Today's news that Drayton McLane is selling the Houston Astros may bring about a slight feeling of deja vu to some local fans. Roughly 15 years ago McLane actually sold the 'Stros to Northern Virginia businessman Bill Collins, who was going to move them to Washington, and eventually the Old Dominion.
Collins made his fortune in the telecommunications industry, and had played minor league baseball after a collegiate career at George Washington University, where he'd roomed with Sam Perlozzo. He wrote the check to McLane for controlling interest in the franchise, which at the time was still playing at the Astrodome.
Here's where the deal went south, so to speak: then-acting commissioner Bud Selig didn't want to abandon a market as large as Houston. He knew that the threat of a move would likely get those Texas politicians to figure out a way to build a new ballpark down there. He asked Collins to back off on the purchase, promising him - before several witnesses - that the DC area would get a club of their own "by 2000."
Okay, he lied, but the guy was a car salesman in his other life. Anyway, Collins bought Selig's promise, backed off the sale, the Astros got their new ballpark, and finally went to a World Series in 2005, the year baseball did come back to Washington. Collins, however, after spending millions in pursuit of a franchise for many years, was not selected to buy the Expos. He did, however, hang on to the check he'd written to McLane which had already been endorsed.
McLane has owned the ballclub since 1993, and at 74, has likely decided that he won't live long enough to see his team back in the fall classic. He originally paid $117 million for the Astros; the reported asking price is somewhere north of $700 million.
Bill Collins has never gotten his due for his role in bringing baseball back to town. He almost forced the issue a decade before it finally returned, and his efforts over the years in keeping the region visible at the winter meetings and in numerous conversations with major league executives deserve some respect.