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GOOD PROGRAM, BAD ENFORCEMENT

By Murray Chass

November 23, 2014

It is a conspiracy theory so intriguing and so bizarre that it’s hard to pass up. It is at least worth reporting. I have tried to contact Jim Crane, the Houston Astros’ owner, to get his response, but he did not respond to telephone calls and e-mail.

Crane came into baseball three years ago with a reputation, deserved or not, for racial remarks he allegedly had made. His critics put him in a class with Donald Sterling, former owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, who was forced to sell his NBA team because of his racial remarks.

Among other questionable comments, the Houston Chronicle quoted Crane as telling executives of one of his other companies not to hire “’blacks because once you hire blacks you can never fire them.’”

On the other hand, Crane, who is known as the best CEO golfer in the country, has played golf with President Obama and Tiger Woods. And he hired Bo Porter to manage the woeful Astros, who had lost more than 100 games in each of the two preceding seasons.

But that act was Part I of the conspiracy theory, its proponents allege. Crane hired Porter, the theory goes, to alleviate the racial criticism, knowing Porter wouldn’t be around long. In other words, he was hired as a cover to be fired.

“Crane was guaranteed to build Brownie points by hiring Bo,” a veteran baseball man said.

The Astros emerged from their first season under Porter with a worse record, 51-111, than they had in the previous two seasons. Given the rickety roster they gave Porter, the Astros couldn’t have expected more. But when the team improved in the first five months of this past season, Porter was fired Sept. 1.The 59-79 record, which computed to a 69-93 for the entire season, meant nothing to the Astros.

They offered a variety of reasons for the decision, but most of the media reports about it focused on differences between Porter and general manager Jeff Luhnow. Crane was not mentioned, and I didn’t see any comments from him that cleared him or implicated him in a conspiracy against Porter.

What Porter’s dismissal did was leave Major League Baseball with four minority managers. When Ron Washington resigned as the Texas manager four days later, three remained. When Joe Maddon replaced Rick Renteria last month, then there were two.

Unless Tampa Bay hires Don Wakamatsu or Raul Ibanez – they, with Kevin Cash, are among the announced finalists for Maddon’s job – the 2015 MLB season will open with …

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SPENDING DOESN’T AGREE WITH MARLINS’ OWNER

By Murray Chass

November 20, 2014

As I watched the Giancarlo Stanton news conference on television Wednesday, it wasn’t talk of Stanton’s new, historic $325 million contract that stood out for me. It was the appearance of Jeffrey Loria that struck me.

The owner of the Miami Marlins seems to have aged badly since the last time I saw him. It’s not that he looks older than his age – he turned 74 the day after the news conference – but he used to look much younger than his age.

Loria’s appearance reminded me of a 1945 film, “The Picture of Dorian Gray,” in which a portrait of Gray changes, becoming more severe, as he becomes a more sinful character.

There might be a few baseball owners today who view Loria as sinful because he has …

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THE NAMES ARE MIXED; NOW MATCH THEM

By Murray Chass

November 16, 2014

Let’s have a little post-season quiz. Here are two lists of names, and the idea is to match one name in Column A with one name (or blank) in column B. For extra credit explain how and why the names are linked and for extra, extra credit with whom they are linked.

The names are significant and timely because the general managers’ meetings were held in Arizona last week, and this is the beginning of their season. Free agents are waiting to be signed, and trades are waiting to be made.

This signing and trading season, however, is marked by an expansion of a modern title in baseball front offices: president of …

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