|Jim Crane, Houston Astros Owner, UCM Baseball Player|
Houston Astros vs. LA Dodgers 2017 World Series Game 7 Highlights Video
Jim Crane, Houston Astros Owner, World Series Champions November 1, 2017
By Charles "Chuck" Ambrose
It was 1974, in the opening round of Division II Baseball Championship. Jim Crane took the mound for Central Missouri, stepping onto the highest point on the field with the most pressure. Crane calmly struck out the first 11 batters, and UCM went on to beat Ohio Northern behind Crane’s DII championship-record 18 strikeouts. Crane was at the pinnacle of his collegiate athletics career. Major League scouts called night and day, offering him $50,000 in signing bonuses to quit school and enter the draft. His mother made him go back to school. But in his senior year, he blew out his shoulder and the scouts stopped calling. Crane now looks down now from his boardroom at the Houston Astros taking batting practice in Minute Maid Park. He is owner of the Major League ball club, completing a dream. Crane jokingly remarks that things worked out all right for him.Crane is among 49 former Division II student-athletes being honored this year as part of a tribute team that celebrates the 40th anniversary of Division II. The tribute team highlights one male and one female student-athlete from each of Division II’s 23 current conferences, plus two at-large nominees. A pair of identical twins pushes the total to 49 honorees. Crane, who played baseball for the Mules from 1973-76 and was subsequently inducted into the school’s athletics hall of fame, as well as the Mid-American Intercollegiate Athletics Association’s Hall of Fame, was selected as a representative of the MIAA along with Truman State volleyball player Teri Clemens (1974-78). It’s been a long journey for Crane, from graduating at UCM to starting a multi-billion dollar freight company and owning a Major League baseball team. He drove from his home in St. Louis to Houston and started a successful freight company from the ground up with a loan from his sister. Crane founded Eagle/USA Airfreight in March 1984 and served as its CEO through August 2007. The company grew exponentially and went public in 1995, trading on the NASDAQ. By 2000, Crane’s company was renamed Eagle Global Logistics to reflect its operations in more than 100 countries. It was bought by Apollo Management in 2007 and left the NASDAQ, eventually becoming part of CEVA Logistics. Crane credits much of his business success to the attributes he picked up playing Division II athletics. “The biggest thing I learned is if you just work a little harder and focus more, you are going to beat most guys to the punch,” he said. Crane applied this mentality when fulfilling his dream of owning a Major League Baseball team. After three unsuccessful attempts at acquiring a team, Crane’s determination finally paid off when he bought the Astros in 2011. “It is hard to buy a baseball team, and I kept trying and trying and didn’t give up,” Crane said. “Determination and hard work will usually pay off.” His success on and off the field might never have been were it not for Crane’s baseball coach at Central Missouri. Between his freshmen and sophomore year, Crane unexpectedly lost his father, and Crane didn’t see much of a future in baseball. He was content in dropping out of school and working full timefull time. But UCM head coach Robert Tompkins wouldn’t allow it.
|Coach Bob Tompkins on right|
He drove to the Cranes’ house and made sure that Jim was coming back to school for his sophomore year. Tompkins took a personal interest in Crane’s life outside of baseball and made sure he stayed in school.
Crane is thankful to this day.
“It was a tough year and I didn’t know what I wanted to do,” he said. “If he had not made that trip, I may not be sitting here. Who knows?
“He was a steady, smart guy who took a personal interest with everyone. He knew what made everyone tick. After my dad died, I was just going to keep working because I wasn’t that great my freshmen year, and I didn’t think I had much of a career in baseball and I didn’t like class. But coach Tompkins took an interest in my life and certainly had an impact in me finishing school and doing as well as I did. The next year I made a significant improvement in my pitching. My stats really improved.”
From his personal experience playing Division II baseball, Crane has kept the value of college athletics and Division II close to his heart.
“College athletics is a good base for any student-athlete,” he said. “I can’t tell you one guy on that team who hasn’t been successful afterward. Playing baseball gave them a positive way to move forward in various ways.”
Crane has given back generously to the sport and the school that changed his life. He donated most of the $1.2 million needed to transform Central Missouri’s baseball facilities, and the complex was renamed Jim Crane Stadium/Robert N. Tompkins field. Last year, Crane hosted a premier Division II baseball tournament at Minute Maid Park.
Crane even looks for an athletics background when seeking employees.
“We recruited a lot of athletes in the freight business,” he said. “If I saw on a resume that someone played college sports, that immediately tells me they have a certain level of discipline. That converts well to business.”
Under Crane’s leadership, the Astros recently unveiled the Community Leaders program, investing $18 million in a five-year plan to improve city-owned public youth softball and baseball fields in the Houston area.
“There are always a lot of defining moments in a career, and you get a lot of breaks along the way,” he said. “The harder you work, the luckier you get. You create some of your own breaks, and I was not afraid to work hard. No one was going to outwork me, and if I had the opportunity to get better, I always would, whether it was in business or baseball.”
Astros sale: Crane ready for the business of baseball
Posted on May 15, 2011 | By David Barron.
Crane flew from Houston to Kansas City and drove to CommunityAmerica Ballpark, where he and two former teammates watched their alma mater, the University of Central Missouri, play its first game of the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association baseball tournament.
Huddled up behind the Central Missouri dugout on a 50-degree day with 20-mph wind gusts, they traded tales of Crane’s college hairstyle, his red 1969 Camaro convertible and the day he struck out 18 batters for the Mules in the College World Series. They cheered and clapped for this year’s Central Missouri squad and continued reminiscing over lunch.
Friday, as always, baseball was Crane’s pleasure.
This week, it becomes his business.
Crane, 57, chairman of the Houston freight forwarding company Crane Worldwide Logistics, is expected this week to announce he has bought the Astros from Drayton McLane for $680 million. Subject to approval by Major League Baseball owners, he could assume control of the ballclub from McLane, who purchased the team in 1992 for $117 million, by this summer.
“You guys are getting a great owner,” said Kevin Kinsella, Crane’s college teammate, pledge captain and chauffeur from the airport to the ballpark for the Mules’ 4-2 victory over Fort Hays State.
“People here accuse the Royals of having a Wal-Mart mentality (because of owner David Glass, a former Wal-Mart executive). You won’t get that with Jim. He will build that team from the ground up with pitching and defense and good, sound draft choices, and he’ll give his people everything they need to win.“He’s a businessman, and he’s a crazy baseball guy.”“He’ll be a Jerry Jones owner,” said Bill LaMothe, the president of a Dallas-based logistics company who played baseball with Crane in high school, made the phone call in 1982 that brought him to Houston and has worked with — and, on occasion, competed against — him ever since.
“Jim isn’t going to promote himself. But he will be there to represent his team and his investment. He’ll be a great owner.”
Now he’s 1-for-4
For the last three years, Crane has gone down swinging in an effort to buy his way into baseball — a tentative deal in 2008 to buy the Astros that fell through and unsuccessful bids for the Chicago Cubs in 2009 and the Texas Rangers last year.
All three efforts, ironically, came after the most public setback of a career that began in 1984, when he founded Eagle USA Airfreight with a $10,000 loan from a family member. He lost control of the company, renamed EGL, in 2007 but emerged with cash from stock sales estimated at more than $330 million.
And now, the proceeds from his first Houston venture have enabled him to buy one of the city’s iconic institutions, giving him an ownership stake in a sport he has loved since childhood.
“I can’t recall when I haven’t seen him with a baseball or a bat in his office,” said John Magee, president of Crane Worldwide, which Crane founded with former EGL colleagues in 2008. “He’ll toss a ball in the air while he’s talking to you, and he’ll have a bat leaning against the wall, and he’ll pick it up and take some practice swings.”
If Friday’s scene is any indication, Crane takes comfort in the rituals of baseball and the company of old friends. They, in turn, relish that he seems to be the same guy they remember from 35 years ago.
“The catalyst was baseball. It brought us together — the competitiveness, the common interest, and we became family,” Kinsella said. “I tell him, ‘I can’t hang out with you. I don’t make enough money.’ But he says, ‘No, no, no.’ We decided years ago we were going to work at being friends. They’re hard to come by.”
“He’s the same old guy, and it’s a pretty neat thing to watch,” said Michael Lansing, Crane’s former catcher with the Mules. “It’s a God-given talent. He’s the same person — competitive, always competitive.
Crane shared that competitive streak with the 2011 Mules on Friday, dangling a carrot of what could lie in store if they keep pushing toward an NCAA Division II title.
“He told us, ‘Good work, way to battle it out,’ ” said first baseman Nick DeBiasse. “And he said if we take it all the way to the World Series, there could be a spring training game for us with the Astros.”
Unlike McLane, who was a novice at the traditions and intricacies of baseball when he bought the Astros, Crane already has a mind for the game and, 40 years ago, had the skills to play it successfully.
He was 21-8 from 1973 through 1976 as a righthander at Central Missouri, located in Warrensburg, about 40 miles southeast of Kansas City. His 18 strikeouts against Ohio Northern in the first round of the 1974 Division II College World Series remains the school record, and he twice was a small-college honorable mention All-American.
In his post-college days, Crane shifted his competitive skills to the golf course. In 2006, Golf World magazine determined that he had the lowest handicap, at 0.8, of any CEO of a Fortune 1,000 firm.
“It’s ridiculous,” LaMothe said, laughing. “Anything that has to do with nonsense like that, he’s excellent at it — bocce ball, croquet, flipping quarters — anything like that.”
Crane, who declined to be interviewed for this story, grew up in the Delwood section of north St. Louis, where his father sold insurance, and was a multi-sport athlete at Lutheran North High School. Kinsella, who played against Crane in high school, said he had a fastball in the 90s but was an unformed talent when he got to college.
“No one had shown him how to throw a curve,” Kinsella said. “Our pitching coach taught him how to pitch. He picked up a palm ball as his changeup, and he got better and better.”
Crane struggled in the classroom and his difficulties were complicated withwithwhen with his father died between his freshman and sophomore years. Dave DeFrain, retired director of Central Missouri’s Department of Athletic Enrichment, said Crane left school and returned to St. Louis before baseball coach Bob Tompkins talked him into returning.
“It was a tough time in his life … ,” DeFrain recalled. “He recognized it was a hard time, and tHe recognized it was a hard time, and the people who were there to help him through it were the ones he has stayed connected to.
“He knows his roots and honors them, and he loves baseball. Baseball is the central core to who he is and what he has become. He isn’t going into baseball just because he loves it. It’s going to be a business, and he will run it well and efficiently.”
Crane suffered shoulder tendinitis between his sophomore and junior seasons, Kinsella said, and was not drafted. He graduated in 1976 with a degree in industrial safety and followed Kinsella into the insurance business, setting up safety programs for clients.
“He hated it,” Kinsella said. “Then he got a call from Bill LaMothe, who had moved to Houston. He told Jim, ‘Look, I know you hate your job. I had somebody approach me six months ago to sell air freight. I’m doing good, and I think you could do it, too.’
“So Jim moved to Houston, and the rest is history.”
Crane has made millions through transportation, first through EGL and now through Crane Worldwide and other ventures.
Unlike UPS or FedEx, Crane Worldwide does not own trucks, planes or ships. It contracts with carriers to move shipments of more than 100 pounds each and sells those supply chain services to shippers.
The company has about 160 employees in Houston and more than 800 worldwide. In its third year of operation, it expects to do about $400 million in business, which Magee said was equal to EGL’s total after 12 years, and it expects to do $1 billion by 2014. It recently broke ground on corporate headquarters near Bush Intercontinental Airport.
Crane also is chairman of Crane Capital, whose interests include Crane Freight Services, which focuses on domestic truckload freight shipments; Champions Energy, a retail electric provider; and Floridian Golf & Yacht Club, which Crane purchased a year ago from Wayne Huizenga, former owner of the Florida Marlins, Florida Panthers and Miami Dolphins.
When Magee joined EGL in 1998, he said sales totaled about $250 million, and he felt he was walking into a giant corporation. Crane, however, had loftier aspirations.
“I walked into headquarters and saw a banner that read ‘Building to a Billion,’ he said. “I was thinking that $250 million was a large company, but Jim was thinking beyond that.”
EGL, which became a publicly traded company in 1995, vaulted past Crane’s goals, expanding from a primarily domestic client base to an international base through a 2000 merger.
Success and controversy
Alongside its successes, however, it also was involved in several controversial legal disputes.
The company in 1998 filed suit against the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, accusing the agency of conducting an investigation that used information obtained in improper fashion from the company’s former general counsel.
The EEOC in 2000 accused EGL of attempting to avoid hiring blacks and women of child-bearing age, creating a hostile working environment for women, paying women and minority employees less than white males who did similar work, failing to investigate employees’ complaints of sexual harassment and destroying evidence that it was instructed to retain as part of the EEOC investigation. The agency sought $20 million from EGL to settle the case.
EGL agreed in 2001 to pay $8.5 million into a settlement fund for back wages and damages for applicants and workers who could document violations, but continued to deny that it violated employment laws and described the EEOC’s investigation as overzealous and vindictive.
In 2005, U.S. District Judge Lynn Hughes returned about $6 million to EGL after a review found that 203 of 2,073 claims had merit. About $900,000 was paid to applicants or employees, according to the court.
“I know (Crane) was hurt by the claims,” Magee said last week. “I have known him for 18 years, and never once have I seen him act in any of the ways described in the claims. He has a lot of pride and a lot of integrity, and I know that he didn’t want people to believe he was what he was portrayed to be.”
Crane’s association with EGL ended in 2007 after he and a private equity group offered what was described as more than $1 billion to acquire the company from shareholders. In April 2007, Apollo Management, the parent company of Ceva Logistics, alleged in a lawsuit that Crane was using his position as EGL’s CEO to take the company private to his own benefit while ignoring Apollo’s higher bid.
Forced to sit out
A month later, EGL was acquired by Ceva Logistics in a transaction valued at about $2 billion. Crane, who as EGL’s largest shareholder would have received $337 million plus a $30 million termination fee for his takeover bid, left EGL and sat out a one-year non-compete period before launching Crane Worldwide Logistics with several EGL veterans.
“I know it bothered him that he was no longer able to lead the people he had recruited to work for EGL,” Magee said. “But, from a personal standpoint, nobody saw the economic cliff, the financial crisis, sitting in front of us. And the fact that he got out when he did with the multiple that was paid for the company, as the largest shareholder — you can see what that meant for him.”
In addition to his business career, Crane and his wife, Franci, a former partner at the law firm Sussman Godfrey, are active members of Houston’s social set, accompanied on occasion by Crane’s children from an earlier marriage, Jared Crane and Krystal Crane Thompson.
Franci Crane is a trustee of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston and a board member of Inprint Houston, and the couple was honored on the opening night of the Houston Grand Opera’s 2010 season.
The Cranes in 2008 committed $1 million to the Jan and Dan Duncan Neurological Research Institute at Texas Children’s Hospital, and Crane also has been generous to his alma mater. Jerry Hughes, Central Missouri’s athletic director, said Crane has donated more than $2 million to the school, including $1.2 million for the Mules’ baseball stadium, and funds 2.5 scholarships for players each season.
“He calls all the time to ask how the team is doing. He’s a true baseball guy,” Hughes said. “In 2003, when we won the national title, he would come to the stadium with a bag of peanuts and sit behind home plate, and he didn’t want to talk with anybody. He was focused on the game. As a former pitcher, he focuses on what they do.”
Knows ‘what it takes’
Don Sanders, a former Astros minority owner during the John McMullen era and an investor in EGL through his firm Sanders Morris Harris, believes Crane will emulate another former pitcher — Nolan Ryan, president of the Texas Rangers and Sanders’ partner in minor league teams in Round Rock and Corpus Christi — in his style of ownership.
“Nolan watched what was going on, found out who he could trust, who got the job done, who didn’t get the job done, and it was well into his second year before he started doing anything,” Sanders said.
“I think Jim is going to be a Nolan Ryan type. Jim is smart, he is articulate, he pays attention and he knows baseball. He understands what it takes to have a successful operation as well as a winning ballclub, and he will do everything within his power to hire the right people.
“I think Drayton was an awfully good owner, as I think we all do, but Jim will be more aggressive and more willing to do innovative things.”
Despite their current woeful record, never have the Astros traded ownership during a time of such stability on the business front. Crane is paying a premium for the ballclub and McLane’s share in a new regional sports network, but Magee, a former high school baseball player, cites Crane’s history of increasing the value of his companies.
“Sometimes in life, there comes a time to pass the torch,” he said. “It’s a good time for Drayton, it’s a good time for the city, and it’s something that Jim wants.”
Chronicle business editor Laura Goldberg provided research assistance for this report.