Astros’ Drayton McLane Epitomize What An Owner should be

By Joe Booker
Updated: May 4, 2006

TEXAS—The adage that a great organization is but the lengthened shadow of a single man finds one of its best examples in Drayton McLane, the owner of the Houston Astros. Drayton has been the prime mover, the untiring master and protector of the image and hope that the Astrros are.

The media and employees find him conscientious and efficient, yet patient and understanding.

If there is a professional sports owner that epitomizes what an owner should be– it is the Houston Astros Drayton McLane. His concern and love of the Astros is never more evident than when it comes to how fans, media and employees are treated. No one is a stranger to him. He reminds me of the late Pittsburgh Steelers owner Art Rooney, who I had a chance to meet. Rooney often sat in the press box with the media when the Steelers were in Houston to play the Houston Oilers. I had the pleasure of sitting next to Rooney at one of those games. I got to know him very well and we exchanged Christmas cards until his passing. I never met another professional team owner like Rooney that was so down to earth until I met Drayton.

Astros give you that fan friendly environment

Since Drayton took over the Astros in 1993, the Astros have been a fan and media friendly environment. Drayton has instilled in his employees that the Astros are a servant of the fans. He wants you to pull up a chair, get your popcorn, hotdogs, and drinks and feel at home. When you leave he greets you at the exits,”y’all come agin, you here.” Just kidding, but if he would, he could. He sometimes goes out of his to say a friendly “hello” and to let you know he appreciates your presence.

Drayton’s genuine personality carries over to his ’s top lieutenants –Tal Smith, President of Baseball Operations; Pam Gardner, President of Business Operations; Tim Purpura, General Manager; Ricky Bennett, Assistant General Manger/ Director of Player Development; Paul Ricciarina, Senior Director of Player Personnel / Scouting and Rob Matwick, Senior Vice President, Ballpark Operations and Customer Service. Bill Brown, who does the play-by play for TV, is one of the most personable persons on the broadcast staff. He hired one of the best media relations staff in all sports when he hired Jay Luca, Jimmy Stanton, Lisa Ramsperger, Todd Fedewa and Charley Hepp.

Drayton’s ability to hire a good staff is a key to the team’s success

When Drayton took over the team in 1993, he hired the best staff available. He hired a staff that fitted his down home personality. He hired people who could get the job done.

He didn’t look as color when he made his decisions—that is why he hired Bob Watson as his General Manager. Watson was the first and only black general manager that has been hired by a Houston professional sports team. When Watson left, he hired Gerry Hunsicker, who was well respected around the baseball circuit. When Hunsicker left he hired Tim Purpura to succeed him. Purpura’s great leadership skills helped the team get to its first World Series. Purpura surrounded himself with top people like Ricky Bennett, Paul Ricciarina and Enos Cabell.

Drayton promoted long time veteran front office executive Tal Smith to the position of President of Baseball Operations. He made another bold move—as he did when he hired Watson as GM—he made Pam Gardner President of Business Operations. She became the first lady President of any professional sports team. When Drayton hired people he looked at ability and not race or gender. Gardner has proven to be the right person for the job. She has no peers.

He did what other management failed to do and that was to retire former player Jim Wynn’s number 24, which was long overdue.

His next big move should be to retire Joe Morgan’s number 8. Morgan was the first Astros to be voted to the MLB All-Star Game. He is one of the greatest second baseman’s to ever play the game as his Hall of Fame honor attests.

Building champions is what Drayton is all about

At the beginning of each season Drayton would approach the media by saying, “we will be champions.” Until this past season, no one took him serious. Now when Drayton tells the media” we will be champions”, everyone takes note.

The Astros came close to getting to the World Series several times prior to Drayton taking over the team. Patiently, he put the pieces together and the Astros got to its first World Series last year in the team’s 45-year history.

I can hear Drayton in the background—“we will be champions.”