchise record 106 games and missed the playoffs for a sixth straight year with a roster that had been stripped of most of its value. Even worse, there didn’t appear to be the leadership or the vision to fix things.

   Crane understood that baseball was changing and that there was a new way of doing things. The Tampa Bay Rays were the model for this new way, and that’s what Crane wanted to emulate.

   His hiring of Luhnow from the Cardinals began a rebuild that has made the Astros the winningest American League team the last eight years. Eight years! Think about that. After all the years of mediocrity (and worse), the Astros win more than almost anybody. The AL’s best pitching staff is a byproduct of Luhnow’s work in international scouting and player development.

   Crane’s vision eventually expanded beyond winning games. He assisted in breathing life into the area around Minute Maid Park along with constantly evaluating and upgrading the park itself in all sorts of ways. Twenty-two years after its opening, Minute Maid Park is one of MLB’s finest venues.

   Under Crane, the Astros Foundation is involved in a long list of community projects, including youth baseball and softball diamonds, childhood cancer, homelessness and domestic violence. In this most basic of ways, the Astros are good citizens of our community.

   Crane’s fingerprints are on all of it, and he’s a prototype for what the owner of professional sports team should be. This playoff run begins with an unsettling amount of uncertainty, but I for one, trust Jim Crane’s judgment in deciding what comes next.

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1 Comment

  • I vote for bringing back Luhnow!….BS400

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