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Chuck Greenberg, Nolan Ryan Win Rangers Auction Over Mark Cuban

Aug 5, 2010 – 8:31 AM
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Jon Weinbach

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After a marathon auction that included shouting matches, copious legal challenges and at least one profane exchange between attorneys, the group led by Pittsburgh attorney Chuck Greenberg and Hall of Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan won the auction for the Texas Rangers, finally ending the ownership drama that has surrounded the bankrupt Major League Baseball club for nearly a year.

The winning bid values the team at nearly $600 million, a figure that includes about $385 million in cash and $200 million in existing debt. The final price was nearly 20 percent higher than the opening bid, which valued the team at about $510 million.

The auction played out over 15 hours in a Fort Worth, Texas federal court, with the Greenberg-Ryan group outlasting a series of rising bids from the group led by Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban and Houston freight mogul Jim Crane. At approximately 12:42 a.m. local time, the Cuban-Crane group declined to offer a higher bid, signaling the end of the auction -- and victory for Greenberg and Ryan, the Rangers president. The courtroom reportedly erupted in applause -- and relief -- over the likely conclusion of one the most contentious franchise transactions in sports history.

"A perfect way to end the auction," Greenberg told reporters. "Unexpected, just like everything else in this case."

"It was an emotional roller-coaster,'' said Ryan, the only pitcher in baseball history to throw seven no-hitters. "You go to court one day and it didn't go your way, but you go back another day and it would. It's a relief."

The Rangers became just the third Major League Baseball team ever to be sold in a court auction, and first since 1993, when the Baltimore Orioles were acquired by Peter Angelos after former owner Eli Jacobs filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. In 1970, a Wisconsin car salesman named Bud Selig acquired the bankrupt Seattle Pilots and moved the club to his home state, where the Milwaukee Brewers have played for 40 years.

Selig, of course, is now MLB commissioner, and his strong preference for the Greenberg-Ryan group was a key issue throughout the Rangers' on-again, off-again sale. The club was put on the market last year after the holding company controlled by Tom Hicks, the Rangers' former owner, defaulted on more than $500 million worth of loans. After an extensive sale process at the end of last year, Greenberg and Ryan annouced an agreement in January to purchase the team, along with real estate surrounding the club's stadium, for approximately $575 million.

But the Rangers' numerous creditors -- a group that includes Manhattan bankers, Texas state tax authorities and MLB's official hat company -- objected to the terms of the deal and blocked the sale. Among other factors, the largest creditors believed higher bids were ignored by the club and Major League Baseball in order to steer the Rangers to Greenberg, who has ownership stakes in three successful minor-league baseball franchises, and Ryan, the 63-year-old Texas icon.

In late May, the Rangers filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy as part of a plan -- supported by MLB -- to expedite the sale to the Greenberg-Ryan group via the courts. But the plan backfired, leading to a series of legal squabbles and Wednesday's decisive auction.

At one point in the auction, Thomas Lauria, the lead attorney for the Greenberg-Ryan group, loudly questioned the legitimacy of the Cuban-Crane bids, claiming the rival group did not, in fact, have the proper financing lined up to puchase the team. He described the auction as "a mess," and earlier in the day, Lauria engaged in a profanity-laced exchange with the lawyer for William Snyder, the court-appointed officer tapped to work out the dispute between the Rangers and the team's creditors. Had Greenberg and Ryan not won the auction, Lauria said, their group would almost certainly have appealed the results.

Despite their months-long objections to the Greenberg-Ryan group, the creditors emerged as winners too. In Greenberg-Ryan's original deal to purchase the club, the creditors were slated to receive about $75 million. Now, after the Greenberg-Ryan group altered and significantly increased their bid, the creditors will receive far more cash.

The auction results are scheduled to be confirmed on Thursday, and MLB appears eager to welcome the Greenberg-Ryan group quickly. "I'm very pleased and I look forward to Chuck Greenberg and Nolan Ryan leading the team for many years to come," said MLB president Bob DuPuy, Selig's top lieutenant, after the auction. Greenberg and Ryan still must be approved by 75 percent of MLB team owners before they can officially take control of the team.
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