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Maverick bids on Cubs

- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Brash billionaire Mark Cuban was seen as a long shot when he announced he would attempt to buy the Chicago Cubs.

After reports surfaced last week that Cuban had survived the first round of bidding for ownership of the Cubs, things aren't so clear.

Based on Major League Baseball's history of selecting owners, it would seem the owner of the NBA's Dallas Mavericks likely would take the helm of the Cubs on the day Lucifer appeared on Waveland Avenue in a snowmobile. Indeed, the outspoken Cuban has needled NBA commissioner David Stern for years.

But Cuban reportedly offered the Tribune Company $1.3 billion for the team and Wrigley Field, making him the highest bidder among five remaining groups vying for the team.

More surprising than Cuban's advancement was the rejection of investor John Canning's $800 million bid, which was considered too low. Canning has been viewed as the front-runner for the team because he's well-connected in Chicago and was part-owner of the Milwaukee Brewers, the team once owned by commissioner Bud Selig. His straight-laced, disciplined and cordial manner also fit the mold of baseball owners. In short, he was nothing like Cuban.

"With Canning out of the running, Cuban becomes the prohibitive favorite," said Maury Brown, founder of the Business of Sports Network, who has analyzed the Cubs sale.

There are some things working in Cuban's favor. First, he has proved he can outbid everyone else, and his offer is said to involve less debt than most other bidders. This is key because Tribune owner Sam Zell is reportedly eager to get top dollar for the team with the company facing large debt payments in the coming year.

Also, the Tribune still would control WGN, which airs nearly half of the team's home games and would benefit from the Cubs' on-field success. And Cuban has proved he can assemble a winning team.

Getting MLB and its owners to approve a sale to Cuban could be trickier but may not be impossible. For one thing, Cuban would be the sole figurehead for the Cubs, and baseball has shown a preference for a centralized model of ownership rather than one involving multiple partners with varying stakes in the team. And with Selig, league president Bob DuPuy and other officials entering the twilight of their time with baseball, it's possible some league owners would embrace a younger, more energetic member of their inner circle.

On the flip side, the team's total sale price, while a key factor, may be of secondary importance to baseball. In 2002, baseball approved the $700 million sale of the Red Sox to a group led by investor and financial advisor John Henry even though at least two other bidders were said to have offered more than $750 million. When baseball sold the Nationals in 2006, it set the sale price at $450 million even though several bidders were willing to pay more.

There's also the issue of Selig's history of getting unanimous votes from owners on nearly every key issue. While it's possible a majority of owners would support Cuban, it's less likely that Jerry Reinsdorf, the owner of the Chicago White Sox, would be so welcoming.

By the time the sale is made, the Wrigley Field ivy will have turned a deep red. And it may be Cuban and his green emerging as the winner.