Astros owner McLane puts club on market
Allen & Company indicates sale could take six to 12 months
HOUSTON -- With his family close by and 18 years worth of memories racing through his head, Drayton McLane reflected Friday afternoon about his tenure as owner of the Astros and spoke with pride about his accomplishments, including the team's only World Series berth in 2005.
"It's been a wonderful experience, a great ride and something we have thoroughly enjoyed," McLane said while announcing at a news conference at Minute Maid Park he would begin accepting offers to sell the club.
McLane purchased the Astros in 1992 for $117 million and operated the franchise during some of its most successful periods in history, including six playoff appearances, the 2005 National League pennant and the opening of Minute Maid Park in 2000.
Speaking while his wife, Elizabeth, and sons, Denton and Drayton III, watched nearby, the 74-year-old McLane cited estate planning issues as one of the reasons he's putting the team up for sale.
"Our family has loved being involved with the Houston Astros, all of the things that go with it," McLane said. "But 18 years later, you can see a few gray hairs and lots of experience. But it's time to change and move forward."
McLane has hired Steve Greenberg of Allen & Company, a New York-based investment bank, to work with prospective buyers on the sale of the team. McLane said he had no timeline to sell the team, but Greenberg said the process could take six to 12 months. He said he has already begun taking calls from potential buyers.
McLane, who purchased the team from John McMullen, didn't set an asking price, but Forbes Magazine earlier this year valued the Astros at $451 million. Nolan Ryan and Chuck Greenberg bought the Texas Rangers in August by submitting a winning bid of $590 million.
"We never talk about price," said Greenberg, son of baseball Hall of Famer Hank Greenberg. "The market will really determine what it is, and I agree with that Drayton that we're not going to put any prices out there. We'll let people come to us."
One potential buyer who has already made his interest public is Miles Prentice, a New York attorney who owns three Minor League teams. McLane acknowledged he had talked to Prentice about a potential sale, but it's unknown how serious the interest is.
"We have no buyer in mind today," McLane said. "This is something that we're going to explore. But we can assure you -- and I have been lectured by Elizabeth constantly, and particularly several times today -- before we select a buyer, it will be an organization or individual with very, very high standards, integrity, honesty, and they want to do the very same things -- be a champion, and to really get involved."
McLane, a native Texan who made his fortune in the grocery business started by his grandfather, was one of the most public owners in professional sports. He didn't mind speaking public about team issues and was a fixture in his seats behind home plate at Minute Maid Park.
He met with his employees on Friday afternoon before addressing the media.
"When I got here [in 2007], I heard about the meddlesome owner and the reputation, and in all candor, I have not seen it," Astros general manager Ed Wade said. "If we felt something was important, we could state our objective and explain how we thought we needed to get there. We could not have been as aggressive in the Draft the last three years if Drayton didn't see what we were trying to do."
Greenberg, a long-time friend of McLane, helped create MLB Network, as well as several other regional sports channels, and has helped broker the sale of the Milwaukee Brewers and the NBA's Cleveland Cavaliers. Last month, the Astros and the NBA's Houston Rockets announced they had reached an agreement with cable network provider Comcast to launch a regional sports network that will begin airing Astros games in 2013.
"It helps tremendously," he said. "It creates stability and growth on the television side, where otherwise you would be depending on some third party to deliver for you. You look at the numbers -- it's a long-term growth that those teams without those assets don't have."
Greenberg will be in charge of analyzing the club's revenues and will begin responding to potential buyers. Any person or group interested in purchasing the club must pass background screenings before they can get even the information, and will eventually need to get approved by Major League Baseball.
"I had a number of calls today just on the news articles that have appeared," Greenberg said. "And you go through all of those and reach out to people that you know have looked into franchises in the past and others who might have called Drayton in the past or called the Commissioner's Office in the past. You develop that list and go through it and see who's there at the end of the process. That's why it takes six to nine months when you're ready to pick a winner."
The decision to sell the team came after months of deliberation within the McLane family, and it wasn't an easy one.
"It's very much a part of our family," Elizabeth McLane said. "I never in my life dreamed I'd go through three hours a day focused on a baseball game, and I do whether I'm here or watching on TV or listening to the radio."
Denton McLane said he and his brother never entertained taking over the club.
"This is the best decision for everybody involved," he said. "[Drayton] puts everything on his shoulders and runs it as far as he can, and the hardest job I know would be if the day came I had to fill that role. I'd have the world's worst job, because how do you follow that?"
McLane has flirted with selling the team in recent years, but has heretofore stopped short of saying the club is for sale.
In January, he acknowledged he had granted a 30-day exclusive negotiating window to sell the team to a New York investment banking company, which was reportedly identified as Great Court Capital, but a deal never materialized.
A month earlier, McLane revealed he had a handshake agreement with Houston businessman Jim Crane following the 2008 season to sell the team, but said the deal fell through because of Crane's concerns about the economy.
Since McLane purchased the Astros, the team has been to the playoffs six times, including its first World Series berth in 2005. The Astros moved into Minute Maid Park in 2000, and earlier this year welcomed their 30 millionth fan through the turnstiles.
Houston finished 76-86 last season and posted one of the best second-half finishes in baseball. Next season will mark the franchise's 50th season since it began as the Colt .45's as an expansion team in 1962.
Both McLane and Wade said the impending sale won't affect how the club operates this offseason.
The Astros opened last season with a $93 million payroll, but that was reduced dramatically by the end of the year following the trades of franchise icons Lance Berkman and Roy Oswalt. Houston has made a commitment to get younger through player development, but it still could sign a player in the free-agent market this winter.
"It's going to be business as usual," Wade said. "Every club has a budget, and we know what our budget is and we'll work within the confines of that."
Throughout their ownership of the Astros, Drayton and Elizabeth McLane have donated more than $30 million in charitable contributions, including almost $7 million through the Astros in Action Foundation, which was formed in 2000 to serve Houston and surrounding communities.
In April 2010, the club opened the Astros MLB Urban Youth Academy, which was made possible through a joint venture between Astros In Action, Major League Baseball and the City of Houston. The academy, which is located in north Houston, provides an opportunity for underprivileged youth to develop life skills while learning and playing the game of baseball.
McLane's commitment to making a positive difference in the community was exemplified in 2008 during the aftermath of Hurricane Ike, when the owner, the Astros in Action Foundation, and the Astros players and staff made a combined $1 million donation to the Gulf Coast Ike Relief Fund.
The team also enacted numerous initiatives at Minute Maid Park during the final week of the 2008 season that focused on relief for hurricane victims, including a blood drive, food and supply drives, and collection of donations for the Gulf Coast Ike Relief Fund.
During his 18 years in Major League Baseball, McLane has served on MLB's Executive Committee, Finance Committee, Legislative Affairs, Ownership and Realignment committees, and the MLB Advanced Media Board.
Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.