MILWAUKEE—Major League Baseball owners unanimously approved Houston businessman Jim Crane’s purchase of the Astros from Drayton McLane Thursday morning.
As part of the agreement, the Astros will move from the National League to the American League as soon as the 2013 season. Because Crane agreed to switch leagues, the sale price was cut from $680 million to $615 million, a person at Thursday’s meeting told The Associated Press. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because details weren’t announced.
Major League Baseball will make up part of the $65 million difference, paying McLane $35 million over three years, the person said.
“I welcome Jim Crane and his group as they prepare to become the new stewards of the Astros,” MLB Commissioner Bud Selig said in a statement. “I thank them for their patience and determination throughout a long but necessary process, which allowed us to accomplish our due diligence. The enthusiasm of Jim and his group will serve the Astros and their fans very well in the years ahead.”
With the move, the American League and the National League will each have 15 clubs, and each of the six divisions will have five teams for the first time.
The agreement marks Major League Baseball’s first realignment since the Milwaukee Brewers moved from the American League to the National League before the 1998 season.
Selig said owners also approved two additional wild-card teams for the postseason, meaning 10 of the 30 teams make the playoffs. Selig said the specifics are being worked out. The players’ association favors the move.
The MLB Players Association believes two 15-team leagues would create a more proportionate schedule and has urged baseball to make the switch.
“For 15/15 realignment, Houston would be the team moving to AL West. Would create more fairness in baseball,” Selig tweeted earlier this week via the Colorado Rockies Twitter feed. He also added that “15 teams in each league would necessitate interleague play every day but it will be better schedule overall.”
The Astros will move to the American League West and will be in a division with in-state rival Texas. But fans are unhappy that the other three teams are all on the West Coast, meaning many road games would routinely end past midnight Central time.
Drayton McLane bought the team in November 1992 for about $117 million and put the franchise up for sale in November. He turned down an offer from Crane to buy the team in 2008.
The $680 million sale price is the second-highest in major league history, trailing the $845 million purchase of the Chicago Cubs by the Ricketts family two years ago. The $660 million sale of the Boston Red Sox in 2002 currently is second. Like the Astros’ deal, the Cubs and Red Sox transactions included related entities.
A major selling point in Houston was the Astros’ share in a new deal with the NBA’s Houston Rockets to create a regional sports network that will begin airing Rockets games in 2012 and the Astros in 2013. Crane has said the team’s 30-year lease at Minute Maid Park, which is owned by the Harris County Houston Sports Authority, will remain intact under his ownership.
Crane, who founded a Houston-based logistics company in 2008, is also the chairman and chief executive of Crane Capital, a private equity fund company. In 2009, he was in the running to buy the Cubs and last summer teamed with Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban in an unsuccessful bid to buy the Texas Rangers.