He didn't just take surveys about customer service.

December 30 [Fri], 2011, 17:08

He didn't just take surveys about customer service. He would leave his seat behind home plate almost every home game and make his way around the concourse, shaking hands and making small talk.

Those walks through the ballpark seemed to be the best part of McLane's day, because he believed customer service was a very tangible thing. Cheap football jerseys I occasionally received e-mails from fans who'd had an unpleasant experience at Minute Maid Park.

Maybe their hot dog was cold or their beer warm. Whatever. In every case, I forwarded them to McLane, knowing he would respond, frequently asking the fan to join him at a game as his guest.

Once, when a soldier was about to be deployed to Iraq, his dad asked if I could get him a copy of a photo of his son and McLane that had been taken at the ballpark one night.

When I told McLane the story, he asked for the young man's number. He telephoned him the day before he left, wished him well and invited him to Cheap football jerseys join him for a game upon his return.

His ownership of the Astros was a completely personal experience. Some of his general managers would say he was a little too involved at times, but his personal style wouldn't allow anything less.

McLane was the face of the franchise in good times and bad. He never ducked responsibility. He was available in a way owners seldom are, and maybe there's a lesson in public relations in there somewhere.

Beyond those things, though, he believed that a franchise should stand for something, that it should be good citizens of its community and give something back.

He did not just talk the talk. McLane walked the walk. The Astros annually do hundreds of hours of community work, from building new baseball fields to visiting hospitals and schools.

These last few seasons were tough on him. With the Astros losing, it became less and less fun to own them. At 75 years old, McLane was ready to write the next chapter of his life.

Until a couple of years ago, the Astros had one of baseball's five best winning percentages during McLane's stewardship.

What he didn't know, what he probably couldn't know, was that his best night in baseball was the beginning of some of his worst.

By the time the Astros won the National League pennant, their farm system was already in decline, which led to some tough final years.

Baseball organizations are odd things. Once the player-development system begins to fail, it can take two, three or more years to identify.

By the time management knows it's in trouble, it typically takes three years to fix it. The Astros delayed the process by trying some shortcuts with veteran free agents. That kind of thing seldom works, and didn't in this case.

When McLane hired Ed Wade to be his general manager in 2007, Houston was in need of marked improvement. Wade moved the franchise in the right direction, but there's still work to be done.

McLane said he'll devote this next portion of his life to his other businesses and to charitable work and various projects that interest him.

One of those projects is raising money for and helping design a new football stadium for Baylor University. If he does half as good a job with that stadium as he did with Minute Maid Park, it'll be terrific.