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

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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.”

Astros vs. Dodgers is a match made in heaven

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A lot of people who work at the league office or who take paychecks from the Fox network probably wanted to see the Yankees and the Cubs in the World Series. They won’t admit it, of course, but I suspect that many did, as the ratings for a Cubs-Yankees Series might’ve broken modern records. If they are at all disappointed by the Astros and Dodgers winning the pennant, however, they should let that go because they’ve been gifted by a wonderful matchup from a purely baseball perspective. Indeed, it’s one of the best on-paper matchups we’ve had in the Fall Classic in many years.

Before the Dodgers went on their late-August, early-September swoon, this was the potential World Series pairing most folks who know a thing or two wanted to see. At least I did, and I don’t think I was alone. It was certainly the matchup which represented the teams with the two best regular season records and storylines at the time. While Cleveland ended up winning more games than Houston did, for the first time since 1970 we have a World Series pitting two 100-win teams against each other.

Like that Orioles-Reds series in 1970, which featured Johnny Bench, Pete Rose, Tony Perez, Jim Palmer, Brooks Robinson and a host of other All-Stars, the Dodgers-Astros provide us with an embarrassment of big names and future Hall of Famers. Dodgers starter Clayton Kershaw and Astros DH/OF Carlos Beltran are destined for induction already. Astros ace Justin Verlander may very well join them, especially if his late 2017 surge is evidence of a second career peak. Houston second baseman Jose Altuve‘s first seven years and Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen‘s first eight are the stuff upon which Cooperstown resumes are made as well. People will be arguing Dodgers second baseman Chase Utley‘s Hall of Fame case for years once he retires.

Youth is served as well in this matchup, with each club featuring a handful of the game’s best young players to accompany their big name veteran stars.

The Dodgers will bat their no-doubt N.L. Rookie of the Year first baseman Cody Bellinger second or third in the lineup every game. 2016 Rookie of the Year Corey Seager, who sat out the NLCS with a bad back, is expected to be activated for the Series where he’ll be the Dodgers shortstop. The Astros are actually an old team on paper — Verlander, catcher Brian McCann, starter Charlie Morton, first baseman Yuli Gurriel, outfielder Josh Reddick and DH Evan Gattis are all over 30 while Beltran is 40 — but young players are essential to their attack as well. Shortstop Carlos Correa just turned 23 and he’s one of the game’s brightest stars. Third baseman Alex Bregman, also 23, made the play that may very well have broken the Yankees’ back during Saturday night’s pennant clincher. Age aside, the Astros are the product of a major, multi-year rebuild and many of their players are making their first national splash this postseason.

Beyond just the names and resumes, though, the Dodgers and Astros represent a fantastic strategic matchup. The Dodgers attack this postseason has featured admirable plate discipline, with third baseman Justin Turner, right fielder Yasiel Puig and center fielder Chris Taylor all letting balls out of the zone pass them by while abusing pitches left out over the plate. Astros pitchers not named Justin Verlander, however, have lived by getting the opposition to chase bad balls. Game one starter Dallas Keuchel did this by relying on his very fast sinker. Lance McCullers pitched well starting Game 4 of the ALCS and pitched spectacularly closing out the final four innings of Game 7 mostly by virtue of his curveball, which Yankees pitchers could simply not lay off. Indeed, his final 24 pitches of Game 7 were all curves, many of them low and away. Who will give in first in this series?

On the side of things, Dodgers relievers have made a living by pumping in strikes. Particularly strikes high in the zone from Jansen and Brandon Morrow. There may be no better fastball hitter in all of baseball than Jose Altuve, however, and the team as a whole was one of the best in the bigs in dealing with gas in the zone. This was a big reason why the Astros struck out less than any team in baseball this year while simultaneously boasting the best offense in the game. The Dodgers throw strikes. The Astros make you pay when you throw them strikes. Again, something’s gotta give.

Maybe the suits in New York wanted the Yankees and Cubs. But everyone else is getting exactly what we want: a matchup of the two best teams in the game. A matchup of strength against strength. What is, from a purely baseball perspective, the best World Series we could’ve possibly hoped for.