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Crane bid for Astros raises red flags for MLB

Houston AstrosThough a group led by Jim Crane has agreed to pay Drayton McLane $680 million for the Houston Astros, MLB approval of the sale isn’t a given, as some issues within baseball and in court may cause MLB Commissioner Bud Selig to give the deal close scrutiny.

Crane has been an active bidder for MLB teams in the past, attempting to buy the Chicago Cubs, Houston Astros and Texas Rangers in recent years. The bids for the Astros and Rangers caused some consternation for Selig, first when Crane withdrew his bid for the Astros in 2008 due to concerns about the faltering economy and basically leaving McLane in the lurch. (They buried the hatchet; there were other bidders for the Astros, but none willing to pay as much as the Crane group.) Most recently, Selig was forced to act last year when Crane’s group was part of an effort to interfere with the impending purchase of the Texas Rangers by a group led by Nolan Ryan and Chuck Greenberg. Things got so bad that Selig was forced to issue a pubic statement, warning Crane, Tom Hicks and various Rangers creditors to back off their interference in the sale:

“As part of the Texas Rangers sale process, Tom Hicks selected the Chuck Greenberg/Nolan Ryan group as the chosen bidder on December 15, 2009 and entered into an exclusive agreement with that group. Major League Baseball is currently in control of the sale process and will use all efforts to achieve a closing with the chosen bidder. Any deviation from or interference with the agreed upon sale process by Mr. Hicks or any other party, or any actions in violation of MLB rules or directives will be dealt with appropriately by the Commissioner.”

Outside of baseball, Crane’s shipping firm, Eagle Global Logistics, settled a civil lawsuit in 2008 after the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission found women and blacks suffered discrimination. From The New York Times:

The report cited an accusation that Crane told his managers not to hire blacks because “once you hire blacks, you can never fire them.” Witnesses said Crane did not permit Eagle to advertise job openings because he did not want to build up files of applications by qualified minority job-seekers.

Crane and his company aggressively fought the E.E.O.C. and similar allegations in a civil lawsuit brought by some former employees. But Crane, without admitting wrongdoing, eventually signed a consent decree that settled the charges for $8.5 million….

Crane and his company have denied the allegations and called the E.E.O.C. investigation flawed. Only 10 percent of the claims by employees were deemed worthy of compensation, and Crane wound up getting $6 million back from the E.E.O.C.

This track record won’t necessarily kill Crane’s bid for the Astros, but flags have been raised: the NAACP called for a close examination of the bid in a press release issued Monday. And the lawsuit will force Crane to make some solid commitments in terms of minority hiring and retention, we’re told by baseball insiders. Baseball takes race very seriously, and these are concerns that must be addressed.

RELATED STORIES: Crane group lands Astros


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