Owner and Chairman
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 an era of Astros baseball.
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, recovered in a three-year span to be ranked as the best in baseball in 2014. Since then, that same farm system has produced multiple Major Leaguers and everyday players and has given the Astros the ability to pull off multiple trades, all signed off on by Crane, including the acquisitions of Justin Verlander in 2017, Gerrit Cole in 2018 and Zack Greinke in 2019.
Buoyed by promotions and acquisitons, the Major League club went from a 111-loss season in 2013 to ultimately winning its first World Series Championship in 2017. The club has continued to produce at the highest level, as the Astros posted 100-plus wins in three consecutive seasons (2017-19). In 2019, the Astros set a franchise record with 107 regular season wins and won the American League pennant, their second in a three-year span.
In order to make the experience at Minute Maid Park one of the best in baseball, the Astros have made several large-scale renovations to the ballpark under Jim’s leadership. The multi-million-dollar investment in center field, the addition of the Astros Hall of Fame Alley and the renovations and enhancements to the ballpark’s suites were the most recent innovative updates that showcase 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 first-class, state-of-the-art facility, FITTEAM Ballpark of the Palm Beaches. Through a partnership, Jim also purchased an office building five miles from the Spring Training facility and had it re-developed into a Hilton Garden Inn branded hotel which serves the public as well as Astros players, staff and families.
He also successfully brokered the purchase of the Double A Corpus Christi Hooks in 2015 and was closely involved with the acquisition of a Class A Advanced affiliate in the Carolina League in 2017. In 2019, that team had a new stadium built in Fayetteville, N.C., and a new nickname, Fayetteville Woodpeckers. Ballpark Digest recognized the Woodpeckers’ brand with the 2019 Logo/Branding of the Year Award. The Round Rock Express also rejoined the Astros family as the Triple A affiliate, starting in 2019.
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 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. 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. 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 UCM baseball 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. In 2017, Jim ventured into the restaurant business and opened Osso & Kristalla and Potente named after his children. In 2018, he also took ownership of the Houston Open, the PGA TOUR tournament that was in danger of leaving the city. The tournament is operated under the Astros Golf Foundation and will transition to the Memorial Park Golf Course in 2020.
Jim also acquired Davaco, a leader in high-volume remodels and technology deployments for global brands. He then started a software company, Modiant, as well as Crane Safety, a commercial safety supply company.
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 more than 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. In 2018, Jim introduced the Astros Golf Foundation to ensure that PGA golf and the funds it provides to local communities will continue to thrive. The Houston Open is now presented by the Astros Golf Foundation and has already made a huge impact to the Houston community, including a multi-million dollar renovation to the Memorial Park Golf Course in the city’s center.
Jim is committed to providing local children the opportunities he feels baseball afforded him in his youth. 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, year-round 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 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.”
Jim has been the recipient of a long list of awards and honors for his entrepreneurial activities and business successes. Just this offseason, Jim was named a Living Legend by MD Anderson, he was presented with the Ben Taub Humanitarian Award at their Jubilee of Caring event, and he took home a 2019 Houston Sports Award as the Executive of the Year. In May 2018, he received the Public Service Award from the American Leadership Forum and was also inducted into the St. Louis Sports Hall of Fame where he received the August A. Busch, Jr. Award. On November 1, 2018, Jim was inducted into the Texas Business Hall of Fame and in December 2018 received the Jack Buck Award from the Missouri Athletic Club in St. Louis, Missouri.