McLane says timing, not playing home games in Milwaukee, distracted Astros

HOUSTON -- Astros owner Drayton McLane thinks the biggest problem for the Astros was they were forced to play one day after Hurricane Ike devastated Houston, not that their games against the Chicago Cubs were moved to Miller Park.

"The real distraction was not going to Milwaukee, the real distraction was the hurricane that hit town," he said Tuesday, when the Astros returned home from what turned into an eight-game road trip.

"For every player whether they lived here full time or ... they had apartments or condominiums here, the impact was dramatic to everyone. I think that the real impact was none of them having experience in that and none of us knew what the total outcome would be."

Speaking after a new conference in which Astros slugger -- and cattle rancher -- Carlos Lee announced a donation of $25,000 and more than 300 bales of hay to the Texas Department of Agriculture -- McLane disagreed with the assertion from some that another team would have been given more time to deal with the hurricane.

There was such outrage from Astros fans Major League Baseball out took a full page ad in the Houston Chronicle on Sunday in which commissioner Bud Selig explained the reasoning behind playing in Milwaukee.

In the letter, Selig said: "all of us involved in the decision regret the frustration the Astros and their fans felt about playing two games in Milwaukee."

"It was complicated," McLane said. "There was really no other solution regardless of which team it was."

Houston had won 14 of 15 before the hurricane, closing within three games of the wild-card lead. The Astros then were no-hit by Carlos Zambrano in that first Milwaukee game, starting a skid in which they lost five in a row and six of eight. Some players complained that it was unfair to make the Astros play their home games against the Cubs in a park only 90 miles from Chicago.

Still, because the Brewers and Mets have struggled, they began Tuesday 3½ games behind New York, the wild-card leader, with seven games to play.

"You've got to play baseball and to win the wild card -- win your division -- you've got to win games," McLane said.

Lee said he looked down from a helicopter and saw cattle swimming through floodwaters. He saw farms and ranches devastated by the hurricane. His donation will assist Galveston and its surrounding counties in their recovery.

"It's one thing to see it on the news and a whole different thing to see it live," he said. "It was hard. As a rancher I understand it's not easy to be in the cattle business. A lot of cattle are dead. Some people are coming back and seeing that all they worked for is destroyed."

Lee's own cattle ranch in Wharton, about 60 miles southwest of downtown Houston, was not damaged in the storm, but he wanted to do something to help those who are suffering from Ike.

Lee, who is out with a broken left pinkie, said he never expected to be a spokesman for the Texas Department of Agriculture.

"I'm a baseball player, but I love the ranch ... and if it can happen to other cattle people, it can happen to me," he said. "I feel like if I can help I'm going to do it."

Texas Department of Agriculture commissioner Todd Staples said as many as 20,000 head of cattle are roaming free in the hurricane ravaged areas because of damage to fences, corrals and barns. He said many cattle ranchers are selling off large chunks of their herds because they don't have the money or time to repair the thousands of miles of fence that was destroyed in the storm.

"The impact on agriculture has been tremendous," Staples said. "The direct and indirect losses to the agricultural community will total into the hundreds of millions of dollars. Texas prides itself on being the No. 1 cattle producing state in the nation and that is a position we want to continue to hold. But we have had the coastal counties devastated by the impact of Ike."

Lee hopes his donation will encourage Texans to help in the relief effort.

McLane said it was a unique experience to be in Minute Maid Park talking about cattle and hay, but that he is impressed with what Lee has done.

"Carlos is passionate about this," McLane said. "He loves ranching and is involved in it and he wanted to make a difference. This is what the Houston Astros are about."