FORT WORTH, TEXAS (AP) - Bidder up!
The Texas Rangers will go on the auction block in federal bankruptcy court Wednesday, the most dramatic chapter yet in one of the most contentious sales of an American professional sports team. The last Major League Baseball team to be auctioned off in such a way was the Orioles in 1993.
The bidding is expected to pit Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban against MLB's favored bidder, a team led by Rangers president Nolan Ryan and Pittsburgh sports attorney Chuck Greenberg. That group even has the endorsement of some community leaders who clearly want Hall of Famer Ryan in place to keep drawing fans and steering a team that's now leading the AL West.
"Nolan exceeded our expectations on the mound. He has exceeded our expectations as president of the team. Now, we as fans are even more hopeful for the future if Nolan's group takes ownership of the Texas Rangers," Fort Worth Mayor Mike Moncrief said Monday, echoing the comments of Arlington Mayor Robert Cluck, whose city is home to Rangers Stadium.
The bidders will be revealed at the auction, after team attorneys and the court-appointed restructuring officer make sure the bids submitted by Tuesday night's deadline meet certain qualifications. For starters, bids must be at least $15 million higher than $306.7 million, the cash portion of Greenberg-Ryan bid that totals about $520 million for the team.
Houston businessman Jim Crane, who made an unsuccessful bid during last year's original bidding process, must decide before the deadline whether to join Cuban's group or submit his own bid. Cuban and Crane each have assigned rooms in the courthouse, where they can confer with attorneys between rounds. Theirs are close to each other, while rooms for the team and creditors are on different floors.
Dallas businessman Jeff Beck, also pre-qualified by MLB to participate in the auction, was not assigned a room but can request one, according to the judge presiding over the auction. Fox, a unit of Rupert Murdoch's News Corp., said Tuesday it did not plan to bid after speculation it wanted to firm up its hold on Rangers' TV rights through Fox Sports Southwest.
Whatever the auction's outcome, final approval of the sale rests with Major League Baseball. A league official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told The Associated Press on Tuesday that MLB intends to work with the winning bidder _ although it has the option of choosing the second-highest bid.
Outside experts say they cannot predict how the auction will unfold but say "astronomical" bids are unlikely. Cuban was ready to pony up more than $1 billion for the Chicago Cubs, which wound up briefly in bankruptcy before Tribune Co. sold the team to the Ricketts family last year.
"It could come down to a two-horse race with Cuban and the Greenberg-Ryan group," said Wayne McDonnell, a professor at New York University's Tisch Center for Hospitality, Tourism and Sports Management. "Mark Cuban is an absolutely brilliant businessman who has shown he'll do anything for his players. He's a bit of a wild card and very different from the good ol' boys network in baseball, but he has a burning desire for victory and the financial wherewithal to buy the Rangers and increase their value."
If Cuban is the winning bidder, Ryan would most likely exit the team _ so Cuban also is considering how he could continue the Rangers' on-field success, McDonnell said.
But the Greenberg-Ryan group still has a good chance at the auction, McDonnell said, "because they've been in this process the longest, and their persistence and perseverance could pay off."
The Greenberg-Ryan group was announced as the new buyer in January, but the sale was stalled for months by angry creditors who said other bids were higher. Lenders feared they would not be repaid the $525 million in loans that team owner Tom Hicks' sports group defaulted on.
Hoping to push through the sale to the Greenberg-Ryan group, the Rangers filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in May.
Since then, the case has been anything but smooth or predictable, and the auction was among many unpleasant surprises for the team. Angry creditors have accused the Rangers of bankruptcy code violations, and at one point the court-appointed restructuring officer was negotiating with Crane to make his offer the starting bid _ which never materialized.
The judge has said creditors will only get $75 million from the team but they can go after Hicks' other companies. The unsecured creditors are expected to be paid the full $204 million owned to them _ including Alex Rodriguez, who's owed $24.9 million in deferred compensation six years after he was traded to the New York Yankees.
AP Sports Writer Ron Blum in New York contributed to this story.