Culture / Sporting Life

Jim Crane is Bullish on the Astros’ Championship Chances, Thanks Fans For Paying the Bills

A Houston Tradition Like No Other

BY // 10.05.21

Walking up to the podium in front of City Hall, with orange, blue and white balloons set up all around and hundreds of fans there who materialized with less than 24 hours notice, Houston Astros owner Jim Crane has one question for his general manager.

“I asked him when we walked up: Do they do this in Tampa?” Crane relays. “And he said, ‘I’ve never seen anything like this.’ ”

Yes, James Click is not in Tampa Bay — or St. Petersburg — anymore. The this that Crane is talking about is the enduring groundswell of enthusiasm for the Astros, the franchise that just keeps making the playoffs and extending the most successful era in Houston’s entire professional sports history. The owner sees a team that can do much more than just make the postseason in these 2021 Astros, too.

“The question is: Can we win it all?” Crane asks the crowd. “Absolutely.”

That brings the loudest cheers of this postseason celebration/pep rally that has everyone from Jeff Bagwell and Jose Cruz to Orbit on center stage. But this is not just an owner playing to the crowd. Crane set the stage for the entire rebuild that produced this era — and this former small college baseball star turned self-made shipping tycoon is very aware of what championship teams are made of.

This is not an attention seeking owner by nature. Jim Crane is the anti Jerry Jones in many ways, At least in terms of promoting himself. He does not do many interviews. But on this day, he agrees to talk to PaperCity and one lone Fox 26 cameraman.

“We have great fans,” Crane says when I ask him what gets him going on a day like this. “The mayor does a great job of getting the city rallied. And it’s great to see everybody coming out here cheering for the Astros. Without the fans we’re nothing.”

For Crane, the Astros’ having made five straight playoffs — and six of the last seven postseasons since 2015 — with a core that includes longtime stalwarts like Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, Alex Bregman and Game 1 starter Lance McCullers Jr. — means something for this October. After all, there is no substitute for postseason experience.

“We’ve got a great team,” Crane says. “We’ve got great stats. They’ve had a great year. But if the pressure’s on, I think you can really count on this team. They’ve played in a lot of big games. And they’ve got a lot of experience. And that really plays well in the playoffs. We’re thinking we’ve got a very good chance to go all the way.

“You’ve got to get by the first game, the second game, the first series. It’s a journey. But we’re working on it.”

The journey starts at 3:07 pm on Thursday afternoon, with McCullers Jr. taking the ball for Game 1, throwing in the footsteps of his mentors past like Dallas Keuchel and Justin Verlander.

Astros Owner and Chairman Jim Crane, Astros General Manager James Click, Astros alums Jeff Bagwell and Jose Cruz, mascot Orbit and the Coca-Cola Shooting Stars will join Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner at City Hall to kick off the postseason celebration at
Astros owner Jim Crane and Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner shared an embrace. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)

Altuve and Correa will be playing in their 64th playoff game in that opener against the Chicago White Sox. Bregman and Yuli Gurriel — the 2021 American League batting champion who Michael Brantley calls one of the most underrated players in all of baseball — will be playing in their 58th postseason contests.

“If the pressure’s on, I think you can really count on this team. They’ve played in a lot of big games. And they’ve got a lot of experience. And that really plays well in the playoffs. We’re thinking we’ve got a very good chance to go all the way.” — Astros owner Jim Crane

These Astros have become a constant in Houston Octobers, through the best and worst that the nation’s fourth largest city has endured, something that has not gone unnoticed.

“They have lifted people’s spirits,” Mayor Turner says when I ask about the team’s role in Houston. “I’ll never forgot how the Astros came in right after Hurricane Harvey was going on and played those two games against the New York Mets. Won both of them. Won both of them. And that was just what Houston needed at this time.

“They carried this city on their sleeve, their jerseys and in their heart. And then they went all the way. And now we’ve dealt with this coronavirus 19 months in. People have gone through a whole lot. Stress. Losing their jobs. Worrying about the rent of their apartment. And here comes the Astros again. It’s like a shot in the arm for this city.

“It means everything. People need something to shout for.”

It is apparent that bond means plenty to Crane, who comes decked out in a crisp gray suit with an orange tie and an orange and blue pocket square for the rally. The owner praises the job Click has done when he’s at the mic. When Crane fired former GM Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch in the wake of the electronic sign stealing scandal, this type of continued winning was anything but a given. But Crane found the right way to keep it going.

And on a sunny October day in Houston, with people wearing Astros colors and Astros costumes crowded around, he sees the happy results of that push. On this day, no one from the crowd is asking about what is going to happen with free agent shortstop to be Carlos Correa.

Instead, it’s about the moment. Another Astros moment in Houston.

“The bottom line is we can not do it without you people out there,” Crane tells the crowd, with Congresswoman Shelia Jackson Lee and Houston Fire Department chief Samuel Peña on the stage near him. “I tell all our people in the building, make everyone have a good time. Fix every single problem. And make it a great place to watch a ballgame.

“You guys pay the bills. And we’ve got to spend that money wisely and put a great team out there.”

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