Culture / Sporting Life

Jim Crane Opens Up on Sign Stealing Scandal, Gerrit Cole’s Yankees Contract as Alex Bregman Shows Support in Frank MD Anderson Talk

All-Star Third Baseman Makes Time for Emotional $2 Million-Plus Charity Night

BY // 12.15.19

Sitting in a big armchair on a bright stage, in a hotel ballroom packed with well-dressed people, many who paid to hear him, Jim Crane knows the questions are coming. On this night, raising crucial funds for MD Anderson Cancer Center, the Houston Astros owner seems OK with that.

He talks about the sign stealing scandal hovering like a dark cloud over his franchise — and Gerrit Cole leaving the Astros for that record-shattering $324 million Yankees contract.

Jimmy Roberts, the veteran TV broadcaster conducting the on-stage “conversation” on Wednesday night, even brings Crane’s 4-year-old son James Robert Crane II, into the discussion.

“I know you’ve got a 4-year-old,” Roberts starts.

“Four and a half,” Crane quickly corrects, drawing laughs.

“What would you say to kids, both boys and young girls, about the events of the last year?” Roberts asks.

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“Basically people make mistakes and you just have to own them,” Crane says. “You have to deal with that.

“. . . Not everything’s going to go perfect. Addressing the problem, and owning it and telling them, ‘Let’s be frank. Let’s be on it. Let’s be genuine.’ ”

When asked about the alleged electronic sign stealing — which led to an MLB investigation that’s included the examination of more than 76,000 emails and interviews with almost 60 witnesses — Crane is quick to answer.

“A lot of controversy over the team right now,” he says. “But listen, this team’s performed well, the community’s been behind the team and there’s some controversy.

“We’re going to deal with the problem if there is a problem. And when the times comes, I’ll sit down and answer all the questions. And get to the bottom of it.”

As Crane talks, one of the Astros best players sits at a prominent table in the ballroom, lending his support to the night. Alex Bregman attends with his girlfriend Reagan Howard even though it’s the middle of his relatively short offseason. Bregman wears a sharp three-piece suit with horizontal stripes, a light purple tie and designer glasses.

Crane acknowledges Bregman from the stage at one point, which draws applause from the crowd.

Reagan Howard, Alex Bregman
Alex Bregman showed up with his girlfriend Reagan Howard to see his owner get honored. (Photo by Michelle Watson/CatchLightgroup.com)

Of course, Bregman’s six-year, $100 million contract (which he signed last offseason) is looking more and more like a bargain these days. Especially with Cole, who turned himself into one of the most dominant pitchers in baseball in two seasons in Houston, lured away by the Yankees for that nine year, $324 million deal, a record amount for a pitcher.

“Listen, it’s a lot of money and it’s all guaranteed,” Crane says of the Cole contract. “Baseball’s a little lopsided if you understand the economics. New York will gross $600 million and Tampa $200 million after revenue sharing. Can (Tampa) write that check? No, they can’t.

“It’s gotten to be a big market game.”

Still, Crane is not pledging poverty — or saying the Astros cannot compete.

“We’re fortunate,” the Astros owner says. “I tell people we don’t live in River Oaks, but we live in West U. Basically, we’re the fifth highest revenue team from 28th out of 30 when we bought the team. So we’ve come a long way.”

Jim Crane’s MD Anderson Moment

The line about the Astros not being River Oaks rich, but West U rich, triggers some of the loudest laughter of the night. In a room full of major powers players — Maureen and Jim Hackett chair the night, Sheridan and John Eddie Williams, Jo Lynn and Gregg Falgout, Leisa Holland-Nelson and Bob Bowman, Michael and Ellie Francisco, Elyse Lanier, Charles and Barbara Hurwitz, and UT System Chancellor James Milliken and his wife Nana are among the bold faced names in the room — Crane knows his crowd.

This is the latest in MD Anderson’s “A Conversation With A Living Legend” series and these talks have made news in the past. With Rex Tillerson, Condoleezza Rice, Katie Couric, Jack Nicklaus and Hank Aaron among the past honorees, you really shouldn’t expect anything less.

But on this night in Houston, a night when more than $2 million is raised for the cancer center, only one reporter (myself) and one cameraman from Fox 26, are in the Hilton Americas-Houston hotel ballroom.

“I tell people we don’t live in River Oaks, but we live in West U. Basically, we’re the fifth highest revenue team from 28th out of 30 when we bought the team. So we’ve come a long way.” — Jim Crane

Jim Crane is not an attention seeker by nature. But that does not mean this 65-year-old, true self-made mega tycoon is mild mannered.

Roberts relays a story Crane told at their dinner the night before the event about his back-and-forth with the Astros’ renowned analytics team. “Of all the analytics guys, I’m the only one of them who can break glass,” Roberts remembers Crane saying.

Which the Astros owner somewhat sheepishly confirms. “None of them ever played baseball,” he says. “I could break a window.”

Of course, Crane did pitch back in the day, even striking out 18 in a College Division World Series game for the University of Central Missouri.

“I threw a fastball, had a pretty good curveball, threw a knuckle change that sank — it was a good pitch,” Crane says. “That night I struck out 18. But my old friends remind me, ‘You did strike out 18, but the lights were really bad.’ ”

Crane laughs. He knows this night is bigger than him. This is brought home in its most touching moment when the mother of Jalen Garcia, the teenage cancer patient at MD Anderson who Astros shortstop Carlos Correa and his now wife Daniella Rodriguez befriended during the Astros season, is honored. Garcia died in November, after Correa dedicated his memorable walk-off home run in the 11th inning of Game 2 of the American League Championship Series to him.

But Garcia’s mom, sitting with many of the members of the MD Anderson care team that treated her son, is clearly moved to be here on this night. And touched by the reaction of the crowd to her son’s story. MD Anderson president Peter Pisters and his wife, Dr. Katherine Pisters, stand up to applaud the courageous mom honoring her son through her grief, too.

Sometimes it’s not about the wins — or even the championships — as much as the moments.

When asked about the somewhat bitter end of the 2019 season and that Game 7 loss at home to the Washington Nationals, Crane seems like he may have gained some perspective too.

“When I won, I wasn’t expecting us to win,” Crane says of that magical 2017 run. “. . . Next time around, this year, I expected to win and everybody else did too. Once you get there, you realize how hard it is. We had a great season. Fans had a great time. We took it to Game 7 of the World Series.

“And you’ve got to sit back and say that was pretty damn good, so we’re proud of that.”

With his son (and new Astros executive team member) Jared Crane and his wife Adrienne, his daughter Krystal and her husband Garrett Thompson, his wife Whitney and his sisters in the audience, this is a much friendlier crowd than Crane is likely to find at opposing ballparks this upcoming 2020 season.

But no matter what the rest of baseball thinks of the Astros, Jim Crane does not sound like someone who is looking to hide. He sits on the stage, wearing an orange tie and pocket square, and talks for more than 30 minutes.

On this night, Crane is ready for questions.

For more on Jim Crane and how he came to Houston pulling a U-Haul, turned a $10,000 loan from his sister into a global shipping empire, received a surprise post-college bill from his mom and became a guy who golfs with Obama, read PaperCity’s exclusive profile

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