JENNIFER FIERRO • PICAYUNE STAFF
HORSESHOE BAY — When Drayton McLane was considering taking over as owner of the Houston Astros, he had to convince two people who disagreed with the prospect.
The McLanes, being very religious, did not like that the Astros played on Sundays.
“(My dad) put his head in his hands and leaned forward and said, ‘I used to be so proud of you!'” the younger McLane recalled. “My mother told me, ‘I don’t want you to do it. Would you consider not playing a game on Sundays?'”
McLane recalled this story when he spoke to members of the Horseshoe Bay Sports Club on Dec. 2.
He told his parents about his plans to build a team that qualified for the World Series and gave back to the community through charities.
After more discussion, his mother asked him to talk to the family pastor about it. McLane agreed.
He again outlined his plans for the team, and after a few days of thinking and praying, McLane received a call. He was told that being the Astros owner could help him reach and impact more people than being a minister.
Thrilled, McLane reached his mother, who told him that pastor was retired and asked him to talk to another minister.
Finally, McLane, who is the CEO of McLane Advanced Technologies, finalized a deal with the Astros, becoming the owner, chairman and CEO of the team from 1993 to 2011.
During his ownership, the Astros advanced to their only World Series appearance in 2005.
He sold the team because of family reasons.
“I felt it was the right time to sell it,” he said. “It required so much time and effort.”
McLane also is known for helping another team impact the nation: the Baylor University football squad.
Baylor University’s football field, McLane Stadium, is named after his family, whose financial support helped build it. McLane, who graduated from the university in 1958, declined to say how much the family donated, and since it’s a private institution, it’s not public record.
He said he has tried to be supportive of his alma mater over the years and recalled that, when he was a student, the football players had to go to the other side of Waco to work out and prepare because there was not an on-campus stadium.
“(The players) didn’t integrate well with the student body,” he said. “I think (the new stadium) helped with recruiting.”
The only request McLane had for the new stadium was that his family name not be put on it. But head football coach Art Briles and university President Kenneth Starr said naming it after the alumnus helped with enrollment. It also helped that the letterman’s association and other Baylor groups wanted it named after McLane.
By 2012, Baylor officials realized that having a stadium built on the campus would help the university in so many ways, he said.
“Coach Briles said we’ll never get the athletes we need until we get an on-campus stadium,” he said. “That’s what our family decided to do.”
Back in Houston, during the Astros’ path to the World Series, the squad first had to beat the St. Louis Cardinals for the National League championship.
Houston took a 3-1 series lead into Game 5. In the top of the ninth inning with a two-run lead, the Astros turned the game over to closer Brad Lidge.
The Astros got two outs, but the Cardinals hit a single to reach first base. The next batter was walked, so Lidge faced Albert Pujols.
McLane said his thoughts began to race.
“I’m a Baylor graduate, fine human being,” he said. “What have I done to deserve this?”
Lidge got two quick strikes on Pujols, who then fouled off the next three pitches. But the batter hit a three-run homer for the win to send the series back to St. Louis.
“I was devastated,” McLane said.
The next day, the Astros, who were still reeling, boarded the plane to fly to St. Louis for Game 6. McLane noticed that Lidge was talking to the pilot as passengers were boarding.
After takeoff, the pilot spoke to them.
“If you look out your windows, in about five minutes, you’ll see Brad Lidge’s ball in the air,” the pilot said. “It’s still flying.”
Laughter erupted in the plane, and people began to relax, the former owner said.
“That broke the ice,” he said. “That changed everything.”
Houston won the game 5-1 to send the Astros to the World Series, and pitcher Roy Oswalt was named the Most Valuable Player.
In the early 1990s, McLane tried to purchase the Astros with partners but found that since they were all entrepreneurs, compromising was difficult. So he set out to buy the team on his own.
He still chuckles about the first meeting he had with the players, noting some put towels on their heads as he talked about working together. Later, he was told the biggest thing that drove pro athletes to compete: individual statistics so they can sign contracts for big salaries.
“I learned a great business principle,” the former owner said. “We talk too much, and when it doesn’t work, we blame others. We need to take more personal responsibility.”
He also realized players are paid on individual stats, not on how the team finishes.
Major League Baseball players are injured more than athletes in the National Football League, he said, because of the number of games played. With 162 baseball contests, athletes play almost every day over a six-month period.
McLane also discovered that even though he was the owner, the Astros belonged to the public. So if fans thought the team was not bringing in the right players or paying enough, they voiced their displeasure.
As a private business owner, McLane had not dealt with the media like he did when he owned the Astros. So in order to express ownership’s viewpoint on expenses, he tried to explain to reporters that the team lost money when he first bought it.
Finally, the team’s best player, Jeff Bagwell, advised McLane to “quit talking about losing money. Nobody cares.”
“He was making $20 million,” McLane said. “I was ready to slug him. He was right, and I was wrong.”