HOUSTON -- Those who know Jim Crane describe him as a man who likes to surround himself with good people and let them do their jobs, all the while holding everyone accountable for their actions and demanding the best from his employees.
That philosophy certainly has served Crane well throughout the years, helping him grow his air-freight company from a start-up to a multimillion-dollar business. It's made him a fortune and put him in position to fulfill one of his dreams: buying a Major League Baseball team.
Astros owner Drayton McLane announced Monday that he had reached a definitive agreement to sell the Astros to a group of investors headed by Crane, who cannot take ownership of the club until Major League Baseball approves the deal. That will take 60-90 days, McLane said.
"This is a dream come true for me and my partners," Crane said. "Owning the Houston Astros in my hometown and being in a business I like and respect is all I ever could wish for. I love baseball, and we look forward to doing a great job for the city of Houston and the Astros fans."
Crane, 57, nearly reached a deal with McLane to buy the Astros in 2008, and last year made a strong push to purchase the Texas Rangers. Considering he grew up playing baseball and eventually became a standout college player, Crane and the Astros appear to be a perfect fit.
"I think he will be an excellent owner," said friend Jerry Hughes, the athletic director of Crane's alma mater, the University of Central Missouri. "He understands the game and I think he will put a good management, leadership group together, and we'll go from there. He's used to hiring good people and letting them do their jobs."
ASTROS OWNERSHIP HISTORY
Judge Roy Hofheinz
GE Credit and Ford Motor Credit
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.
Houston businessman Don Sanders, a former minority owner of the Astros in the 1980s and part owner of Triple-A Round Rock Express and Double-A Corpus Christi Hooks, has known Crane for more than 20 years and is excited about his potential as owner.
"I think he's going to be a hands-on operator, and I think he'll make a lot of good decisions," Sanders said. "He's a unique combination of a solid, pays-attention businessman, yet he's avid about baseball. He was a pretty good baseball player himself, and he knows what it takes. I think he's going to make some changes that are very positive and surround himself with a lot of talented people."
Crane 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.
Crane Worldwide Logistics will do in excess of $400 million in sales in 2011, according to a press release from the Astros on Monday, and Crane isn't above making the occasional sales call or even getting behind the controls of a fork lift to make sure the job is done correctly.
"You've got to lead by example," he said.
A native of St. Louis, he received a bachelor of science degree in industrial safety from Central Missouri, where he was an accomplished 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.
Crane has donated more than $1 million to his alma mater's athletic department and refurbished the baseball stadium with new dressing rooms, dugouts, seats, lights and a press box. The school's stadium bears his name: James R. Crane Stadium.
"He's been very generous in support of our baseball program," Hughes said.
Crane received recognition as the 1996 Entrepreneur of the Year in Houston, was runner-up in the national award competition and is president of The Crane Foundation, which contributes to local and national charities. He serves on several boards and is an active participant within the theater and arts community.
A passionate golfer, Crane was ranked by Golf Digest magazine in 2006 as having the best handicap (0.8) among 200 chief executive offers of all Fortune 1,000 companies. Last year, Crane purchased the Floridian Golf & Yacht Club, a private golf club located in Palm City, Fla., from former Marlins owner Wayne Huizenga for a reported $25.6 million.
"He's very competitive in anything he does, whether it's business, golf or whatever," Hughes said. "He's a good athlete and loves to play the game of golf. He's going to surround himself with good people."
Sanders admitted Crane is stepping into a difficult situation. The Astros have had one winning season since reaching the World Series in 2005 and have one of the lowest-ranking Minor League systems in baseball. The team entered Monday at 15-25 and in last place in the National League Central.
"I think Jim has his work cut out for him," Sanders said. "He's going to be focused and determined and he's going to do everything within his power to make it happen. He's certainly not buying it to be a loser."
Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.