On Nov. 17, 2011, Major League Baseball unanimously approved the purchase of the Houston Astros by a group headed by Houston businessman Jim Crane, marking the beginning of a new era of Astros baseball. On Nov. 1, 2017, almost exactly six years from the date Jim purchased the team, the Houston Astros won the first World Series Championship in franchise history. As Owner and Chairman, Jim Crane hit the ground running upon taking control of the Astros in 2011 by immediately putting his plan to rebuild the franchise into action.
As a highly successful businessman in Houston and former standout college pitcher, Jim's credentials made him the perfect choice to build a winning team both on and off the field in Houston.
From the start, Jim was clear about his goals: to make the Astros a ballclub that can have sustained success at the Major League level by building a top-notch farm system and to provide Astros fans with an outstanding experience at Minute Maid Park.
In just six years, Jim Crane took the Astros from worst to first in spectacular fashion. Houston's farm system, which was ranked as one of the worst in baseball in 2011, was ranked No. 1 by ESPN in 2014 and has remained one of the best year after year, despite regularly graduating top prospects. The Major League club went from a 111-loss season in 2013 to winning 101 games in the 2017 regular season, the second-most in franchise history, and ultimately its first World Series Championship. With a strong core of young talent returning to the Major League squad in 2018 and more reinforcements coming up from the minor leagues, the future remains bright for the Astros organization.
In order to make the experience at Minute Maid Park one of the best in baseball, the Astros have made several largescale renovations to the ballpark under Jim's leadership. Renovations have included the Diamond Club, main concourse, Honda Club Level, installation of a state-of-the art sound system, refurbishment of the player's clubhouse and workout facility, installation of new grass on the playing field and the debut of the new and improved center field area in 2017. The multi-million-dollar investment in center field was the most recent innovative update that showcases Jim's commitment to making Minute Maid Park a great destination for fans of all ages.
Jim recognized the need for a new Astros Spring Training facility and successfully moved the team to West Palm Beach in 2017, where players and fans now enjoy a brand new, state-of-the-art facility. He also successfully brokered the purchase of the Double A Corpus Christi Hooks in 2015 and is closely involved with the acquisition of a Class A Advanced affiliate in the Carolina League.
Under Jim's leadership, the Astros have supported several of MLB's diversity initiatives, including MLB's eighth annual Civil Rights Game and ancillary activities as well as MLB's Diversity Summit, a sports employment and business opportunity career and trade fair. Houston has twice hosted the Urban Invitational, a nationally-televised collegiate baseball tournament designed to give HBCUs and their baseball programs national exposure, as well as the Breakthrough Series, a collegiate and professional scouting showcase featuring a diverse group of some of the top high school players in the country.
Passion for the Game
Jim hails from St. Louis, Mo. where he became a loyal, spirited fan of the St. Louis Cardinals. As a teenager, he caddied for members of the Cardinals team at local golf clubs and parked cars for patrons at Cardinals games. Jim was impressed by the Cardinals' caring, family atmosphere and the team's close ties with the local community. He has carried these values forward throughout his life in business, philanthropic and personal relationships.
As a young man, Jim put his innate passion for baseball into action at Central Missouri State University (now the University of Central Missouri), where he was a standout pitcher for the Mules from 1973-76 under the late, revered coach, Robert Tompkins. He had a four-year record of 21-8 with an earned-run average of 2.42, and ranks first in career complete games (23), first in career shutouts (7) and third in career strikeouts (215). Jim still holds the Mules' single-game strikeout record with 18, and in 1997, was inducted into the Central Missouri State University Athletic Hall of Fame.
Jim was the primary underwriter of a $1.2 million renovation in 1998 of the old Mules Field on the University of Central Missouri campus. On Jan. 21, 1998, the facility was renamed the James R. Crane Stadium/ Robert N. Tompkins Field in honor of Jim and his beloved coach. Jim continues to contribute to the college annually to provide athletic scholarships for Mules baseball. In October 2015, Jim and the UCM Foundation announced plans to upgrade the university's baseball facility with a new synthetic turf playing surface in a continuing effort to make the Central Missouri baseball program one of the best in the country. On Jan. 29, 2017, Jim was enshrined in the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame for his outstanding pitching career at the University of Central Missouri, his generous donations to the UCM baseball program and his successful efforts in rebuilding the Houston Astros franchise.
Jim earned a Bachelor of Science degree in industrial safety from Central Missouri State University in 1976. This led to a loss-control job evaluating commercial risks for an insurance company and then a move to Houston in 1982, where he entered the freight forwarding business.
Success in the Business World
In March of 1984, at the age of 30 and with $10,000 borrowed from his sister, Jim founded Eagle USA Airfreight (EGL, Inc.). In his first office located in Houston with a sole employee, Jim handled the loading and trucking himself. The company made money in its first month, and Jim ultimately built it into an organization of more than 10,000 employees with 400-plus facilities in 139 countries. EGL was named one of Houston's "Best Places to Work," and reached No. 599 on the Fortune 1000 list during Jim's tenure. Jim has been the recipient of a long list of awards and honors for his entrepreneurial activities and business successes. The company was acquired in an LBO transaction in August 2007.
In August of 2008, Crane formed Crane Worldwide Logistics (CWL), a premier global provider of customized transportation and logistics services. CWL continues to grow rapidly with experienced members of Crane's management team and sales force at the helm.
Jim's love of baseball is unabated, and he has added the game of golf to his athletic endeavors. He acquired the Floridian, a private golf resort in Palm City, Fla., in 2010.
As Astros Owner and Chairman, Jim has embraced the opportunity to give back to the City of Houston and beyond. In the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, Jim and the Astros ownership group were among the first to pledge $4 million to relief efforts. Jim also facilitated the shipment of over 240,000 pounds of disaster relief supplies to Puerto Rico, where he was instrumental in transporting families of Astros and other MLB players, as well as hospitalized patients in critical condition, to safety.
One of his first initiatives was the creation of the Astros Community Leaders program, which won the prestigious Allan H. Selig Award for Philanthropic Excellence in 2017. Formerly known as the Commissioner's Award, this award is MLB's highest recognition of the charitable and philanthropic efforts of its clubs.
Jim was committed to providing local children the opportunities he felt baseball afforded him in his youth, and developed the concept for the Community Leaders program. A multi-million-dollar partnership was formed with the City of Houston's Parks and Recreation Department and included participation from several corporate partners, whose financial donations supported the field refurbishments, yearround maintenance, league programming and uniforms. Now, tens of thousands of young athletes receive free uniforms, equipment, tickets to Astros games and professional instruction through the Community Leaders program. The parents, coaches and league participants also benefit from different types of clinics through the Community Leaders program, attending clinics on coaching, groundskeeping, nutrition, education, and much more.
"Baseball was very important to my own development," Jim said. "Playing baseball made me a lot more confident and comfortable in my ability to achieve things. I'd like to be able to help more kids get the opportunities I had through baseball."