- Associated Press - Monday, May 16, 2011

HOUSTON (AP) - Houston Astros owner Drayton McLane announced Monday that he has agreed to sell the team he has owned for 19 years to a group led by local businessman Jim Crane, the man who tried to buy the team three years ago.

Terms were not disclosed and the team scheduled an afternoon news conference to discuss details. The sale is subject to approval by Major League Baseball.

McLane, who bought the team in November 1992 for about $117 million, put the franchise up for sale in November. Multiple media reports have said McLane’s asking price for the Astros was about $680 million.

A major selling point was the team’s 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. Any deal was also expected to address the team’s lease at Minute Maid Park, which is owned by the Harris County Houston Sports Authority.

Crane, who founded a Houston-based logistics company in 2008, is the chairman and chief executive of Crane Capital, a private equity fund company. In 2009, he was in the running to buy the Chicago Cubs and last summer teamed with Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban in a bid to buy the Texas Rangers. Both times, he fell short.

Crane also approached McLane about buying the Astros in 2008, but was turned down. McLane, a longtime fixture at Astros home games, has raved about Crane and thinks the team will be in good hands once the deal is completed.

“He’s an experienced, very knowledgeable business person,” McLane said last week. “He has a passion for baseball. He lives here and will continue to live here. He understands the community.”

McLane, who made his fortune running the family’s wholesale grocery business, has been considering selling the team for at least two years. He said in November that the decision to fully commit to selling the team was based mostly on family considerations.

The franchise, playing its 50th season, has reached unprecedented success with McLane as the owner, making the playoffs six times since 1997.

But Houston has finished with a losing record in three of the past four seasons and attendance has dwindled as the team began rebuilding after the departure of its most recognizable stars. Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio were both gone by the 2008 season, and Houston traded pitching ace Roy Oswalt and five-time All-Star Lance Berkman in 2010.

Headed into Monday’s games, the Astros were a National League-worst 15-25 and only the Twins had a worse record in the majors.

The Astros sale so far has none of the drama that came with the Rangers last year.

Crane’s bid for the Rangers was rejected by MLB during the original bidding process in 2009, before the team filed for bankruptcy protection. He then joined Cuban’s group to bid on the Rangers at a high-profile bankruptcy court auction, challenging a group led by Nolan Ryan and Chuck Greenberg late into the night.

The Greenberg-Ryan group had the winning bid valued at $590 million, about $100 million more than its starting bid.

Greenberg became chief executive officer, then left on March 11 and sold his ownership stake. Ryan, the team president, took over as CEO and his ownership was formally approved last week by MLB.

The cleared the decks for Crane to look _ again _ at the Astros.

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