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Astros owner sues ex-Astros owner, Comcast and NBC Universal in RSN dispute


Jim Crane’s Houston Astros ownership group filed a lawsuit late Thursday against former Astros owner Drayton McLane Jr., McLane Champions, LLC, Comcast Corporation and NBCUniversal (NBC Sports is owned by Comcast/NBCUniversal).

The suit, filed in Texas state court, alleges that, at the time of Crane’s ownership group’s 2011 acquisition of the Astros and McLane’s interest in the regional sports network CSN Houston, the defendants engaged in fraud and conspiracy and negligently misrepresented and omitted information relating to the network’s value and its prospects.

The lawsuit also accuses McLane Champions of breach of contract.

The Astros and McLane’s share of CSN Houston were reportedly sold for $615 million. CSN Houston launched in October 2012 and started televising Astros games in 2013.

“These misrepresentations have caused us an enormous loss, and they’ve hurt our fans and hurt our city of Houston,” Crane said during a Friday press conference. “Because of these misrepresentations, we are stuck in a network deal that cannot get off the ground.

“So we now face a situation where we accept millions of dollars of loss each year with damage to the franchise and the city, or we fight back.”

McLane released a statement on Friday responding to the suit:

I haven’t seen the lawsuit yet, but Jim Crane is highly experienced and has been in business over 30 years. He is surrounded by top tier accounts, attorneys, operators and marketers and he has participated in transactions even larger than this one. His experts meticulously examined the Houston Astros financial position. My team was absolutely transparent and produced thousands of pages of documents; we provide answers to explanations to all of their questions. Any suggestion otherwise is absolutely false. As an example, today, Jim Crane reportedly stated that he did not receive the business plan for CSN Houston prior to the purchase. That is not true.

“This was one of the most complex and scrutinized transactions of my business career. Jim’s group had all the facts. In fact, he told the Chronicle this September that the regional sports network had ‘good long-term value.’ The Accusations that have been reported are hollow and appear to be an attempt to recreate the facts,. We will respond in a vigorous and persuasive manner to the lawsuit.

NBCUniversal also released a statement:

“Comcast/NBCUniversal vehemently rejects any claim of wrongdoing asserted by the Astros. This litigation outside the bankruptcy proceedings is a desperate act, committed during a period in which Mr. Crane and his team of sophisticated advisors have been granted by the Bankruptcy Court an opportunity to explore and effectuate solutions to the Network’s serious business problems. Instead, it appears that Mr. Crane is suffering from an extreme case of buyer’s remorse, and aiming to blame the Network’s challenges on anything but his own actions. Comcast/NBCUniversal looks forward to vindicating itself in this litigation and also remains committed to a reorganization of the Network in Bankruptcy Court.”

Crane told the Houston Chronicle that he doesn’t have buyer’s remorse and is “very happy we own the team and will continue to be happy and we’ll work our way through this, and the rest of it, I guess we’ll sort it out in court.”

MLB games were six minutes shorter this year

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According to STATS, INC., the average game in 2015 was 2 hours, 56 minutes. That’s six minutes faster than games in 2014.

The gains came in the first half, when games averaged 2:53. Second half games averaged three hours even. One can probably thank the expanded rosters in September for that, as games then see many more pitching changes. Of course, it’s likely that second half games were faster in 2015 than 2014 as well given the rules changes.

Those changes: agreement to enforce the rule requiring a hitter to keep at least one foot in the batter’s box and the installation of clocks timing pitching changes and between-inning breaks in ever ballpark.

It remains to be seen if MLB stays satisfied with that modest improvement or if chooses to go the way Triple-A and Double-A leagues did. They installed 20-second pitch clocks and started penalizing violators with balls and strikes. Triple-A’s two leagues, the International and Pacific Leagues, saw game-time decreases by 13 and 16 minutes, respectively.

Billy Beane promoted to VP, David Forst named A’s general manager

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I’m so old I remember when general managers used to run baseball operations departments. Now they’re basically assistants.

The latest example: the Oakland Athletics have promoted Billy Beane to vice president of baseball operations and have named David Forst general manager. Forst has been with the A’s for 16 years and has been Beane’s assistant for 12 years, so it’s not exactly a situation in which Forst will be making the final calls. The official move came today, though the move has been in the works for some time, it seems.

Someone with a lot of good front office access is going to write a good story this winter about the title inflation going on in Major League Baseball over the past year. And it’s gonna be great when one of his or her sources breaks the pattern of saying “well, baseball transactions are so much more complex these days . . . ” and admits “hey, if Theo gets a fancy title and La Russa gets a fancy title I WANT A FANCY TITLE TOO.”

Not that it’s much of a secret as it is.