HOUSTON -- Shortly after being introduced by Astros owner Drayton McLane as his successor, Jim Crane read a brief statement about his love of baseball and his plans for the future of the franchise, then turned to step down from the podium.
"Whoa," McLane said, putting his hand on Crane's shoulder. "This is just starting."
And with that, the torch of ownership of the Astros began to be passed.
McLane announced during a news conference Monday afternoon at Minute Maid Park he had reached a definitive agreement to sell the club to a group led by Crane, a Houston businessman whose love for baseball led to an attempted bid to buy the Texas Rangers last year.
McLane, who purchased the team for $117 million in 1992, said it would take 60-90 days for Major League Baseball to approve the transaction, and he expected it to "sail right through." Crane and his group are purchasing the team for $680 million, according to a person familiar with the negotiations. McLane will run the club until the sale is finalized.
"In almost 50 years of baseball for the Houston Astros, this is one of the most important days for this franchise," said McLane, whose immediate family attended the announcement. "Our family has thoroughly enjoyed owning the Astros for almost 19 years. It's been one of the highlights of our lives, and we've enjoyed it.
"But one of the responsibilities of good leadership is to hand off better than you found it. Hand it off to somebody that's going to be accountable, has the ability and the determination to continue to be a champion and be successful."
Crane will take over as majority owner, and it won't be known until the deal is complete exactly how much stake he'll have in the club. Crane has a sizable group of investors, which includes 8-10 principal investors who were on hand at the news conference.
ASTROS OWNERSHIP HISTORY
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McLane announces agreement with a group headed by Jim Crane for the sale of the Astros and the club's share in Comcast Sports Net Houston, pending approval by MLB ownership.
Crane's group also will take ownership of the Astros' stake in a regional sports network in which the team has partnered with the NBA's Houston Rockets and Comcast. It will begin airing Astros games in 2013 and Rockets games beginning with the '12 preseason.
"As the new owner of the Astros, I want to let you know I love baseball," Crane said. "Baseball has had a big impact on me -- from the time I was little -- and for the better. From that moment, it's taught me and helped me gain confidence, taught me discipline, taught me to work hard and be a team player. I will use all of those lessons moving forward with the Astros, but my love alone would not have allowed me to be here today, if not for all the partners I have in this deal."
Meanwhile, Crane confirmed that former Rockets president George Postolos will assume the role as the club's CEO when the sale is complete. Crane did not give any indication of other changes he planned to make in the structure of the front office once he assumes control.
"Once we're able to get control of the team, George and I will sit down and go over everything, and we haven't done that yet," Crane said. "There's a number of contracts in place, and we'll honor those contracts. We know there's a lot of talent in the organization, and we want to put that to work to where it's going to fit in best."
When asked what kind of style he'll employ as owner, Crane said he would spend wisely.
"Our style will be smart, and it starts with the Draft," he said. "We want to make sure we're building a team for the future. Look at the models of teams that have had success for long periods of time, like the Astros have been in the past, and they build it from the bottom. That will be our style when we start."
It's unclear if a new ownership group would affect the job status of Astros president of baseball operations Tal Smith or general manager Ed Wade. Pam Gardner, the team's long-time director of business operations, said change isn't necessarily a bad thing.
"Transitions are tough, but on the positive side, they're exciting because you don't know what new things you can experience," she said. "With Jim's enthusiasm, I think there's going to be great opportunity for the future."
Crane will take over a franchise that has had just one winning season since reaching its only World Series in 2005. After falling to the Braves, 3-2, on Monday, the Astros were 15-26 and in last place in the National League Central division.
"I don't think anybody in this room is happy where we're at," Crane said at the news conference. "We want to work with what's here. We want to make good decisions, and certainly we'll have a philosophy of how to get that done, and we'll share that when we take over."
Crane, 57, is the chairman and founder of Houston-based Crane Worldwide Logistics and the former chairman, CEO and majority shareholder in Eagle Global Logistics (EGL), which provides heavyweight freight transportation and related logistics services.
A native of St. Louis, he received a bachelor of science degree in industrial safety from the University of Central Missouri, where he was a standout baseball pitcher for the Division II school from 1973-76. He still holds the school record with 18 strikeouts in a 1974 game against Ohio Northern.
He's attended about 10-15 Astros games through the years and has been invited by McLane to assist with next month's First-Year Player Draft.
"I've been a hands-on CEO, so I like to know how everything works and operates," Crane said. "I'll take that approach in the beginning. But once I've got a clear path on what I need to do, then I'll put the people in place and execute the plan. Day to day, it will be their job to execute the plan, and I'll hold them accountable."
Everything, Crane said, will be done with the idea in the best interest of the fans.
"First and foremost, Astros fans come first," he said. "You are the customer. Our team will work hard to deliver a superior product and a great experience for the fans. I believe in running a first-class franchise, and everything we do will be built around building a championship team."
Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.