Culture / Sporting Life

Haters Shame — Astros Emerge as the Model Modern Sports Franchise and Jim Crane Has Them Built For Many More October Runs to Come

Winning This World Series Would Move Houston Past the Dodgers as This Era's Best Team, But It's Not the End of This Franchise's Time

BY // 10.26.21

While this looks like the last run for Carlos Correa, it’s almost certainly not for the Houston Astros themselves. The Astros will open the World Series tonight against the Atlanta Braves as the favorites to win their second title in five years.

Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman and Co. are four wins from establishing themselves as a no doubt dynasty. Another world championship would vault them past the LA Dodgers, those payroll giants, as the clear best team of this era too.

There is certainly a lot at stake when the Astros face off with the Braves and beloved former Astro Charlie Morton, who will start Game 1 for Atlanta. What probably isn’t on the line though is the Astros’ continued success. This is a franchise set up for future October runs no matter what happens in this World Series.

“I can just tell you this team is here to last,” Astros owner Jim Crane says. “And we’ll perform well from here on out and put the best team we can on the field. And we hope to put more flags on that pole out there. That’s for sure.”

The Astros run to this fall classic certainly validates that thinking. Their young prized outfielders have been their best hitters this October. Yordan Alvarez, while already a burgeoning Houston legend, has become a national phenomenon, winning the American League Championship Series MVP with a torrent of booming hits. Meanwhile, all Kyle Tucker has done is lead the Astros in home runs (four) and RBI (15) this postseason.

Then, there are the young aces in training. Framber Valdez and Luis Garcia tossed two of the best games any starter in baseball has managed all October in back-to-back games to close out the Red Sox.

“The combination of veterans and young guys and bringing in new pitchers, like we’ve seen (in Game 5 and Game 6 of the ALCS), is a deadly combination,” Crane says. “And we hope we can pull it off again.”

Dynasty is thy name. . .

With major help from former general manager Jeff Luhnow and new help from current GM James Click, Jim Crane has built the model modern sports franchise in many ways. It’s impossible to legitimately dismiss this run as the mere product of an electronic sign stealing operation (though that won’t stop fans of other teams from doing it). In many ways, Crane has pulled off what the Philadelphia 76ers thought they were going to do with The Process in the NBA.

Eventually, the rest of baseball will have to acknowledge the Astros truths staring them in the face. Under Crane, this franchise cannot be defined by any one season. Or even any one scandal.

The Houston Astros defeated the Chicago White Sox 6-1 behind the pitching of Lance McCullers with a home runs from Yordan Alvarez during the opening game of the American League Division Series
Astros owner Jim Crane is always ready for some playoff baseball. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)

The guy who moved to Houston in 1982, towing his entire life’s possessions in a small U-Haul trailer, and needed a $10,000 loan from his sister to start his first company, has made the Astros a testament to what can be done with an intelligent, driven, relentless approach that is process based. Even if large swaths of baseball are loathe to admit it.

“You have to set the tone at the top,” Crane says after the ALCS clincher. “I try to support these guys in any way I can. Whether it’s the players or the guys working at the stadium, the lady cleaning the windows. I’m a guy that came from nowhere. Everybody’s working hard here to put a good product out.

“Everything we try to present to the fans here. And the harder you work, the luckier you get.”

Click will have to continue to show that he can add complementary and potential new anchor pieces to this Astros mix. But the foundation for a run of another five years is there. The 24-year-old Alvarez (.441 average, two home runs, nine RBI and 11 runs scored these playoffs) and the 24-year-old Tucker are both under the Astros’ control through the 2025 season.

“I can just tell you this team is here to last. And we’ll perform well from here on out and put the best team we can on the field. And we hope to put more flags on that pole out there.” – Jim Crane

The 27-year-old Framber Valdez is also locked in through 2025. Lance McCullers Jr., the 27-year-old Core Astro who emerged as an ace this season before hurting his arm in the playoffs, is signed through the 2026 season. Luis Garcia, the 24-year-old rookie surprise, isn’t even arbitration eligible until 2024.

That’s quite the talent base to add around. Even after 27-year-old wonder shortstop Carlos Correa leaves (which is all but a certainty) to sign a $350 to $400 million contract elsewhere after this World Series run.

“I think we have the resources in Houston – which wasn’t there when I got here — to continue to put a very good product on the field and be a contender every year,” Crane says. “That’s our goal.”

The Astros are setup for the long haul. They are poised to keep winning long enough for little Melanie Altuve, who will turn 4 on Saturday, to really understand what is going on.

“Not yet,” Jose Altuve says when someone asks if his oldest daughter understands the significance of the World Series. “Last game when we went to the World Series, she thought we went onto the field because. . . fireworks. She doesn’t know yet, but she’s a big Astros fan.”

Following this team on a day to day basis can do that to almost anyone with an open mind. It is not easy to make five straight American League Championship Series and three World Series in five years. That is the run of a special team — one that a second title would help validate.

“I think people in baseball understand baseball. And know how hard it is to get this thing done,” Crane says. “It has not been done many times. So you’ve got to give the guys a lot of credit. James Click has done a good job. Jeff Luhnow did a job. Going back to our last manager (A.J. Hinch). Everybody contributes. So it’s not one person.

“We try to make the right decisions and put the best team on the field.”

Even coming up through the minors, Kyle Tucker felt those winning ways being built. Of course, it helps that those Astros minor league teams were absolutely stacked when Tucker was breaking in.

“Pretty much every level I’ve been at, we’ve either made the playoffs or been right there,” Tucker says. “And I played with a lot of these guys that are on the team right now in the Big Leagues (in the minors).

“Coming up, we’d win a lot of games. Our team was always very talented, which you guys can see now.”

Eventually, the rest of baseball will have to acknowledge the Astros truths staring them in the face. Under Crane, this franchise cannot be defined by any one season. Or even any one scandal. Especially one that served as a way for MLB to clean up an entire industry.

“It gets brought up every day so you have to see it,” Crane says of the sign stealing. “But I think it’s behind us. I think that we proved that (by getting back to the World Series). We’re proud of the guys. They’re great players. And great players win championships.”

Great organizations do too.

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