Shortly after buying the Astros in 2011, Jim Crane went about the business of finding a new general manager to guide a losing franchise that had little talent in the minor leagues and little direction overall.
One interview with Jeff Luhnow told him he had found the right man.
“He came into my office on one day’s notice, showed up 10 o’clock in the morning and had a binder on how to fix the Astros,” Crane recalled on the field Wednesday night at Dodger Stadium after the Astros won the first World Series title in their 56-year history with a 5-1 victory over the Dodgers in Game 7. “I tried to interview the best possible guys for that job and he clearly was organized and ready to go and had a plan that he felt would get us there.”
The plan relied on stocking a barren farm system with talent and an all-in approach to the sport with analytics, which in 2011 wasn’t quite as widely accepted as it is now.
It did not pay off immediately. The Astros went a combined 106-218 in Luhnow’s first two seasons — bringing their three-year record to 162-324 — before posting 70 wins in 2014. But even as they made a push, ultimately a successful one, for an American League wild-card berth in 2015, there were rumblings in the game that the Astros’ approach was too numbers-driven and that it was devoid of the human touch, something Luhnow and Crane always push back on.
“We work hard at communicating and treating people right and holding people accountable,” Crane said.
From the looks of it, the Astros should remain a perennial contender for a while. Though veterans such as Brian McCann, Carlos Beltran, Josh Reddick and Justin Verlander helped put the Astros over the top this season, the nucleus of the club is built around homegrown talent such as World Series MVP George Springer (28 years old), Jose Altuve (27), Carlos Corea (23) and Alex Bregman (23).
“When we bought the team, it was at the bottom, and so was the system,” Crane said. “So Jeff rebuilt that quickly and the last couple years, we’ve added the pieces that got us over the hump.”
Crane, while involved, lets Luhnow and his staff go about their work.
“He’s got a lot of solid people behind him,” Crane said. “Good managers will hire good people, he’s got a good crew in there and they deliver a lot of good data that allow us to make great decisions over time. You’re not going to get them all right, but they’re just bright guys.”