HOUSTON — Major League Baseball told Houston businessman Jim Crane it would not approve his purchase of the Astros unless he agreed to move the team to the American League, The Associated Press has learned.
Crane was forced to agree to move the sale along, a person familiar with the negotiations said Wednesday on condition of anonymity because no official announcement has been made by MLB or the Astros. Approval of the sale could be announced as early as Thursday at a meeting of baseball executives in Milwaukee.
Crane reportedly agreed to the move in exchange for a drop in the sales price valued earlier this year at $680 million. The person who spoke to the AP could not confirm the sales price.
"We'll let baseball talk about that," current owner Drayton McLane said Wednesday night. "There were a lot of adjustments, so we'll just wait and see what they have to say (Thursday)."
The players' association believes two 15-team leagues would create a more proportionate schedule and has urged baseball to make the switch. With schedules for next season already completed, the earliest such a move could take place is 2013.
Time is running out for approval of the Astros deal: Crane has said that his offer, which was announced on May 16, expires Nov. 30.
Messages were left seeking from Major League Baseball, but Commissioner Bud Selig did address the Astros' situation during a Twitter chat on Monday.
"For 15/15 realignment, Houston would be the team moving to AL West. Would create more fairness in baseball," Selig tweeted via the Colorado Rockies' feed. He also added that "15 teams in each league would necessitate interleague play every day but it will be better schedule overall."
The Astros currently play in the six-team NL Central. The AL West is the only league in the majors with four teams (Rangers, Angels, Athletics and Mariners).
McLane said it will be difficult, at least at first, to see his team in the other league.
"I've always been a National League fan," he said. "Change is a big part of my life and what I've tried to do in business. I think it's going to be interesting to see the American League teams come in and getting a rivalry with the Rangers. That won't be too bad. It's going to be good."
The move would put the Astros in the same division as Texas. But fans are unhappy the other three teams are all on the West Coast, meaning many road games would routinely end past midnight Central time.
Rangers president Nolan Ryan, who pitched for the Astros during his Hall of Fame career, said he has some of the same feelings as McLane.
"I grew up an Astros fan and I look at the Astros as a National League team but I understand the desire to balance out the two leagues," Ryan said Wednesday.
"From our perspective, I like having them in the same division because it gives us a team in our time zone. ... We've talked about the fact that there will be more interleague play and how does the schedule actually work. ... It's going to bring some dynamics. We're not sure how they'll work. Obviously, it's going to change some things."
McLane bought the team in November 1992 for about $117 million. He turned down an offer from Crane to buy the franchise in 2008.
McLane said he's leaving with mixed emotions, something that hit him as he attended a meeting with other owners Wednesday.
"Last night when I went to bed, I thought about it. I can remember 19 years ago how elated I was. It's been a wonderful, wonderful ride," he said.
"Each of these owners have been my friends for 19 years. One of the strange things is, I'm one of the older owners right now," McLane said. "There's only seven or eight that have been here longer than I have. Been a world of turnover."
The $680 million sale price is the second-highest in major league history, trailing the $845 million purchase of the Chicago Cubs by the Ricketts family two years ago. The $660 million sale of the Boston Red Sox in 2002 currently is second. Like the Astros' deal, the Cubs and Red Sox transactions included related entities.
A major selling point in Houston was the Astros' 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. Crane has said the team's 30-year lease at Minute Maid Park, which is owned by the Harris County Houston Sports Authority, will remain intact under his ownership.
Crane, who founded a Houston-based logistics company in 2008, is also the chairman and chief executive of Crane Capital, a private equity fund company. In 2009, he was in the running to buy the Cubs and last summer teamed with Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban in an unsuccessful bid to buy the Texas Rangers.