JIM CRANE BOUGHT THE HOUSTON ASTROS IN NOVEMBER OF 2011, AT A TIME WHEN THEY WERE A LESS THAN DESIRABLE ACQUISITION. THE TEAM HAD JUST COME OFF A HORRENDOUS 2011 SEASON WITH OVER 100 LOSSES, AND WOULD GO ON TO REPEAT THAT FEAT TWO MORE TIMES IN 2012 AND 2013. THE FARM SYSTEM WAS BROKEN, AND TALENT WAS IN SHORT SUPPLY. AT THE TIME, THE ASTROS HAD BEEN IMPLEMENTING LITTLE TO NO MODERN ANALYTICS INTO THEIR SCOUTING AND MANAGEMENT STRATEGIES. DESPITE PLAYING IN THE FOURTH-LARGEST SPORTS MARKET IN AMERICA, AND IN ONE OF THE WORLD’S MOST IMPRESSIVE NEW BASEBALL STADIUMS, THE ‘STROS WERE A DUD. SOON AFTER HIS PURCHASE, HOWEVER, CRANE PUT INTO MOTION A FIVE-YEAR PLAN THAT WOULD SEE HIS ORGANIZATION MAKE THE MOST IMPRESSIVE SPORTS TURNAROUND IN RECENT MEMORY. I RECENTLY HAD THE OPPORTUNITY TO ASK MR. CRANE ABOUT EVERYTHING FROM HIS VISION FOR THE FRANCHISE’S FUTURE TO HIS CHILDHOOD DREAMS OF PLAYING IN THE MAJORS.
You played baseball at Central Missouri. Did you have dreams of playing professionally?
I actually had an opportunity to sign when I was a sophomore, but I would have had to drop out of school. My mom wouldn‘t let me drop out of school – she was smarter than I was – and that happened again the following year. I didn‘t get an offer my senior year – I hurt my arm, and so I had to get a job. So, yes, I thought at one time I‘d have a chance to play in the minor leagues.
Were you a Cardinals or Royals fan growing up?
The Cardinals were my hometown team, so I spent a lot of time in St. Louis in the summers working. I actually parked cars in the garage right across from the stadium when I was 16 and 17 in the summer for extra money. The policemen would let us go into the stadium after games started in the standing room only section to watch.
Soon after you purchased the team, the organization suffered some of the worst seasons in franchise history. At any point did you second guess your plans for this organization or your decision to purchase it?
Well, it was tough early on. When we bought the team, it was losing money. And then the new TV deal didn‘t work,
and they had to file bankruptcy, so we had a year and a half there where we didn‘t get paid any TV money, which made it tough financially. But shortly after that, after we had stripped the team and rebuilt the minor league system, in 2015 we could see some progress when we made the playoffs. So, early on it was difficult, but we stuck with the plan, didn‘t flinch. Then quickly, really three years after that, we had a pretty good team and we hope to keep the team competitive from here on out and never go back to those days again.
What drove the decision to make this an organization that was so focused on data and analytics?
We looked at a lot of teams and we could see how advanced some of the teams were compared to the Astros, who were kind of in the Dark Ages at the time as far as analytics. We decided to go all-in on that and actually hired Jeff Luhnow to take on that project. He came with that knowledge and some data and we‘ve really invested heavily on that… [data] allows you to make better decisions with better information. If you make better decisions, you‘re going to have better opportunities to win. So that‘s really what it‘s all about – having good data and good information to make good decisions.
Repeating championships is more difficult to do in baseball than in perhaps any sport. What does this organization plan to do to keep momentum and talent going forward into next season and beyond?
We‘ve already made some additions to improve the team for the upcoming season and we‘ll continue to look to improve the team as we can. But we’ve got a good, young team and we‘ll be intact for quite some time. We also have a good minor league system to draw from. We‘ll keep focused on those two things, keep the minor league system strong, and then add talent as we need it in certain spots as you saw us do last year with free agent signings. You have to get in the playoffs, and then after you get in the playoffs, anything goes.
The 2017 playoffs did a lot for the image of baseball and the Astros were a big part of that story. Where do you see the game, the league, and this organization in 10-15 years?
I think now you’re seeing kids play a lot more baseball, so we‘re really working hard to open city parks – we’ve renovated 23 city fields at nine parks – and get more kids playing baseball. So, I think the game‘s in good
shape. We had a good, competitive team last year with young talent, a lot of spirit, which got a lot of attention. I think that was all good for baseball and, quite frankly, it was great for the city to finally win after 56 years.