HOUSTON – Houston businessman Jim Crane is close to finally owning a baseball team, nearing a deal to purchase the Astros.
Owner Drayton McLane said in a phone interview Wednesday that the team has been negotiating with Crane's group "for several weeks," but that no contracts have been signed. He said the deal could be reached next week, but the process could take longer.
Crane, who founded a Houston-based logistics company in 2008, is the chairman and chief executive officer of Crane Capital, a private equity fund company. He would not comment on the reports of the impending sale, according to a spokeswoman at his office at Crane Capital.
Before striking it rich in business, Crane was a pitcher at Central Missouri, a Division II school near Kansas City. But he's struck out on three attempts to buy teams in the last three years.
He first approached McLane about buying the Astros in 2008, but McLane turned him down. A year later, he was in the running to buy the Chicago Cubs, but fell short again.
Last summer, an investment group led by Hall of Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan beat out a group led by Crane and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban to buy the Texas Rangers for about $593 million.
Crane's group appears to be the front-runner this time, although McLane said nothing is set.
"Nothing has been signed," McLane said. "When you're negotiating something as complex as purchasing a major-league sports franchise, there are a lot of details. None of those details have been agreed upon, so there's no agreement to report."
McLane purchased the team in November 1992 for about $117 million. He put the franchise up for sale in November and retained the New York investment firm Allen and Co. to help him broker the deal.
Multiple media reports said McLane's asking price for the Astros is about $680 million. A major selling point is the team's share in a new deal with the NBA's Houston Rockets to create a regional sports network that will begin airing Rockets games in 2012 and Astros games in the 2013 season.
McLane would not confirm the price figure or divulge other specifics.
"We're just not revealing any details until we get a deal done," he said.
McLane, who made his fortune running the family's wholesale grocery business, has been considering selling the team for at least two years. He said in November that the decision to fully commit to selling the team was based mostly on family considerations.
McLane is a fixture at Astros home games, sitting in the front row behind home plate. The franchise, playing its 50th season, has reached unprecedented success with McLane as the owner, making the playoffs six times since 1997.
But Houston has finished with a losing record in three of the past four seasons, and attendance has dwindled as the team began rebuilding after the departure of its most recognizable stars. Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio were both gone by the 2008 season, and Houston traded pitching ace Roy Oswalt and five-time All-Star Lance Berkman in 2010.
After Wednesday's win over Cincinnati, the Astros were 14-23 and in last place in the NL Central.
McLane would not say if he plans to keep a minority share of the team after it's sold, but said he'll still attend games.
"I've owned the team for 19 years, so it's kind of like graduating from college," he said. "You develop a lot of emotion and friendships in the midst of what you're doing. It's a big part of your life."